We are just a few days into the new administration and Congress, and members of both political parties are already focusing their attention on infrastructure. Senate Democrats recently released a proposal to fund infrastructure projects across a variety of sectors and President Donald Trump released an executive order targeting permitting delays. Aligning these and other ideas into one cohesive national policy will take considerable time, persistence, and even more cooperation. In the interim, there are several smaller—but not insignificant—actions that both Congress and the administration should take.
Aligning these and other ideas into one cohesive national policy will take considerable time, persistence, and even more cooperation.
These recommendations are drawn from a report released by BPC’s Executive Council on Infrastructure in May 2016 that provided a roadmap to partnering private investors with public infrastructure. The comprehensive framework outlined in the report calls for long-term, stable funding for infrastructure paired with improvements to ensure public funds are put to the best use, such as fully accounting for projects’ life-cycle costs. The council also proposed a variety of means to increase the development of public-private partnerships (P3s) to help address our infrastructure funding gap. The following list represents near-term actions that will lay the foundation for broad infrastructure reform.
Administrative or Congressional Actions
- Require/encourage P3 Screening. Through an executive order, the administration could issue a guidance encouraging states to screen projects that will receive federal funding as possible P3s. In some programs, they may have authority to require such a screening, while in others legislative authority may be needed. Members of Congress could introduce legislation to require all applicants for federal funds for projects over a certain amount to be screened for possible P3 delivery.
- Create incentives for long-term, best-value infrastructure delivery. The administration or Congress could recognize high-achievers who are implementing elements of BPC’s New American Model for Investment in Infrastructure. In addition to recognition through an award-type program, applicants that receive the special designation could get extra weight in competitive grant programs or be prioritized for expedited permitting.
- Create a coordinating council of the federal agencies that run infrastructure programs. This could be done administratively or Members of Congress could introduce legislation to accomplish it. The council could identify ways to align requirements and regulations that impact private investment, ultimately leading to creation of a government-wide “one-stop shop.” Recent efforts like the Federal Permitting Improvement Council, created by executive order and codified in the FAST Act, provide a great model for coordinating the many agencies involved in supporting infrastructure investment.
- Conduct a federal asset inventory. Such an effort would transparently document federal needs and identify opportunities to capture additional value from federal assets. The administration should also review guidance affecting federal property (such as OMB Circular A-11) and amend those that inhibit partnerships with the private sector.
- Issue a new EO or introduce a bill to cover any changes that require legislative action:
- Designate CEQ and OMB as final decision makers in multi-agency reviews
- Double the number of projects on the permitting dashboard
- Order agencies to conduct simultaneous reviews
- Direct all agencies to track time and cost of permitting and reviews
- Hold a series of summits and online dialogues on:
- Water infrastructure and what solutions the federal government can implement
- Long-term infrastructure risk and how to manage it
- Rural infrastructure and how the private sector can get involved
- Regulatory barriers to private sector involvement and how they can be addressed
- Institutional investors: what do they need to participate more in US projects
- Direct OMB to review TIFIA credit scoring and align its risk-weighting with actual experience.
- Introduce legislation to create a challenge program to improve infrastructure delivery and get better value. Funds would be used to support state and local agencies that come forward with innovative ways to improve their procurements rules, risk management, long-term performance and efficiency, etc.
- Introduce legislation to authorize new financing tools. These will serve as important markers for inclusion in an infrastructure package later in the session. Financing tools that should be considered include:
- Direct payment bonds
- Private activity bonds
- Tax credits for qualified infrastructure investments
- Expansion of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) to additional types of infrastructure