A Conversation With Infrastructure Coordinator Mitchell Landrieu

Monday, September 19, 2022
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Senior Advisor and Infrastructure Coordinator, The White House


Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Introductory Remarks

Vice President for National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

Mitchell Landrieu—senior advisor and infrastructure coordinator at the White House, former lieutenant governor of Louisiana, and former mayor of New Orleans— discuss the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) with CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Heidi Crebo-Rediker and share best practices for coordinating efforts among various state and federal agencies, implementing resilient and sustainable technologies, and applying for the state and local grant programs.


FASKIANOS: Thank you. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations State and Local Officials Webinar. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. We are delighted to have all of you, participants from fifty states and five U.S. territories, with us for today’s conversation, which is on the record.

CFR is an independent and nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, publisher, and educational institution focusing on U.S. foreign policy. CFR is also the publisher of Foreign Affairs magazine and takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. Through our State and Local Officials Initiative, CFR serves as a resource on international issues affecting the priorities and agendas of state and local governments by providing analysis on a wide range of policy topics.

We’re delighted to have with us today Ms. Crebo-Rediker and Coordinator Landrieu to talk about infrastructure in the conversation coming. We have shared their bios with you, so I will just give you a few highlights.

Ms. Crebo-Rediker is an adjunct senior fellow at CFR and a partner at international capital strategies. Prior to coming to CFR, she served at the U.S. Department of State as its first chief economist. And she was also the chief of international finance and economics for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Coordinator Mitch Landrieu is currently serving as senior advisor to the president and responsible for overseeing the coordination and implementation of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law last year. Prior to joining the Biden administration, Coordinator Landrieu served two years as mayor of New Orleans, where he was instrumental in helping the city recover from Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. He also spent sixteen years as a representative in Louisiana statehouse and was elected lieutenant governor of Louisiana from 2004 to 2010.

So thank you for being with us today. I’m going to turn it over now to you, Heidi, for the conversation.

CREBO-REDIKER: So thanks, Irina. And thank you to everybody who joined today. It’s quite a—it’s quite a crowd.

And thank you very much to Mitch Landrieu. He’s a very busy man. He has been in charge of the federal rollout of a very large, historic investment in American infrastructure, the 1.2 trillion dollars. So it’s part formula funding. That’s a system that we’re used to. But part of this has been standing up and coordinating new programs that add multiple and address multiple sometimes new policy objectives that we’ve talked about on some of these calls before, like equity, and resilience, whether it’s climate or cyber, and paying attention to underserved communities. And also to get money out the door fast, because we really need to rebuild our infrastructure.

So it’s complicated. You’ve tried to make it easy and transparent. We’ve talked about the build.gov website and the guidebook that you’ve put together on how to use these funds, what to apply for, whom to contact, how to navigate all the myriad of federal agencies that are involved in the deployment. And we hope people have used it. But there are a lot of people who have questions on this call today. I’m just going to kick it off with a question of where we are. We’re almost one year in. What are—you know, what have you seen? What are the lessons learned that can be helpful to the people on this call? And I’ll hand it over to you. Thank you so much.

LANDRIEU: Heidi, thanks so much. And thanks, everybody, for joining us. And of course, thank you to the Council on Foreign Relations for hosting this event. I’m a big fan of CFR, followed the organization for many years. The director Richard Haass is a great thinker. He wrote a book that I completely agree with, which is that you cannot be strong abroad if you’re not strong at home. And it argues for making sure that in order for us to really protect our national security that foreign policy is a two-headed coin. One of them is domestic policy—or, I should say—our national security is a two-headed coin. One of them is our foreign policy; one is our domestic policy. But they both depend on each other so that America can be strong, and America can actually, what we like to say, win the 21st century.

So it’s critically important. If you talk to any of our major leaders that are identified as national security folks, they will tell you that our infrastructure at home is a necessary component part—our physical infrastructure, our human infrastructure—to America being able to meet its obligations on the world stage. So with that framework in mind, it’s also critically important, if America is going to continue to lead the world economically, to make sure that America itself has the tools it needs.

So President Biden has come in and, unlike any other president that has served at least in the last sixty to seventy years, passed what we call a once-in-a-generation opportunity to actually catch back what we have not been doing well for the past couple of years, and prepare ourselves for the future, by investing in rebuilding our roads, and our bridges, and our airports, and our ports, all of our waterways, some of our great lakes. Making sure that American citizens, each and every one of them, has access to high-speed internet to make sure that people have equal access to knowledge and can engage in economic development, generational growth, precision agriculture, telemedicine—things that we all know are such a necessity now. As if you didn’t know before COVID, we certainly know it now.

