Last week, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released initial guidance to federal agencies to set a strong foundation for effective, efficient, and equitable implementation of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law—a historic investment in rebuilding roads and bridges, providing clean drinking water, and ensuring access to affordable internet. As the President said in the State of the Union, “in my administration, the watchdogs are back.” President Biden has a long-standing commitment to collaboration with Inspectors General (IGs) and the broader oversight community, dating back to his leadership as Vice President when he was tasked with implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He has made clear that results and accountability go hand-in-hand, and that to deliver results for all Americans, the federal government must act—and support appropriate oversight of its activities—in a manner deserving of public trust.
The initial guidance will ensure that there is minimal fraud, waste, and abuse in the implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and projects are delivered on time and on budget by delivering results with accountability, effectiveness, and transparency, collaborating with inspectors general and the oversight community, and, providing technical and financial assistance for communities. The guidance was informed by the Infrastructure Implementation Task Force and stakeholders, reflects discussion with the oversight community, and reflects President Biden’s long-standing commitment to robust oversight and effective stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
Last Friday, President Biden and senior administration officials—including OMB Director Shalanda Young, Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, American Rescue Plan Implementation Coordinator Gene Sperling, and OMB Deputy Director for Management Jason Miller—met with agency Inspectors General (IGs) who have been providing oversight to the implementation of the American Rescue Plan and who will provide oversight of implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The meeting also included the leadership of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC). The President, his senior advisors, and IGs discussed steps they are taking to ensure robust oversight of federal programs.
Upon signing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, President Biden signed an Executive Order establishing the Task Force to coordinate effective implementation. Co-chaired by Senior Advisor and Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu and National Economic Director Brian Deese, Task Force members include the heads of federal departments, agencies, and offices with infrastructure implementation responsibilities. The Task Force—which has held 11 Cabinet-level meetings—has focused on cross-agency coordination, ensuring public trust and accountability, and tackling important interagency issues like developing technical assistance and capacity-building resources for state, local, Tribal and territorial governments that will spend as much as 90 percent of the law’s funding. To date, each primary agency has identified an infrastructure implementation coordinator. The White House Infrastructure Implementation Team and agency coordinators have convened at least weekly since the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was signed.
DELIVERING RESULTS WITH ACCOUNTABILITY, EFFECTIVENESS, AND TRANSPARENCY
One of the primary goals for implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law established by the President’s Executive Order was to “invest public dollars efficiently, avoid waste, and focus on measurable outcomes for the American people.” The initial implementation guidance issued by OMB today directs agencies to ensure accountable stewardship of Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, building on effective practices from the Administration’s implementation of the American Rescue Plan, as well as existing financial management and reporting requirements set forth in statute and prior OMB guidance. Additional guidance may be issued by OMB on topics that require further direction, including on the implementation priorities set forth by the President in his Executive Order. The guidance includes direction on:
- Using data and evidence. In designing and implementing Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Programs, agencies are charged to make evidence-based decisions, transparently describe the criteria for investment decisions, set and track measurable goals, performance indicators, and milestones, use data to measure and evaluate progress, and foster a culture of continuous improvement.
- Planning for program implementation. To ensure Bipartisan Infrastructure Law-funded programs are implemented efficiently and effectively, agencies must plan for program implementation to be consistent with statutory requirements and address the requirements, recommendations, and priorities in the President’s Executive Order and the new OMB guidance. This implementation planning must also include program-level financial management controls and risk mitigation strategies.
- Documenting selection criteria and review processes. Agencies must also document their review and selection process for discretionary programs, which must be consistent with the criteria, review, and selection information provided in Notices of Funding Opportunity (NOFOs), so that projects meet program goals.
- Reporting on awards and subawards. Agencies are already reporting monthly, including information about obligations and outlays, to USAspending.gov for all funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Agencies are directed to ensure the quality and accuracy of award descriptions and recipient data on USAspending.gov to help inform the public of the purpose of the federal awards and where the funding ultimately goes.
