WASHINGTON, D.C. Yesterday, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on the nomination of Russell Vought for the position of Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget, discussed the need to fully implement his bipartisan Federal Permitting Improvement Act. Vought confirmed to Portman that he would, as authorized through his legislation, work to get the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPISC) up and running to help spur economic growth and job creation. During Mick Mulvaney’s confirmation hearing for Director of Office of Management and Budget, he made a similar pledge to implement Portman’s bipartisan law. 

Excerpts of the questioning can be found below and a video can be found here.

Senator Portman:Let me focus on one thing that was mentioned earlier, and that’s infrastructure. Today the President is in my hometown of Cincinnati talking about infrastructure. I am delighted he’s doing that. He’s going to talk about locks and dams and the Ohio River and I hope he’s going to talk about broader infrastructure questions. On Friday he’s supposed to be talking about permitting.

“I know you’re not there yet, and when you were at Heritage Action you guys actually opposed the highway bill that passed the Senate. I hope you didn’t oppose the permitting reform. I don’t think you did, in fact I think you would have been supportive of that if you would have been asked to opine on that separately. But Title 41 of the FAST Act has the permitting reform that was talked about earlier and it is absolutely needed. We have projects on the Ohio River as an example including some of our dams that have taken six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years. Capital is not that patient anymore. It goes somewhere else, and it doesn’t just go to another state, it goes to another country.

“So our reform effort and Senator McCaskill and I did this together in a bipartisan basis, for five years we worked on it. We had the Chamber of Commerce, the manufacturers and others with us. We also had the AFL-CIO Building Trade Council with us because they all wanted jobs. They saw what was happening. We took the statute of limitations for instance from six years down to two years after a need for review. Our original bill was actually was even shorter than that. That’s actually a huge change right there.

“We have this dashboard now where citizens are able to get transparency to be able to see where the status is of a project; one agency in charge, which is really important because often the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. We have energy projects in Ohio where 35 different permits are sometimes required, sometimes sequentially. The effort is to make it more efficient.

“We have set up this thing called the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPISC). It sits at OMB, and I fought hard to get it to OMB, and not to CEQ where some other folks wanted it, because we believed OMB had some leverage, and I think Senator McCaskill will tell you we went back and forth on this quite a bit, and she took some heat on it. We wanted to put it somewhere where you have a part of the government, OMB, that actually has some leverage over the other agencies and departments, partly because of the budget function that you will be very involved with.

“Are you aware of this issue permitting reform, the need for it and the legislation we already passed, and are you aware of the fact that this FPISC organization has not been stood up, that we don’t have an executive director, there is an acting person there now, do you have thoughts on why that is and why we don’t get this going?”

Russell Vought: “Thank you Senator, I am aware of the permitting council. It is a priority for the administration. Funding was included in the president’s budget. Specifically, in regard to the impact it has in order to leverage the types of reforms and spending that we need as an administration to get $1 trillion of investment into infrastructure spending. I cannot speak to why there has been a delay in setting up the council but from a funding aspect it has been a priority of the administration.”

Senator Portman: “I am glad to hear you say that and I hope you personally will roll up your sleeves and get involved in this, because I do think it has been incredibly important as we are trying to figure out how to spend tax dollars more efficiently. The dollar is going to be much more valuable if it’s in the context of a permitting reform effort where we don’t have to go through these long delays and additional costs. Are you looking for any additional authorities on this? Do you know anything else we need to do in Congress to be helpful?”

Vought: “It is not something that I have inquired in yet because I haven’t been confirmed, but if confirmed senator it would be something that I want to inquire upon and to seek advice within the OMB as to ways that we can improve the statute.” 

Senator Portman: I appreciate that, and what I am asking for today is your personal commitment that should you be confirmed that you will be supportive of getting it set up and using the authorities we have already given you on a bipartisan basis, which is rare around here, to actually make a difference and not just talk about it but actually implement it.”

Vought: “You have that Senator.”

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