Making sure that we prepare ourselves for a clean energy economy. I think everybody knows by now and, you know, our thoughts and prayers as we—as we record this conversation are with the people of Puerto Rico who are being battered once again by another terrible storm as if they haven't had enough already. We continue to deal with the issues of climate change in a real and an impactful way that's going to have a compelling impact on nation’s security, as well as the livelihood of people in American and people outside of America. And then finally, just preparing ourselves for clean energy economy that we know we're going to need.

All of those things are part of this bill. Now, we’re ten months into this. We’ve hit the ground running. My team is basically on doing three things. We're building a team to be able to deliver things to the ground. We’re getting the money out of the door. And then we’re trying to tell the story. In the last ten months, we’ve pushed over $110 billion out of the door. And as you said when you when introduced me, there are basically two ways that this money is getting to the ground.

Number one, 90 percent of this is going to be deployed by the governors in the mayors to the ground. So we have to get it to them. They’re going to get two ways. One is through formula funding, which should be very familiar to anybody that has worked with the federal government since at least Ronald Reagan has been in office, where the states were really the portals through which federal money came down through pipelines. We basically put money in those pipelines and sent them directly to the governors, whether it's roads, or bridges, or airport, or ports. That's about half of the money.

And so for those folks on the local level that are looking for this, you have to engage with your state representatives and your state senators, your congressional delegation, and your governors the same way you would historically engage with them on advocating for money to be spent in your communities. But there’s another half of the bill. And that is money that is going to be directly sent to small communities, medium-sized communities, large communities, tribal communities based on competitive programs that exist in every pocket of this bill.

Now, this bill has 375 programs, 125 of them are brand-new, and they span the entire spectrum of what I just talked about earlier. I won’t go through it again, but it basically touches every portion of the bill that you’ll be able to compete for. You can find most of the information about all of these programs in build, B-U-I-L-D, dot gov. It’s got a page for each one of the programs, and it describes what it is, how to get it, who’s got it, what the deadlines are for the applications. And it gives you a pretty good feel for what’s going to happen. There’s also a (book ?) for folks in rural America on rural.gov. And then for folks that want to sign up for high-speed internet, you can go to internet.gov, because our team is trying to come to where people are, and find you where you are, and not wait for you to say how the heck do I get to this money.

So that’s a fifty-thousand-foot, very quick view of the most historic piece of legislation that’s been passed in the last fifty years. And I’ll turn it back over to you for further questions.

CREBO-REDIKER: So the—so the build.gov website is actually—it’s got a huge amount of information, and all the different programs, and deadlines, and the federal agencies that are involved. But can you talk a little bit about the technical resources that are also available to state and local governments? Because a lot of people don’t know where to start, especially for these funds that you have to compete for. Their offices are overwhelmed. They don’t have the resources to actually fill out the applications. And many of the underserved communities that you’re actually targeting are the ones with the most limited personnel and expertise. And the formulas in the past haven’t necessarily served these communities so well. So just if you could talk a little bit about what resources are out there for state and local governments.

LANDRIEU: Well, thank you for that question. You know, when this bill passed—when you say it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity, it also means that it hasn’t happened in a long time. And so I would have to just give you my opinion that we in the country—I mean, the federal, state, local governments, the not-for-profit sector, the faith-based communities and, you know, other folks—don’t have good muscle memory in how to get money to the ground to do big things, or to do consequential things. And we’re relearning all of these things. So one of my challenges, as the senior advisor and coordinator, is to make sure that the federal government itself, all of these Cabinet secretaries, are using all of their power, all their intellectual capital to coordinate, so that when people want to access us we’re actually user friendly. Which is why we’ve had over fourteen Cabinet meetings, we’re having our fifteenth actually this Thursday coming up, to make sure that we’re communicating.

Secondly, I also knew that the federal government has to coordinate very overtly and aggressively and offensively with the states. So on behalf of the president, I’ve spoken to each one of the governors in the country. They have at my request, at the president’s urging, appointed an infrastructure coordinator. And then we began to talk to the mayors and to those organizations that actually are responsive to the question you asked. So the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the United States Conference of Mayors, all of those organizations have been read into and actually have, quote/unquote, “gone to infrastructure school” to understand how technically to get this stuff to the ground.

