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Cutting Red Tape to Accelerate Infrastructure Projects

Today in Cushing, OK, President Obama signed an Executive Order that requires agencies to make faster permitting and review decisions for vital infrastructure projects while protecting the health and vitality of our communities and the environment.

Today in Cushing, OK, President Obama signed an Executive Order that requires agencies to make faster permitting and review decisions for vital infrastructure projects while protecting the health and vitality of our communities and the environment – fulfilling a commitment he made in his State of the Union address to cut the red tape that can slow down construction, and following up on a set of recommendations made by his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. As part of this effort to develop American infrastructure, the President also issued a Memorandum directing federal agencies to expedite the Cushing Pipeline and other pipelines that relieve bottlenecks as a top priority of the new EO’s permitting process. The need for pipeline infrastructure is urgent because rising American oil production is outpacing the capacity of pipelines to deliver oil to refineries. 

Big infrastructure projects relating to roads and surface transportation, aviation, ports and waterways, water management, renewable energy generation, electricity transmission, broadband, and pipelines can be complex – often involving multiple Federal, State, local, and Tribal government agencies as well as the private sector companies leading the projects. As you might imagine, multiple permits and reviews from multiple agencies across multiple jurisdictions with no single organization in charge can create a situation that’s ripe for confusion, duplication, and delay – particularly when many of these permitting and review processes are still done with paper and pen.

That’s why President Obama’s Executive Order on Improving Performance of Federal Permitting and Review of Infrastructure Projects focuses on accountability, performance, and transparency – creating an interagency Steering Committee chaired by the Office of Management and Budget’s Chief Performance Officer; charging it with developing a concrete plan to coordinate, implement and institutionalize improvements across the board; requiring that nationally and regionally significant projects be tracked on a public Federal Infrastructure Projects Dashboard; and directing the Chief Performance Officer to develop metrics, track implementation, and issue an annual report card on the results.  By setting out clear performance goals, making the Dashboard a one-stop-shop for information about Federal agency progress on improving the infrastructure permitting and review process, and transparently evaluating performance, agencies will be accountable for real results and project developers and the public will be engaged and informed.

You can already see how important early, effective coordination is to improving timelines in some of the priority projects that are already being tracked on the Dashboard. For example, the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge could save an estimated 2-3 years through early coordination and effective partnerships.

President Obama has been very clear that this effort is a priority, and the schedule laid out in the Executive Order reflects a commitment to drive quick results. Major milestones include:

  • April 30: Federal agencies will submit to the Chief Performance Officer a list of Nationally and Regionally Significant Infrastructure Projects to be publically tracked on the Dashboard.
  • May 31: Agencies will finalize a Federal Plan for driving across the board performance improvements on infrastructure permitting and review decisions and post it publicly on the Dashboard.
  • July 31: Individual Federal agencies will complete their own performance improvement plans, including metrics to track implementation, and posted them publicly on the Dashboard.
  • August 31: All Nationally and Regionally Significant Infrastructure Projects must be posted to the Dashboard, with complete timelines and schedules.
  • December 31: Agencies will submit the first of a series of biannual progress reports to the Chief Performance Officer.
  • January 31, 2013: The Chief Performance Office will submit the first annual progress report on results to the President.

Meeting these milestones and delivering results will build on a track record of successful sector-specific initiatives and pilot projects – from a series of rapid response teams that spot and solve issues before they turn into problems, to innovative agency-led efforts that are using technology to speed up reviews while improving transparency.

As acting Chief Performance Officer, I will look forward to reporting on our results.

Lisa Brown is Acting Chief Performance Officer