- Going farther in post-award reporting. For grant and cooperative agreement programs funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, post-award reporting that demonstrates progress toward achieving outcomes will help maintain accountability to taxpayers and advance equity. The Administration is prioritizing post-award reporting of data with the following goals in mind: designing programs with clear goals and objectives; executing programs efficiently and effectively; promoting transparency and building trust with the public; delivering exemplary customer experience for recipients; and building capacity for evidence building. Agencies will take program-specific approaches to collecting and reporting post-award information about project location and phase of project implementation, going farther than past reporting requirements. Public-facing performance dashboards will be developed and shared online.
COLLABORATING WITH INSPECTORS GENERAL AND THE OVERSIGHT COMMUNITY
At the President’s direction and through the leadership of the American Rescue Plan Implementation Coordinator Gene Sperling, the Administration has been collaborating across agencies and with the PRAC on the implementation and stewardship of programs funded through the American Rescue Plan. To institutionalize the President’s approach and the lessons learned in ARP implementation, OMB issued guidance last December directing agency leaders to support the important role of agency IGs, including by communicating with their staffs the President’s expectation of cooperation with IG offices.
In the first five months of implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Task Force has regularly met with CIGIE and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and leaders of agencies with infrastructure implementation responsibilities are meeting with their agency IGs, consistent with OMB’s Government-wide guidance on agency-IG cooperation.
The new OMB guidance directs agencies to continue this collaboration through implementation of programs funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The guidance includes direction on:
- Engaging with IGs at the front end of program design. Agencies are directed to proactively engage with oversight entities, including agency IGs and the GAO, delivering on President Biden’s expectation that agencies ensure that programs balance efficient results, equitable access, and program integrity, including minimal waste, fraud, and abuse.
- Holding joint program review meetings with IGs. For new and expanded Bipartisan Infrastructure Law programs where significant program design is being implemented, agencies must engage with OMB and the agency’s IG for a dedicated joint review meeting to proactively discuss program design, risk mitigation strategies, financial controls, and data, tracking, and reporting. The “Gold Standard Meeting” process was developed by the White House American Rescue Plan Implementation Team and OMB, and these meetings have promoted proactive and transparent collaboration for new and expanded programs with tangible improvements.
- Identifying and mitigating risks. Agencies are directed to use enterprise risk management practices and cooperation with their IGs to identify and mitigate risks during program design, including putting in place financial management controls to address payment integrity risks. The OMB guidance charges agency leadership to inform their IG when the agency is deciding to take on added risk, especially in new or changed programs, to expand access to the program, or when leveraging new technology or systems.
PROVIDING TECHNICAL AND FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR COMMUNITIES
The Biden-Harris Administration is working to ensure that the benefits of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law reach all communities, including rural communities and communities that are marginalized, underserved, overburdened, or capacity constrained. These communities often lack adequate resources to navigate complex federal award-making processes. Building on ongoing Administration efforts, the new OMB guidance directs agencies to reduce barriers, including administrative burden, and increase access for communities, funding recipients, and funding beneficiaries. The guidance includes direction on:
- Collaborating with state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments. The guidance charges agencies to collaborate with state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments to support communities in accessing infrastructure funding. This includes designating teams to provide central coordination among agencies and territorial governments, as well as teams to coordinate across agencies on rural issues and technical assistance for economically distressed, rural communities. In addition, agencies will ensure their Tribal relations or Tribal affairs offices have designated liaisons to coordinate with, so that the Administration expands technical assistance and support for Tribal governments.
- Providing technical assistance to underserved and capacity-constrained communities. Agencies are directed to use to the fullest extent possible existing and new technical assistance resources to support underserved and capacity-constrained communities, including rural communities, in accessing federal resources. This includes providing direct federal technical assistance in accessing grants and other types of financial assistance, as well as support for data infrastructure and tools for evidence building and use among funding recipients.
- Engaging with affected communities. Agencies are directed to, when feasible, engage affected communities so their perspectives and expertise inform policy development, program design, and delivery processes. Agencies will focus particularly on underserved and capacity-constrained communities and stakeholders who may not have previously been able to apply for federal funding, including rural and urban communities and Tribal and territorial governments.