On top of that, we have reached out to the philanthropic organizations across the country—the Ford Foundation, Kresge—led by Bloomberg and the Emerson Collective and a whole host of other ones, who I did not mean to leave out but it would be too long for me to mention every one of them, who are really working through how philanthropy can organize themselves around getting technical assistance to these small communities to actually help them figure out how to do it. I would also encourage everybody on this call to think about two things: How to access the universities in your area that can help you facilitate communications between and amongst all the organizations that I just told you about, and then finally to think about workforce development.

One of the things that’s immediately—two things immediately obvious. There’s some people who need technical assistance finding all this stuff, which is what we just spoke to. But the other is just asking yourself the basic question, how do I connect the guy down the street that’s not working to a job that I understand is coming because of this bill? So if you think about just a clean energy side for this, and moving into half the country buying an electric vehicle by a certain date, whatever that might be, you have to start thinking to yourself: Well, if I’m going to buy an electric vehicle, where am I going to plug it in? Where is that going to be? Who’s going to put these EV charging stations in the ground? Who’s actually going to build them? How are we going to train people to build these things?

Or you might think to yourself, well, wow, if we’re going to have these electric vehicles, who’s going to manufacture these batteries? Where are these batteries actually going to get manufactured? Well, in the last couple of months, because of the president’s bill, billions of dollars have been noticed by big, big companies that are going to build these manufacturing facilities and these batteries. So people are going to have to put them together. Who are those people? How are they going to be trained? What’s the curriculum to train them? Those kinds of things. And then finally, if you really back it up and ask yourself, well, if we’re going to have electric vehicles and we need electrical vehicle charging stations, and we need batteries, where are we going to get the source material to actually make these things, these critical minerals? Somebody has to mine them.

So all of those things have to get done. If you think about high-speed internet and say to yourself, well, who’s going to lay the high-speed internet, and ask yourself, how many people do we need? We have about an 800,000-person gap over the next ten years about how much we have to lay and who’s going to lay them. All of these things portend that we have to redesign our workforce development strategies in our respective communities.

And I will end on this point: I just told you that we have a national concern. But the answers are local. So in each one of the neighborhoods of the people who are on this call listening, you have to ask yourself: What’s going to happen in my city? What’s going to happen in my town? What’s going to happen in my county? What are the jobs that are coming our way? What is the governor and the mayor doing to help coordinating? Who are the universities and the workforce training centers? Who are the community and technical colleges that are available? What is the core curriculum that we have to design in order to pair the people that we know with the jobs that we think are coming our way?

That has to be put together. And everybody that’s listening on this call is going to have a responsibility for actually designing what that looks like as this money gets down to the ground. That’s not something that the federal government is going to design. We’re providing the money. We’re providing the programs. We’re providing the guidance. But the work has to get done on the ground, where everybody on this call lives.

CREBO-REDIKER: So before we start taking questions, and I hope you will all use the raise hand function, we’ll go through the list. And I think what we’ve learned on previous calls, that we actually—we have a lot of know-how and experience on the call, and that we learn a lot from people from all over the country on the ground, and they learn from each other in this forum, because innovation is often more local than federal, no offense. And the—

LANDRIEU: No offense taken. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly—that’s exactly—one thing I’ll—not only no offense taken, that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. And if we set this system up right and we create this virtuous cycle of innovation, those ideas on the ground will kind of percolate back up and then out again. So it’s a great thing.

CREBO-REDIKER: So that was my question, how do you—how do these people deliver feedback to you? Because a lot—especially with the new programs you have new regulations, you have new coordination functions and agencies. Is there some way for state and local governments to get feedback to you on how the programs are working, so that it can sort of be an evolving process?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, constantly. Right now there’s always—whenever these programs get put in place, there’s always a comment period that all of the agencies on the federal level have to receive from the private sector, the public sector, what they think the rules and regulations ought to be. And there are constant feedback loops that we’re working into the design of the programs. As I mentioned to you earlier, I’m in contact with all the governors and all their infrastructure coordinators. And I’m in contact with all of the mayors in America and the county executives. And of course, their respective department heads.

Let’s just say, in a city, the head of the Department of Public Works in, you know, Austin, Texas, or the head of the state transportation office in Colorado. We’re constantly getting feedback from them about what works and doesn’t work. So the folks that are on the ground, you ought to be pushing that up and pushing that out through those organizations. On top of that, all of the websites for all of the different departments have feedback loops where you guys can chime in and tell us what’s working and what’s not working. This is going to—we’re iterating every day.

