Though plans for larger national infrastructure investments remain stalled in Congress, two key players at the White House on Tuesday unveiled new guidance aimed at speeding up permitting and better tracking agency projects.
Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan and Council on Environmental Quality Managing Director Christy Goldfuss in a blogpost and accompanying memo outlined a series of actions to expand the number of projects and promote agency use of the Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard, a tool for publicly tracking progress on completing federal permitting while improving environmental protections.
“The 11 federal agencies that play a significant role in the permitting, review, funding, and development of infrastructure projects will begin – in October – identifying new infrastructure projects for which standardized milestones and coordinated schedules will be posted within 90 days,” the two wrote while linking the changes to President Obama’s larger plan for economic growth. “Such projects would include major transit projects, airport capital improvements, ports and dams, electricity and broadband transmission, renewable energy generation facilities, and others.
“The reported milestones,” they said, “will include target and actual dates of the receipt of an application, permit issuances or approvals, the release of draft and final Environmental Impact Statements for review and comment, and the issuance of final decisions for all required federal reviews.”
The dashboard, launched in 2012, has already helped expedite review and permitting of 52 high-priority infrastructure projects, 30 of which are now complete, they added. “More efficient and expeditious processes mean timely federal decisions and greater predictability for project sponsors and investors as well as the public.”
Also on Tuesday, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Transportation Department, the Coast Guard and three other agencies released the first update since 1988 of the “Red Book,” formally titled the “Synchronizing Environmental Reviews for Transportation and Other Infrastructure Projects” handbook. “The Red Book provides practical, real-world guidance to federal agencies, applicants, project sponsors and consultants on how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of key permits and reviews required for these projects,” the White House said.
All of the moves were first called for as a cross-agency priority goal in a May 2014 comprehensive plan to modernize infrastructure. “The new policy requiring reviewing agencies to develop a coordinated project schedule and make it easily accessible to the public will improve agencies’ communication with project applicants and sponsors, increase interagency coordination, and open a new window of public transparency and accountability,” the White House said. “Building an evidence-based understanding of current federal permitting and review processes will also help identify ways to make them more effective, efficient and timely.”