It’s been six months since the landmark Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed Congress on a strong bipartisan vote. This law finally broke the congressional logjam on infrastructure, which had been the subject of much debate and hand-wringing for years. BPC lauded the passage of the IIJA not only because it promised to restore America’s status as a world leader in infrastructure, but also because it demonstrated that working across the aisle is still possible and can yield great results.
Now, six months later, implementation of the IIJA is proceeding at a breakneck pace. The Biden administration is working feverishly to issue the grant announcements, guidance, and rules required to move the IIJA’s promised investment into reality. Senior administration officials are making the rounds this Infrastructure Week to discuss their agencies’ progress. (FEMA joined BPC, the National Association of Counties, and the National League of Cities to explore the agency’s work implementing the resilience and disaster mitigation provisions of the IIJA.)
The IIJA’s scale is unprecedented both in terms of the amount of funding available and the infrastructure sectors affected. In the weeks following passage, BPC compiled a list of competitive grant programs authorized in the law, many of which are already moving forward. Airport Infrastructure Grants and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects have already been awarded funding, and awards for the RAISE program, one of the largest of the competitive transportation programs, are expected to be announced in August. All told, a significant amount of federal funding has reached local communities less than a year from the IIJA’s passage.
At the same time, the administration is working quickly to issue guidance documents and other resources for implementation.
- Recently released guidance on the permitting provisions of the IIJA promises to speed approvals for important projects (though how much faster remains to be seen, as BPC’s director of energy policy and carbon management Xan Fishman told the Washington Examiner).
- A new tool issued under the auspices of the Justice40 Initiative enables state and local infrastructure agencies to identify communities that have historically been underserved, so that these inequities can be addressed with IIJA funds.
- In April, the White House issued a memorandum with detailed instructions for agencies on adopting practices to support accountability and effective stewardship of IIJA funds.
In short, a tremendous amount has been accomplished since the IIJA passed, and it is worth taking a moment during this Infrastructure Week to celebrate that fact. But we must also acknowledge that effective implementation of the IIJA requires more than simply getting the money out the door. It requires the recipients of those funds to use them for projects that will deliver cleaner, safer, and more equitable infrastructure. It requires that federal agencies provide enough technical assistance to grantees to enable them to make these beneficial investments in a cost-effective way. It requires partnerships not only across all levels of government, but with the private sector as well.
The success of the IIJA rests not only on its passage, but ultimately on its ability to deliver on its promises. Congress, key stakeholders, and the general public deserve to know how well the goals of the law are being met. As the new programs are being rolled out, the administration should be establishing mechanisms for tracking the investments. The White House memorandum mentioned above recognized that “post-award reporting that shows progress toward achieving outcomes is also critical to maintaining accountability to taxpayers and advancing equity priorities.” The memorandum recommends reporting on investments at the project level to demonstrate how program goals are being met.
The administration took a step in this direction with its six-month anniversary report on the IIJA. That report includes interactive maps showing how much funding each state has been allocated under the law and identifying specific projects that have been awarded grants.
While this information clarifies how quickly funds are being disbursed across all federal agencies and infrastructure sectors, it does little to explain exactly how those funds are being used. In the next phase of reporting, the administration should begin tracking not only the outlays of funds, but key outcomes as well, such as infrastructure condition, carbon emissions, timeframes for project permitting, and the amount of non-federal funds—including private equity—that are leveraged by IIJA dollars.
Useful models already exist for increasing transparency around federal investments, such as the Permitting Dashboard which tracks approvals of selected large infrastructure projects and the Federal Highway Administration’s state performance measure reports, which track state performance on several transportation-related metrics. The FHWA dashboard includes data specific enough to paint a clear picture of the impacts of investment decisions on project outcomes—exactly what we need to see for all IIJA investments.
We encourage the administration to continue developing the BUILD.gov website into a one-stop shop for the American people to track progress on the IIJA—not just to see how quickly funds are going out, but also to see how those funds are being used. Taking this step will help deliver on the IIJA’s bipartisan goals and ensure that federal investments lead to tangible benefits for all Americans.
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