And as I said, it’s my personal opinion that the country’s gotten out of the habit of doing big things well together. And there’s a lot of coordination that has to take place before we actually get it right. And so I would encourage people to give constructive counsel and advice about how to move forward.

CREBO-REDIKER: Well, that’s it for my questions. The first—the first hand up was Sandra Tooley, who’s a city council member from Valdosta, Georgia. Do you want to—Sandra, do you want to unmute yourself, tell us—you know, I just said where you’re from and what your affiliation is—but what your question is? And thanks for raising your hand.

Q: Well, my name—I am Councilwoman Sandra Tooley, city of Valdosta, Georgia.

And I was listening to a lot of the comments and information that you were giving us about how we can help some of these smaller businesses or smaller areas who don’t have access to—I guess, get the information about how to, you know, ask for these funds, and everything like that. They are getting left so much behind that we don’t have the education out there for them. I know they say it’s—some people say it’s out there, but how do we get it out to the people in the smaller businesses or the smaller cities that this is what you can do to get there? I don’t know either about how to get information to them. And that’s one of the problems we are finding here. That they don’t know how to fill out some of the forms because they’ve not done it before. They haven’t had that exposure, and I just don’t know. That’s what, I guess, I’m trying to figure out. What is your recommendation for trying to help the companies or business or schools or universities who can teach them that or give them that information that they need?

LANDRIEU: No, that’s a good point. And as I said, the organizations that we’ve been partnering with—Bloomberg Philanthropies, for example, has a—has a whole group of people they have pulled together to be available and to provide technical assistance to small communities and towns around the country. You also have each one of the different departments that have technical assistance components, whether it’s the USDA, the Department of Agriculture, or the Department of Transportation that are helping do that.

And then, of course, council members themselves can go on build.gov and these other tools that we have, getinternet.gov or rural.gov. And a lot of this stuff is self-explanatory. Sandra, the other day I was in Lowndes County, which is not far, you know, from where you live, talking about making sure that folks have access to indoor plumbing. There are a lot of people in America that don’t know there’s millions of people in this country that don’t even have access to outdoor plumbing. There are billions of dollars in this bill that are designed to help those small communities understand that.

Now, Sandra, I want to point out to you, just to just repeat what I said when I started, half of this money’s going to your governors. So in states like Alabama and in Georgia, you know, you got to—you got to go hustle your governor and your legislatures. Now, you get into kind of challenges because not all governors get along with all mayors. But this particular bill, the way it’s designed, doesn’t eliminate the need to handle whatever political conversations people would normally have on the ground.

The other half of the bill, though, are projects that you can apply for directly that don’t have to go through your governor. So you can identify those as well. And so if you look at those technical tools that we gave you, and look through also the organizations that I’m sure one of your towns or communities is involved in—whether it’s the National Association of Counties, or the National League of Cities, or the U.S. Conference of Mayors. All of these organizations are running down, hopefully to the ground, as well as the technical assistance that’s part of each of the departments in the federal government that’s responsible for the parts of the bill that you’d be interested in, whether it’s EPA, Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy, or the Department of Commerce, which is where the primary components of the particular bipartisan infrastructure law.

CREBO-REDIKER: Thank you so much for that question, Sandra.

Can we go to Ann Johnson Stewart? She is a state senator in Minnesota.

Q: Good morning. Thank you. Yes, I’m Senator Ann Johnson Stewart. And I appreciate the time today.

I just want to echo the concerns of the previous questioner. In addition to being a senator, I’m also a licensed civil engineer and own my own consulting firm. By the way, Mr. Landrieu, I’d love to come work for you so watch for an email from me soon. But I just want to emphasize the challenge here. I’ve been working on this as—I also have an appointment at the university as the local technical assistance program engineer. For a small agency to submit a proposal, it costs roughly $30,000 in staff time. Now, this is documented over and over again.

And what we’re seeing, at least in Minnesota, is that many of the cities that have been successful in getting your grants, which we’re very grateful for it, but they have had to hire consultants to do that work for them. Some of the grant applications require a twenty-five to thirty-page project summary, which really—I mean, many people are competent and qualified, but it does require some civil engineering time. And, Mr. Landrieu, I just want to emphasize that this is a bridge that we have to figure out how to connect, the small cities, the tribes, townships. I’ve been teaching culvert repair for years. They could use money to repair culverts. They want it, but they do not have the expertise to write the grants.

