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White House Launches Performance, Accountability System to Track Environmental Approvals for Major Infrastructure Projects

October 18, 2018

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently released a new memorandum (Memorandum M-18-25), in coordination with the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council, establishing a brand new “accountability system” to track and score federal agencies performance in meeting the President Trump’s two-year timeline for completing environmental reviews and authorization decisions on “major infrastructure projects.” The memo requires, and outlines the procedures by which, all agencies that have a role in environmental approvals for infrastructure must regularly track and measure their performance in meeting a list of goals that aim to expedite and improve infrastructure permitting.  Agencies must submit tracking information to OMB and the Federal Agency Portal of the “Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard.” OMB will score each agency’s performance, issue reports, and “consider each agency's performance during budget formulation and determine whether appropriate penalties... must or should be imposed.”      

Specifically, the accountability system will require agencies to report data on different performance indicators including whether they are jointly and cooperatively processing environmental reviews and making authorization (permitting) decisions, whether they are meeting major milestone target dates, and the time it takes to complete reviews and make decisions. OMB will review agencies’ performance through the new system at least once each quarter and publish a quarterly scorecard of agency performance and overall progress toward achieving “Cross-Agency Priority Goals to Modernize Infrastructure Permitting.”

Memorandum M-18-25 is intended to further implement Executive Order (EO) 13807, which holds federal agencies to a two-year timeline for completing the environmental review process on “major infrastructure projects.” The EOs key provisions call for some of the most significant actions to date including directing CEQ to review the exiting National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations (AGC submitted comments this summer) and giving CEQ new authority to mediate any interagency disputes.  In addition, it directs OMB to implement an accountability system that tracks and scores each agency’s performance and issue “reports.”   

Pursuant to EO 13807, a dozen federal agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) committing to “a more predictable, transparent, and timely Federal review and authorization process for deliver major infrastructure projects.”  These agencies are working to develop internal policies and procedures to outline how they will (1) come together collaboratively very early in the NEPA process, (2) establish permitting timetables with a two-year target deadline to get everything out, and (3) conduct federal environmental reviews concurrently (rather than sequentially), among other things. For example, see new guidance on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Website (scroll down to the bottom).

These recent actions are consistent with and complement AGC’s focus and recommended reforms for improving federal environmental review and permitting.

The EO defines “major infrastructure projects” as those requiring a full environmental impact statement (EIS) under NEPA and multiple permits, approvals, or other authorizations from federal agencies (collectively, “authorizations”), and for which sufficient and reasonably available funding has been identified.

For more information on environmental streamlining, please contact AGC’s Leah Pilconis at pilconisl@agc.org.

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