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OMB Advances Nascent Trump Infrastructure Plan with Permitting Guidance

New agency reporting portal will centralize data on environmental review progress.

In line with one of its cross-agency priority goals, the Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday sent agency heads guidance on more “coordinated, predictable and transparent” tracking of infrastructure project permitting decisions.

The Sept. 26 memo from budget director Mick Mulvaney asked agencies to set up a central portal to which they will report on progress of environmental reviews. The guidance fleshes out President Trump’s August 2017 executive order and memorandum of understanding from April 2018 encouraging a modernized, simplified “One Federal Decision” approach to multi-agency permitting.

Though Trump’s larger efforts to push roads and bridges projects through “infrastructure week” promotions have been stalled, streamlining the complex permitting process remains a priority, as it was for the Obama administration. Both have sought improved efficiency while protecting health, safety and the environment.

OMB consulted with the Council on Environmental Quality and the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council.

Agencies are instructed to provide authorization information on major projects to the central federal portal in six assessment areas, to be reviewed quarterly by OMB to allow performance accountability. Agencies that fail to demonstrate they are meeting milestones in accelerating permitting will risk penalties available under the law during the formulation of their budget.

The Cross-Agency Priority Goal of modernizing infrastructure permitting calls for reducing the federal government’s processing of environmental reviews and environmental decisions to an average of two years, while providing “consistent, coordinated and predictable federal environmental reviews.”