So please, again, I’d love to follow up with anybody on your staff about this issue, but it is the really small cities and townships who just don’t have the resources. And making that money available—in a state like Minnesota, we can’t do it because we’re not in session right now. We don’t have the means by which we can fund this initiative. And so I don’t want to take up all the time, but I do want to tell you that that is well documented, that it’s costing about $30,000 a grant application. Thank you very much.

LANDRIEU: Well, Ann, thank you very much. I appreciate that. My father-in-law is a civil engineer, so there is a great need for universities to—so if you’re—in small towns and counties, you know, all the city council members and even the mayors are all part-time jobs. And everybody’s got another job someplace else. And the school system, primary, secondary, many, many universities, council member like you have as well. And I would really encourage people to think about how to solve these problems on the local level as much as possible.

We’re completely aware of the challenge. This is, like, oh, what’s the best way to describe this? When we had the financial crisis back in 2008 and the system got stressed, when we had COVID, writ large, and the system got stressed, I mean, like, right away you see where the holes are, where the dysfunction is, right? Things that we haven’t thought about for a long period of time. The same thing is happening with the infrastructure bill. When you begin to push a whole bunch of money into a number of different streams that had currently existed and you’re creating new ones, you begin to see gaps.

And Ann has lifted up one of the real challenges that we have. We know about it. We’re working on it from Washington. It needs to be worked on ground up, and we have to meet it. So we’re talking to the governors, we’re talking to the mayors about this. I will just, you know, communicate to all the folks that are on the ground where you live that you don’t have to wait on us to start putting technical assistance programs together. You can do the same thing. Everybody’s got a little bit of extra juice around, a little bit of extra intellectual capital, a little bit of expertise. You’ve got to tie together the government and the business community and the faith-based community and the not-for-profit sector so that they all are running towards this fire.

Now, there’s some big things that are going on that are going to cut across your jurisdictions. Let me run through a couple of them. Making sure that high-speed internet, that the fiber actually gets laid in the right places. Every governor is challenged with coming up with mapping that as we speak. So you should be communicating with your governors’ office that’s in charge of this about that particular thing. The same thing is true about mapping out where electric vehicle charging stations are going to go. There are billions of dollars in this bill to lay down five thousand electric vehicle charging stations on highways and in other places where the private sector is not likely to do it. So that’s another thing that you should be aware of. The third thing is on fortifying the electric grid.

All of these things cut across small town jurisdictions, big city jurisdictions, and in some states state jurisdictions. And so the governors are the ones that are being charged with sending these maps to us. The same thing is true, by the way, about getting lead out of—the lead pipes that are moving in and out of people’s homes. Governors and the states are supposed to be coming up with mapping to actually get that stuff done. That’s going to require input from the small towns and small communities that will then be put into a plan and then sent up to us in Washington, D.C., which we can approve or not approve. So all of those things today are happening that you can be working on, while we’re working on the technical assistance from the top all the way down to the bottom.

CREBO-REDIKER: So one other thing just to add, because we’ve talked about this on other calls, people at universities or colleges or community colleagues are very good at writing grant proposals.

LANDRIEU: Correct.

CREBO-REDIKER: So, you know, if you get the mayor to reach out to the head of the community college or the local—you know, your local higher education institution and just say, hey, team effort, we need you—you know, we need your grant writing expertise. And hopefully, it’ll come for free.

We have a lot of questions that are very, very similar, along the line of the—of the last two questions, on getting technical assistance. And specifically—

LANDRIEU: I neglected—I neglected to say this, that to the extent that your feedback can highlight for us what might be superfluous or duplicative in these applications. We’re all about making it faster and easier for people to apply. Having said that, it is important that we build these things with intention, that we do think about equity, and we do think about high-paying jobs, and we do think about building things with climate and resilience in mind, and we do think about building stuff with products that are made in America.

So some of these competitive grants will have requirements in that to show us that that’s exactly how you’re spending the money because we just—the president’s thought was not to just go build a bridge the way it was built before. That you want to build it higher, and bigger, and stronger. You want to build it with cybersecurity in mind. Those kinds of things tend to make applications a little bit, you know, more than they were before. So it just can’t be one page. But that doesn’t mean they have to be thirty and written in a way that people can’t understand. So, again, we’re trying to do two things at once. And we’re completely open to getting better as we go along so that we can get this money out fast and build stuff better.

