The Highway Trust Fund, which receives money from a federal fuel tax, is set to run out of money before the fall. In response, the Obama administration has laid out a new vision to modernize U.S. infrastructure.
The White House released a fact sheet today on the subject, titled Building a 21st-Century Infrastructure: Modernizing Infrastructure Permitting.
“This means states, local and tribal governments, and private developers will be able to start construction sooner, create jobs earlier and fix our nation’s infrastructure faster,” the fact sheet stated.
As its name would suggest, the plan will attempt to revamp the federal infrastructure permitting process by “cutting through red tape,” to get more timely decisions. The fact sheet also emphasizes protecting communities and the environment.
Overall, the proposal would be fully paid through an one-time revenue from business tax reforms. In a blog post Monday, Lindsay Holst, director of online content for the Office of Digital Strategy, wrote this tax reform would “spur investment and create jobs by closing loopholes that reward companies for moving jobs overseas.”
The accountability portion of the plan centers around the administration’s Web-based Federal Infrastructure Projects Permitting Dashboard, established in November 2011 as a result of an August 2011 presidential memorandum.
The second section of the memo, which is directed toward improving the accountability, transparency and efficiency of federal permitting and review processes, orders that agencies track the progress of the permitting and review process and proceed to make that data available to the public on their websites.
During a speech in Tarrytown, N.Y., at the site of the Tappan Zee Bridge, one of the fast-tracked projects on the dashboard, President Barack Obama announced the changes detailed in the plan, and specifically highlighted the Permitting Dashboard.
“Everyone can go online, track our progress and make sure things are getting done on time,” he said.
Obama threw barbs at Congress, who through inaction, he said, would allow federal funding for infrastructure to run out.
“If they don’t act by the end of the summer, federal funding for infrastructures will run out,” Obama said. “Let’s not fight on something that we all know makes sense.”
The Permitting Dashboard is part of infrastructure funding in Obama’s proposed 2015 budget, which he sent to Congress in early March. The funding would support the expansion of the Permitting Dashboard, to allow for the tracking of more major infrastructure projects.
However, provisions in the fiscal year 2015 budget were not the only places where the president attempted to garner additional funding for infrastructure. Last week, the administration submitted the Grow America Act, which included reforms to further accelerate the approval and delivery of projects.
Coinciding with the release of the plan to update infrastructure, the administration’s Steering Committee on Permitting also released an implementation plan, with strategies, reforms and long-term milestones to aid in the process of rolling out this effort.
One of the strategies identified in the committee’s report standardizes the use of the Permitting Dashboard as a way to track progress. Also among the strategies are provisions to establish a Cross-Agency Priority Goal on permitting to “drive progress, ensure transparency and promote interagency coordination.”
With CAP Goal status, the effort to modernize permitting through efforts such as the Permitting Dashboard will receive regular reviews. These reviews will be available for public tracking on performance.gov.
“Online tools like the Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard can facilitate interagency collaboration and synchronization and can also help create a more transparent, predictable process for project applicants,” according to the implementation plan.