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June 03, 2013
White Houses seeks to halve project timelines

Following an Executive Order (EO) issued in March 2012 that directed federal agencies to expedite their approval of infrastructure projects–including water resources, renewable energy, and pipeline projects–President Obama has now released a follow-up memo further directing agencies to institutionalize best management practices (BMPs) listed in the memo and undertake additional improvements to enhance federal project review and permitting efficiencies. 

EO 13604

Actions the president ordered in EO 13604 (Improving Performance of Federal Permitting and Review of Infrastructure Projects) included establishment of a steering committee to modernize federal infrastructure review and permitting regulations, policies, and procedures to significantly reduce the aggregate time the federal government expends in making decisions on infrastructure projects.

Objectives of BMPs listed in the EO include:

  • Integrating project reviews among agencies with permitting responsibilities
  • Coordinating with any other federal agencies as well as state, local, and tribal governments and stakeholders
  • Employing project-planning processes and individual project designs that consider local and regional ecological planning goals
  • Using landscape- and watershed-level mitigation practices
  • Promoting the sharing of scientific and environmental data in open-data formats to minimize redundancy, facilitate informed project planning, and identify data gaps early in the review and permitting process
  • Promoting performance-based permitting and regulatory approaches
  • Expanding the use of general permits
  • Improving transparency and accountability through the electronic tracking of review and permitting schedules


In the new memo, the president indicates a goal of cutting aggregate timelines for major infrastructure projects in half while also improving outcomes for communities and the environment. 

Specific measures in the memo include:

  • Directing the steering committee to identify and prioritize opportunities to modernize key regulations, policies, and procedures–both agency-specific and those involving multiple agencies–to reduce the aggregate project review and permitting time while improving environmental and community outcomes.
  • Directing the steering committee to prepare a plan for a comprehensive modernization of federal review and permitting for infrastructure projects.  The plan must outline specific steps for reengineering both the intra- and interagency review and approval processes based on experience implementing EO 13604.  The plan must identify proposed actions and associated timelines to:
    • Institutionalize or expand BMPs or process improvements that agencies are already implementing.
    • Revise key review and permitting regulations, policies, and procedures.
    • Identify high-performance attributes of infrastructure projects that demonstrate how the projects seek to advance existing statutory and policy objectives and how they lead to improved outcomes for communities and the environment, thereby facilitating a faster and more efficient review and permitting process.
    • Create process efficiencies, including additional use of concurrent and integrated reviews.
    • Identify opportunities to use existing share-in-cost authorities and other nonappropriated funding sources to support early coordination and project review.
    • Strategically expand the use of information technology (IT) tools and identify priority areas for IT investment to replace paperwork processes, enhance effective project siting decisions, enhance interagency collaboration, and improve the monitoring of project impacts and mitigation commitments.
    • Identify improvements to mitigation policies to provide project developers with added predictability; facilitate landscape-scale mitigation based on conservation plans and regional environmental assessments; facilitate interagency mitigation plans, where appropriate; ensure accountability and the long-term effectiveness of mitigation activities; and utilize innovative mechanisms, where appropriate.

Sectors covered

Infrastructure sectors contemplated in this effort include surface transportation such as roadways, bridges, railroads, and transit; aviation; ports and related infrastructure, including navigational channels; water resources projects; renewable energy generation; conventional energy production in high-demand areas; electricity transmission; broadband; pipelines; and stormwater infrastructure.

Click here for the president’s memo.

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