CREBO-REDIKER: So we have a couple of questions that are similar in vein. Alan Propp from D.C.: What are the key considerations you look at when considering grant applications? How do we move from shovel-ready projects towards shovel-worthy projects, while still be realistic about what projects we can accomplish? And we have an additional follow-up from Salt Lake City, Ben Luedtke, who said basically the same question, should we submit the project designs and then second submit a later application to fund the construction? Which needs to come first, and in what order, and how do you—how do you suggest they approach this?

LANDRIEU: Thank you. Well, first of all, my office doesn’t make any selections for any projects in any one of the areas. I’m coordinating the activity of basically fourteen Cabinet agencies. Most, if not all, of the selections, at least on the competitive side of this, will be made by the Cabinet secretaries after a vetting process that staff from those different agencies go through. However, when those, what they call I hate federal acronyms—NOFOs, notices of funding opportunities, that’s a notice that the federal government sends out that says: Hey, we’re going to give out a billion dollars to fix bridges, or we’re going to give out a million bucks to lay high-speed internet, or we’re going to give our $500,000 to invest in ports and airports, et cetera. They will have in that the kinds of criteria that you have to be responsive to.

Now, again, we want to build things fast, shovel-ready. But we also want to build them right. And so build them right is really a value judgment. And President Biden believes that equity is really important, that we use this money to build generational wealth, that we use this money to get into tribal communities, into small communities, and not just the strongest survive kind of communities that have the kind of money to show up fast and first. So there is a little bit of a tension between speed, getting it done, and then getting it done right. And so there are some—there are some value judgments that are written into these applications.

And equity is one of them. Again, climate is one of them. We want to make sure that, as has been demonstrated time and time again—I’m from New Orleans. You know my city got beat to death by Katrina, Rita, Ike, Gustav, the national recession, the BP oil spill. It doesn’t make any sense to go build something back the way it was if it’s not able to withstand the kinds of things that are coming our way right now. So you want to build bridges back with the good material. You want to build them stronger. You want to think about cybersecurity.

It's also important that we build with products that are made in America. Now folks are going to say, well, we can’t find all the products that are made in America. But we want to incentivize manufacturing here in America. Since the president’s been in office, he’s created 678,000 manufacturing jobs, the largest number that has been created in many, many, many years. And that’s because of the incentives of this bill. We want people manufacturing things in America. And so, as a consequence of this bill, I think that there’s been—I don’t want to call the number, I’m going to get it wrong—but a large number of billions of dollars of investments that have been announced by manufacturers who are starting to respond to this, because this is going to build generational wealth.

The president believes that unions built the middle class, and the middle class built America. He wants folks getting high-paid, you know, well-paid jobs with well-paid benefits in order to stand this up. So if you build it that way, that’s going to last longer. It’s going to be stronger. It’s going to be built better, and it’s going to build a better America. So that kind of gives you a reason why some of these requests for proposals or notices of funding opportunities have that kind of language in it. And it expresses the kind of tension about going fast but doing it right at the same time.

And we’re trying to do both. We think that we can. But again, we haven’t done this for a very long period of time. And we have to get really good at it. And it’s going to take us a minute in order for that to happen.

CREBO-REDIKER: Thank you. Aldona Valicenti from Lexington, Kentucky, you have your hand up.

Q: Yes, I did. Thank you very much. It’s a real opportunity to express my thanks for having this program in place.

But what I did want to do is offer you an opportunity, and the people who are listening, an opportunity in how to approach this. The city of Lexington has already had the good fortune to implement high-speed internet. So in other words, we have several providers. We’re a gig city. But that has not necessarily been the same for the surrounding counties. So we have taken the regional approach.

Since we have had already the opportunity to oversee a build, we know quite a bit about building fiber now. And we have organized the six surrounding communities, including our combined city-county government, into an opportunity to look at how we might be able to do that with the surrounding counties. We’ve issued an RFP. And we’ve done that because we felt that we could now educate each other. And that has been a real, real opportunity. We’ve listened to the vendors who can do it, and now are beginning to work with our state government.

So I just wanted to offer this as another alternative, because I do believe that, you know, it’s the regional opportunities that are going to drive economic development, very much as you’ve all indicated. And that’s the approach that we’ve taken. And if anybody wants to call me in Lexington, I’ll be happy to talk to them.

