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It is no secret America’s infrastructure needs some big league help.  In March, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave America’s infrastructure a D+. (Sad!) The ASCE report card estimates the nation’s highways, bridges, ports, railways, airports, schools, energy and water infrastructure require an investment of $4.6 trillion through 2025 to keep the U.S. economy competitive, yet it projects a $2 trillion funding shortfall if lawmakers maintain the status quo.

During his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Donald Trump made it clear rebuilding and modernizing the country’s crumbling infrastructure is a top administration priority and announced he will be asking “Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure of the United States—financed through both public and private capital—creating millions of new jobs.”

Legislation advancing the Trump administration’s plan has not been publicly released at the time of this publication.

Following a prolonged fight over health care, Congress is unlikely to tackle the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan until early 2018, at best. 

In the interim, the White House has issued a broad outline with insights about its plan.

The president’s 2018 budget proposal—which traditionally functions as a symbolic political wish list highlighting administration priorities—lays out $200 billion over 10 years in direct federal infrastructure spending. 

Critics say President Trump’s budget proposal lacks specifics and fails to direct an adequate amount of federal dollars to make a difference in America’s infrastructure, which already suffers from significant underinvestment and funding uncertainty. They also argue the president’s budget proposal contains cuts to existing federal agency infrastructure programs, resulting in little additional net infrastructure spending and investment. 

Conservative groups have urged the White House to take steps to ensure its infrastructure plan delivers the best value to taxpayers and doesn’t evolve into a boondoggle reliant on federal spending similar to the 2009 stimulus. Likewise, a May Heritage Foundation report suggests ways policymakers can generate $1.1 trillion in private and public infrastructure investment over 10 years without adding to the deficit by eliminating mandates that drive up the cost of current spending, reforming regulations that hamper infrastructure projects and refocusing the federal government’s role on national priorities.

According to a White House fact sheet included in the 2018 budget proposal, the “president’s target of $1 trillion in infrastructure investment will be funded through a combination of new federal funding, incentivized non-federal funding, and newly prioritized and expedited projects.”

The White House is expected to rely heavily on public-private partnerships (P3s) to attract private capital to build new transformative projects, improve underutilized assets and create value by addressing project life cycle costs, mitigating risks and delivering construction projects faster to market.

In addition, White House officials point to efforts already under way to improve America’s infrastructure, which include reducing red tape and expediting stalled infrastructure projects, such as presidential memos approving the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, and an executive order expediting environmental reviews and approvals for high-priority infrastructure projects.

A June 8 White House blog post released during the Trump administration’s “infrastructure week” says the developer-in-chief’s plan to slash needless regulation will reduce permitting time for major projects from 10 years to two years. The plan also calls for an investment of $25 billion in rural infrastructure, $15 billion in transformative projects and $100 billion for local prioritization of infrastructure needs. 

A rapid increase in construction demand will further exacerbate the current shortage of approximately 500,000 skilled professionals facing the construction industry today.

Apprenticeships Are Front and Center 
The Trump administration is attempting to improve conditions for one million apprentices across all industries in two years to meet the demand for a highly skilled manufacturing, technology and construction workforce—benefiting both the U.S. economy and its infrastructure. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, roughly 50,000 apprentices complete programs annually across all industries. However, the numbers currently include only 500,000 registered apprentices—meaning there’s significant room for growth in enrollment. 

On June 15, President Trump took an important step toward building new career opportunities for all Americans by signing Executive Order 13801, Expanding Apprenticeships in America. The executive order directs the secretary of labor, in collaboration with the secretaries of commerce and education, to consider developing regulations that would allow programs by third parties, such as industry trade associations, to self-certify apprenticeship programs meeting certain standards, which will facilitate innovative workforce development systems that address glaring skills gaps, attract new talent, and meet the immediate demands of industry and the marketplace. 

A new workforce development paradigm may grant workers and employers the freedom to choose the best way to train a construction workforce to meet industry labor demands and create sustainable high-wage careers. These training methodologies may include just-in-time task training, competency-based learning, e-learning, work-based learning and government-registered apprenticeships.  

Congress also is taking action to address the workforce shortage. On June 22, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2353), introduced by Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), which would reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and modernize career and technical education programs by better aligning them with industry demand to ensure students are able to obtain the skills for the 21st century. H.R. 2353 is currently awaiting action in the U.S. Senate. 

This is an exciting time for construction industry stakeholders, as America’s infrastructure may see its first major overhaul in decades. President Trump’s agenda requires bold bipartisan action from the federal government to reduce regulatory burdens and provide pathways for private sector engagement and investment. The construction industry has a tremendous opportunity to author transformative policies that break the inadequate status quo. 

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