President Trump Announces “New” Council Aimed at Improving Infrastructure
On Friday, in a visit intended to cap off a week that had been dubbed “infrastructure week” by the White House, President Donald Trump visited the Department of Transportation’s headquarters and announced the creation of a new council intended to help builders with the permitting process on federal infrastructure projects, while ostensibly improving transparency “by creating a new online dashboard allowing everyone to easily track major projects through every stage of the approval process.”
In announcing the plan, as a result of which Trump promised American infrastructure would “once again be the envy of the world,” the President displayed binders containing environmental impact statements related to a road construction project in Maryland, calling them “nonsense” and tossing them on the floor. “We will hold the bureaucracy accountable,” Trump insisted.
Trump also threatened “tough, new penalties” imposed on federal agencies that miss deadlines and delay projects.
Outlets including Bloomberg and USA Today noted after the speech that both the new council Trump announced and the online dashboard already exist, with Congress and the Obama Administration having worked together in 2015 to establish the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council. The White House subsequently conceded that the council and dashboard are not strictly new creations, but that the previous administration, after creating them, did not fulfill their true potential.
In a bipartisan letter issued after Trump’s announcement at DOT, Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) were skeptical of the proposal: “Since Congress enacted FAST-41 (Title 41 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act), however, neither the past Administration nor your Administration has realized the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council’s (FPISC) potential. It took President Obama seven months to appoint an Executive Director, and FPISC barely got off the ground before the election. And now, given the Administration’s stated interest in facilitating the permitting process and infrastructure development, it is perplexing that the Administration has not taken full advantage of the powerful tools Congress gave it in FAST-41 it to accomplish those goals.”
The letter further noted that an earlier Trump Executive Order on infrastructure “appears to duplicate or conflict with many of the permit streamlining provisions in FAST-41,” expressing concerns shared by stakeholders “that the executive order is confusing and makes the permitting process even more complex—the exact opposite result of what seems to have been intended.”
Many questions regarding the details of how Trump’s infrastructure plan would be funded and what exact punitive measures agencies might face remained unanswered as of this writing, with the White House stating that the numbers outlined in documents are still preliminary and subject to negotiation.
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