LANDRIEU: Aldona, thank you so much for that. I think is—used to be the mayor of Lexington and is now the governor’s infrastructure coordinator and running that initiative. I’ve spent some time in Kentucky. I’ve been there a bucketload of times. I’ve been to Louisville. Greg Fischer’s a good friend of mine, who’s the mayor of Louisville. I’ve actually been to Dog Patch. So you live in a beautiful state.

But she makes an excellent point that I’d like to—I’d like to, you know, click on a bit. When you have a hub like a Lexington or a Louisville, you’re going to benefit from helping the small towns and communities in the region. And the reason is, is because the more—the more competitions they win, the more federal dollars come into the area, it lifts everybody up. So taking a regional approach to all of these things is really very, very wise, no matter where you live.

And hopefully every major city in America, whether they be large cities or medium-sized cities, or small cities that are wealthy, will take the exact same approach. Primarily because the universities that live in those areas actually are serving regional populations anyway. And so that’s what I’m hoping to do. I hope people don’t just wait on the federal government to go do everything because, A, we can’t and, B, we can’t see everything on the ground.

So from my perspective, what I’m trying to help do is build what I call horizontal-vertical integration, where the federal government, which is fifty thousand feet up, is really talking very well and all the way down to the ground with people that live in very small communities, and then connecting the state and the cities in between. So that there’s, like, one delivery table in America. Now, when you do that, you also have to think regionally. And if you can create concentric circles that are moving all across the country one thing will start to feed off of the next, because all of these networks that we’re building are all codependent, especially the electric grid.

So it’s critically important to kind of, you know, fist-bump what Aldona said, especially about regional cooperation. But you also have to have cooperation between the state government, the federal government, and then the regional directors of all the federal agencies as well.

CREBO-REDIKER: So, just before we finish with the last few questions, Senator—State Senator Ann Johnson, you have someone on the line who is volunteering as a semi-retired civil engineer who wants to help you. So you should connect with Robert Israel. Just passing—messenger.

So, a question coming from David Rutz. It’s in the—it’s in the chat. We have a project that’s new and wasn’t submitted with the original list of infrastructure projects. Problem with river erosion at one of the state hatcheries. It’s a new project prior to the original submission—it wasn’t submitted. Will there be another—will there be a second bite at the apple? Is there a chance of funding and a second round that he can go to the state infrastructure coordinator and ask for funds for his project?

LANDRIEU: Which—well, it’s a little bit unclear from the question about which project he was asking about and what department, but the answer is still the same. This is a—this is a multi-year effort. This is not a one-year thing. So much of this money was put in—that was in the infrastructure bill is a five-year to a seven-year spend. And so when we’re announcing notices of funding opportunities, we’ll send out money for 2022. There’ll be another application for 2023, 2024, and 2025, until the money is spent. So, yes, there are always numerous bites at the apple. And, by the way, there are a lot of different ways to get funded through various different programs. It’s not a one-size-fits-all.

I’ll give you an example. In the Department of Transportation and Development, in DOT, they actually pushed three funding opportunities together. So you had one—to go to the question that was asked before—one application for three programs. So that you didn’t have to do it three times. And so we have a number of those happening. So it sounds like what the questioner was asking about was a water project, which is probably coming out of EPA.

Now again I want to remind everybody, I’ve said it twice now so I actually intend to be repetitive, half of this money is coming from the federal government to your state. State water revolving funds from the EPA that deal with lead and clean air and clean water and things like abandoned mine lands. Some of it you have to apply directly to the federal department. You have to kind of know—and you can look at that book at build.gov that will tell you exactly what the program is and whether it’s a funnel program to the governor or whether it’s a competitive program that you can apply for directly.

CREBO-REDIKER: We have one question—I’ll try and get one more question in—from John Bouvier. He has his hand raised. Go ahead.

LANDRIEU: Great name.

Q: Thank you. This has been very informative. I appreciate everything you’re talking about.

But I think we—I’m hearing, I feel the same way, that we’re kind of stuck when it comes to the money that goes to the states, particularly on the energy side. In Southampton, we have numerous energy initiatives, and we get held up a little bit at the level of the power authority. We have an unusual power authority. It’s a public-private power authority. And they have—when we urge them to apply for these kinds of grants, they’re a little reticent unless it’s cost-effective. That’s a loosely used word. I’m not quite sure what they mean by that.

But we’re held up by it and it becomes a checkpoint, a chokepoint for us. And when we make the investments ourselves in particular—we’re able to do that, we do hire consultants and we have good relationships. Unfortunately, we’re still at the mercy of the power authority. And even though it’s just a difficult relationship. And there’s these certain obstruction points when it comes to our willingness to do the right thing, to do CVP, and CCA, and all those things gets held up by either the public service commission or gets held up by our local power authority.

