The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (IIJA) provides states, local governments, and tribes with a substantial influx of federal funds to improve public lands and advance green and resilient infrastructure projects. While much attention has focused on the transportation, energy, water, and broadband investments supported by the law, the IIJA also supports efforts to restore and protect natural resources, conserve water, and make communities more resilient to wildfires.
In the fifth event of BPC’s “Overcoming Challenges and Seizing Opportunities: Implementing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” series, cosponsored by the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties, U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Chief Randy Moore and U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Senior Advisor and Infrastructure Coordinator Winnie Stachelberg provided updates on how their agencies are implementing the law, allocating IIJA funding, and advancing impactful projects.
Here are a few key themes from their conversation.
DOI and USFS are working with states, local governments, and tribes to prioritize projects while making it easier to apply, access, and utilize federal funding for critical projects
It’s a significant investment. It doesn’t nearly touch the need you all see in your communities, but hopefully working in partnership, we can make critical investments on drought mitigation, on wildland fires, on legacy pollution cleanup, on restoration of habitats, and coastal resilience.
Partnership and collaboration and communication is critical for getting this right. So, we have allocated the first $103 million for this current fiscal year. Our Deputy Secretary next week will be visiting Nevada, California, and Arizona, announcing an additional pot of money going to eight western states. So it’s really significant. The work and the funds go to investing in hazardous fuels management, which is critical, which protects vulnerable communities from wildfires while preparing natural landscapes for a changing climate.
We’re trying to not move away from the best interest of the government, but look at other things, like customer service, flexibility, maximizing the opportunities to leverage funds... I think what you’ll see is to be a partner with us is not going to be as hard as it used to be.
DOI and USFS highlighted ongoing efforts to foster more accessible recreation.
What we have done now because of the [Great American Outdoors Act] and some of the other opportunities in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is to look at reimagining recreation. So, we developed a national strategy...and it’s been put together using a lot of the Forest Service, state, local people, and a lot of our partners. As we really imagine recreation going forward, what should it look like? What should it consist of?
We are looking for projects and want to partner with you to identify projects that not just restore ecosystems and conserve our lands, but make it more accessible to anglers, to hunters, to ranchers, to ensure that those public lands are for all of us.
Innovative technology is an important area of focus, particularly for water usage.
Those dollars can only be spent wisely by working in partnership with people on the ground. We were in Irvine, California recently and the conversation with water users, local water districts, and the community college was about how to invest those dollars wisely, coming up with technology for drought reduction, and watering the huge number of crops.
We talked to water districts about desalinization, we talked to them about how to reuse and recycle water, not recycle bottles that had water, but actually recycle the water. All of that comes from partnerships and conversations with people on the ground who are trying innovative technologies to ensure that the critical investments, the $8.3 billion from the Infrastructure Law through [the Bureau of] Reclamation is spent wisely.
DOI and USFS are transforming their workforces to tackle the challenges ahead.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure law certainly provides additional dollars for the hiring of staff, but it’s a challenge. I mean I’ll be the first to admit that the federal government’s hiring is a challenging process and we have to do better. Working with the Office of Personnel Management, we are finding ways to expedite the hiring process…There’s great competition for the incredible talent that our American workers provide.
Since the pandemic, depending on the job and location, there aren’t a lot of applicants. Looking at the applicant pool, they are wanting to work remote or telework in the federal sector. For us, we are having to question ourselves, ‘Well, is this the new way?’ and ‘Can we do it?’….So what I think we’re seeing is a paradigm shift taking place in the federal sector about the future employees and how they want to work and how we are going to be competitive to get top talent. We’re in the middle of that right now.
Learn more about wildfire resiliency: Building American Wildfire Resiliency
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