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Public, private stakeholder input sought on infrastructure regulatory reform

Posted by Mary Scott Nabers on Thursday, June 15th, 2017

Written by Mary Scott Nabers
President and CEO, Strategic Partnerships Inc.

Infrastructure project stakeholders in both the public and private sectors wince at the mention of how federal regulations often create insurmountable obstacles that can either impede or prevent completion of long overdue infrastructure projects in the U.S.

With the nation’s transportation infrastructure deteriorating daily and the backlog of deferred maintenance projects growing at an alarming rate, the Trump administration has pledged as part of the president’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan to dramatically reduce and streamline onerous regulatory processes. The president has stated that his plans are to reduce permitting plans for major infrastructure projects from the current average of 10 years to two years.

Now stakeholders – public and private project sponsors, engineering and construction professionals, related organizations and other transportation groups – have the opportunity to identify burdensome regulations and permitting impediments and offer suggestions for regulatory reform.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) recently announced it has published a Federal Register notice seeking public input on regulatory reform regarding infrastructure projects, including the identification of hurdles that currently exist and how to alleviate them. Those interested in offering comments have until July 24 to respond.

A USDOT task force to address regulatory burdens has already identified dozens of ways to streamline processes. The goal, according to USDOT Deputy Secretary Jeff Rosen, is to listen to stakeholders rather than use the usual “top down, government knows best” attitude toward regulatory issues. The current ridiculously slow processes not only are costly for cities and states, but they also kill major projects that the cities and states desperately need.

USDOT officials expect that much of the commentary will come from private firms that have experienced delays in projects because of extremely slow regulatory processes. Their experiences are expected to put a spotlight on some regulations they feel are unwieldy or unnecessary. 

According to the request for input, the agency is seeking feedback that will identify requirements that USDOT imposes through rules, or interpretations found in policy statements or guidance, that “unjustifiably delay or prevent completion of surface, maritime and aviation transportation infrastructure projects.” The agency is particularly interested in “administrative” issues that it has authority to change, but also notes that regulations that would require legislative action to change should also be submitted.

Respondents are requested to provide a description of troublesome regulations and how they can negatively affect completion of a project. Of particular interest are stakeholder comments from individuals with direct experience in having to navigate these often overly demanding requirements. Other information sought includes possible alternatives that would not be so arduous, examples of how previous projects have been negatively affected by regulations and the effect that changes to the regulations might have on such projects.

Public-private partnerships (P3s/PPPs) are the cornerstone for the Trump infrastructure plan, but many private-sector firms are often unwilling to invest in a project that takes years to get off the ground because of a cumbersome permitting process. Experienced private-sector firms cannot or will not participate when it takes years to get through the regulatory process. It is just too costly for them. When regulatory processes drag out for years, all parties suffer.  

The responses that USDOT is seeking are expected to be reflected in the administration’s infrastructure proposal, which could be released within the next few months. Now is the time for representatives from both the public and private sectors to make their voices heard. 

Mary Scott Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc., a business development company specializing in government contracting and procurement consulting throughout the U.S. Follow Mary on Twitter.

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