WASHINGTON — President Trump is promising to streamline the federal approval process for building roads, bridges, pipelines and tunnels, announcing the creation of new government offices to coordinate other government bureaucracies and make sure they follow deadlines.
But one of the reforms that Trump announced Friday — the creation of a new permitting council to coordinate federal approvals for infrastructure projects — already exists.
The Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council was established by Congress in 2015 and created by President Obama. Its purpose is to track federal permits across agencies and provide transparency on the status of projects through an online tracking system.
"We are setting up a new council to help project managers navigate the bureaucratic maze," Trump said Friday at the U.S. Department of Transportation. "This council will also improve transparency by creating a new online dashboard allowing everyone to easily track major projects through every stage of the approval process."
The White House later acknowledged that Trump was talking about the existing council, and that there's already a dashboard. "While the previous administration did stand up the council, it truly did not fulfill its potential," said White House assistant press secretary Natalie Strom.
Trump made the announcement in a speech capping off what the White House has called "Infrastructure Week," highlighting what he called the "painfully slow, costly and time-consuming process" for approving federal highway projects.
"A highway today takes years and years and years to get approved — sometimes as much as 15 or 17 years. By the time they get the approvals, they need another highway," Trump said. He complained about the "mountains" of paperwork on federal permits, and brought binders of what he called "nonsense" paperwork for an 18-mile toll road in Maryland known as the Intercounty Connector.
The president also said he would create a new office in the White House Council on Environmental Quality to root out inefficiency in the federal permitting process, and said he would make sure that any agency found to be dragging its feet on infrastructure projects would face "tough, new penalties." He did not elaborate.
As much of Washington has been focused on James Comey's testimony to Congress about what led to his firing as FBI director, Trump has remained largely focused on his theme of the week: infrastructure. On Monday he proposed privatizing air traffic control; he traveled to Cincinnati Wednesday to promote his $1 trillion infrastructure plan; and Thursday he hosted governors and mayors at the White House to discuss projects.
"To all our state and local leaders here today, I want you to know that help is finally — after many, many decades — on its way," Trump said Friday.