White House Accelerating Infrastructure Building
Last week, the Biden-Harris Administration announced a new action plan to accelerate progress of infrastructure construction through the bipartisan infrastructure law. On Oct. 13, the White House hosted a summit for officials to discuss the new actions with an aim to improve coordination between state and local officials who directly account for 90% of the spending.
“This is the first time we’ve tried this in 50 years on this level,” said Mitch Landrieu, the White House’s infrastructure coordinator. “We’re going to really push hard to make it go faster and try to do it better, and try to get at least all the federal agencies focused on accelerating the pace of design, construction, permitting.”
The action plan focuses on three main areas: delivering projects on time, staying on task and delivering projects on budget. Staying on task will also include equitable access and technical assistance, as well as workforce readiness and permitting.
“I just fully expect that the more we work on this, and the better we get, the more money we’re going to save and the more time we’re going to save,” said Landrieu, who spoke at the event along with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, among others.
The plan also builds on previous actions to speed up infrastructure project delivery, such as the Permitting Action Plan released in May and the Inflation Reduction Act signed back in August.
Biden White House aims to speed-up pace of building infrastructure https://t.co/D31ZarbxTz— Mitch Landrieu (@MitchLandrieu46) October 13, 2022
“While building infrastructure can be complex and challenging, American ingenuity and government creativity can be used to build our infrastructure to a higher standard of ‘On Time, On Task, and On Budget.’ As we approach the one-year milestone of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Biden-Harris Administration is determined to accelerate our progress,” wrote the White House.
“Federal agencies will do their part, focused as never before on accelerating the pace of design, construction and permitting. But with over 90% of Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding being delivered by non-federal agencies, our state, Tribal, regional, territorial, local and industry partners must also find ways to accelerate the delivery of infrastructure. “
According to the Administration, key actions include:
The full action plan and its initiatives can be viewed here.
Permitting Action Plan
Back in May, the Biden-Harris Administration released a new Permitting Action Plan to accelerate federal permitting and environmental reviews for infrastructure projects funded through the bipartisan infrastructure law.
The action plan outlines the strategy to ensure that federal environmental reviews and permitting process are effective, efficient and transparent, while guided by the best available science to promote positive environmental and community outcomes. In turn, it hopes that these steps will help strengthen supply chains, lower costs and grow clean energy.
Additionally, the goal is to deliver long overdue infrastructure investments on task, on time and on budget without delays while promoting environmental goals. The action plan will reportedly result in better permitting outcomes, enhanced predictability for project sponsors and increased accountability.
According to the White House Fact Sheet, the Permitting Action plan is built on five key elements to help ensure timely and effectively delivery of infrastructure upgrades:
As part of the action plan, the Administration says it will leverage the interagency Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council’s expanded authorities under the bipartisan infrastructure law to improve coordination among agencies, help avoid and resolve potential conflicts and bottlenecks, identify and share best practices, and accelerate information sharing and troubleshooting.
This includes interagency coordination on siting, permitting, supply chain and related issues, as well as promoting efficient and timely reviews. This will be done in part by developing and preparing new approaches to permitting and environmentally review to help address common issues, eliminate duplication and incorporate a climate-smart approach.
The White House also plans to create permitting schedules with clear timeline goals that are both ambitious and realistic, contain relevant milestones and meet all requirements. To increase transparency and accountability, the Federal Permitting Dashboard will also track key project information, including these timelines and milestones.
There will also be a focus on consultation with communities to ensure that the public, including disadvantaged communities, will have opportunity to participate in decision-making. Agencies are expected to proactively partner and coordinate with relevant state, territorial and local governments.
Projects Facing Challenges
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General Eric Soskin issued a report to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg outlining a “number of significant challenges” to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law for the Department, including inflation, labor and supply chain issues.
The news arrived as nearly $60 billion in funding was released for 12 formula programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), with hopes of support investment in critical infrastructure, including roads, bridges and tunnels, carbon emission reduction and safety improvements.
Soskin warned that the Department needs to recruit, develop and retain the necessary workforce to implement and oversee infrastructure law programs.
Additionally, they will need to effectively coordinate with key stakeholders to overcome their immediate administrative challenges and mitigate risks they face amid broader economic challenges. Soskin added that the DOT will also need to enhance or establish effective and efficient processes for awarding and administering the billions of dollars in grants, as well as overseeing compliance.
According to the report, the National Infrastructure Advisory Council concluded in a 2021 report that the United States is “ill-equipped” to ensure a skilled workforce for its critical infrastructure. Soskin noted that the bipartisan infrastructure law could exacerbate these existing workforce challenges.
Current goals over the next year for the Department include improving some 65,000 miles of roads and 1,500 bridges; investing in over 600 airport infrastructure projects; invest in an estimated 15,000 new buses, ferries and subway cars; invest in 75 new, Made-in-America locomotives and at least 73 Made-in-America intercity trainsets; and build 500,000 EV charging stations in the next five years.
However, Soskin explains, in order to successfully implement these IIJA goals, the DOT will be required to acquire and maintain sufficient staff and contractors with the required knowledge, skills, and abilities to achieve them. Otherwise, shortages of skilled workers could affect recipients’ abilities to deliver successful projects on time and on budget.
Continuing on, additional spending will put “significant pressure” on both the public and private sector to add these workers, among already rising prices. One related challenge is that funding recipients are reportedly receiving low numbers of bids for projects, increasing costs.
While the Department has implemented enhanced technical assistance to recipients to address these challenges, material shortages could also lead to problems such as change orders or project delays.
One potential solution he offers to extend the November 2022 waiver for the domestic content sourcing requirements for construction materials due to ongoing rising costs and delivery delays. Soskin reports that the DOT has acknowledged these challenges and stated it is working with external stakeholders and other Federal agencies to help address workforce shortages and project cost increases.
Finally, Soskin explains that with the development of 15 new discretionary grant programs through the IIJA, the Department will need to establish clear application, review, and award selection processes, while responding to the changes in existing programs.