OMB Prepares for Trump with New Infrastructure Permit Guidance

OMB Director Shaun Donovan was one of the authors of the memo. OMB Director Shaun Donovan was one of the authors of the memo. Susan Walsh/AP

With ambitious infrastructure construction mentioned as an agenda priority for the incoming Trump administration, President Obama’s budget office on Friday issued new guidance for agencies intended to boost predictability and transparency of the multi-agency federal permitting process.

In a Jan. 13 memo to all agencies, Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan and Council on Environmental Quality Managing Director Christy Goldfuss fleshed out agency obligations under the permitting and environmental review reforms enacted a year ago under the highway bill called the Fast Act.

For the past year, agencies have been required to track covered construction projects publicly using the Permitting Dashboard to enhance predictability through project-specific timetables and improve coordination among the 13 relevant agencies with differing schedules, processes and statutory requirements.

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Lawmakers for several years have complained that the permitting process was plagued by too many levels of bureaucracy and was delaying job creation. The administration in September 2015, even before Congress acted, took its own steps to promote agency use of the Federal Infrastructure Permitting dashboard as part of President Obama’s plan to economic growth, building on an effort that began in 2011. An interagency working group for the past year has been advancing the FAST Act’s procedures and will continue to do so.

The guidance released this month replaces a permitting steering committee set up under a 2012 executive order with a statutory Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council. It also designates agency chief environmental review and permitting officers at each relevant agency.

Erecting new bridges, roads and dams while creating jobs under a possible infrastructure initiative is one of the few priorities favored by both President-elect Trump and many Democrats in Congress. However, they and Republicans may disagree over whether any legislation should hinge on direct funding or tax credits for private-sector partners.

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