President Trump pledged on Friday to transform the government and hold bureaucrats accountable, announcing a new office with the goal of slashing red tape.
The office will be housed in the White House's Council on Environmental Quality to help federal, state and local entities more quickly launch building and infrastructure projects. Trump repeatedly bemoaned the lengthy and bureaucratic process federal and other projects face when seeking approval for permits.
The new layer of bureaucracy tasked with eliminating bureaucracy will “root out inefficiency, clarify lines of authority, and streamline federal, state and local procedures so that communities can modernize their aging infrastructure without fear of outdated federal rules getting in the way,” Trump said at Transportation’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
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The president also vowed to issue “tough, new penalties” to any federal agency that delays projects by missing deadlines.
“We will hold the bureaucracy accountable,” Trump said.
Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke also spoke at the event, promising his agency would no longer be a “stick in the mud” preventing projects from getting off the ground. Interior, he said, is “about to embark on one of the largest reorganizations” in the department’s history. He vowed to reexamine interagency collaboration with departments such as Agriculture, Energy and Transportation to ensure public and private sector investment no longer is “shopping through five or six or seven different bureaus to get a permit.”
“We’re going to change that,” Zinke said.
Trump’s proposals received lukewarm reaction from some lawmakers. Sens. Clare McCaskill, D-Mo., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a letter to the president that they were pleased he was devoting attention to the issue and wanted to work with him, but faulted his administration for ignoring reforms recently approved by Congress. They reported hearing from stakeholders that a January executive order on the federal permitting process has actually made it “more complex -- the exact opposite result of what seems to have been intended.”
The 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, also known as the latest highway bill, attempted to make federal agencies work more closely together to coordinate deadlines for permitting decisions, boost transparency and minimize litigation delays. Trump made his announcement as part of the White House’s “infrastructure week,” during which the president has made several appearances to lay out $200 billion in government spending to spur $1 trillion in public and private investment.
Correction: The Council on Environmental Quality is a White House office, not part of the Transportation Department as this story originally stated.