And we approached to try to change that by acting regionally and trying to—so we spent an inordinate amount of time petitioning our power authority, and working with them, and trying to get that done. But it just seems very obstructive and contrary to the goals that you have, and the federal government has to move these things quickly. I just wanted to get your thoughts on that.

LANDRIEU: First of all, John, I love your last name. It sounds very like you’re from Louisiana. But you said—where are you from? You said Southampton?



Q: That’s the eastern end of Long Island.

LANDRIEU: You raise a point that is a system design issue that is political in nature. And the best I can describe to you is this: Historically the federal government, for many, many, many years, has decided that they were going to push money down through the states. That is, they’ll send the money to the governors, and then the governors have to use whatever process that every state uses to get money to the ground. And every one of them is different. Some legislatures are more powerful than others. Some lieutenant governors have more power than governors, particularly, like, I think, in Texas. But that’s kind of the way it’s always been done.

When they were putting this bill together, I wasn’t there when the bill got passed, but there was a serious argument that reflected what your concerns were just now. Which is, how do you get money directly to small governing authorities? And that is why Congress designed 40 percent of this bill to go directly to, for example, Southampton as opposed to the governor of New York. Now, it is also true that your public service commission on some of the clean energy stuff can apply for this stuff as well. And if they’re the ones who get it, and then they distribute it down to the ground, there’s nothing this bill does to alleviate the requirement that local politics take the course that local politics takes, which is to argue, you know, and to hold people accountable for the decisions that they make.

If people are really wise about this and we get this right, I think it’ll come into pretty—into some really good clarity that working together, building regional solutions, being aggressive about trying to get these federal funds and get into the ground as quick as possible on fortifying the energy grid, cleaning up the Great Lakes, doing the kind of things that I talked about, is going to be of most benefit to most people in the country. It’s one of the—this bill is designed to get people to find common ground. And, you know, people have to behave well, and they have to make big decisions. And, you know, we can’t force that from fifty thousand feet up. That’s going to have to be, you know, done by local leaders on the ground, like you.

So I commend you for thinking about it. As we design future pieces of legislation, hopefully, you know, Washington, as they always should be, will be open to hearing back from the leaders that actually make America work. I happen to think they’re local leaders. I think money can come from Washington and we can have some good ideas, but actually the rubber meets the road where the people on this call live, on the corners, and in the playgrounds and, you know, in places where folks shop. And, you know, local elected officials are the ones that are in the store every day, in the carpool lines, at the ballparks or churches. You know, and you’re getting smacked on the head by your constituents because you’re living in real-time. And there’s no distance between your decisions and when those decisions hit the ground. That’s not necessarily true about Washington.

So I appreciate the urgency with which all of you act and the clarity of purpose that pushes all of you forward. And I just really appreciate the work that you’ve done, because I’m a local elected guy. And that’s kind of what I learned and that’s what I’m trying to bring to Washington on behalf of the president.

CREBO-REDIKER: So we’ve gone over. You’ve been unbelievably generous with your time. And you said forty-five minutes. We’ve gone over a couple of minutes. So I want to thank you. I’m going to hand it back to Irina to wrap up. You are so welcome to come back here, though, because there are a lot of questions that a lot of people want to have questions asked and answered. So we hope you’ll—this will not be your last time joining our group here at CFR.

LANDRIEU: Well, Heidi, I thank you. And if I can’t, there are people who are a lot smarter than me who work on my team who have been great about designing this and implementing. They’re always available to you guys as well. So thank you so much for having me. And again, to all the local elected officials, God bless you. Thank you for all the work that you do. I’ve been there—sixteen years as a legislator, eight as a mayor. I know what it’s like. But it was wonderful. And I’m going to try to bring, you know, some of that ethos to the federal government and get his money out to the ground as fast as possible, on behalf of the president.

FASKIANOS: Thank you very much. I just want to remind everybody that we will send out a link to this webinar recording and transcript so you can share it with your colleagues and your constituents. Until then, you can follow Coordinator Mitch Landrieu on Twitter at @mitchlandrieu46 and Ms. Heidi Crebo-Rediker at @heidirediker. And as always, please email us with ideas and suggestions for future webinars. You can email [email protected]. And also follow us. Go to cfr.org, foreignaffairs.com, and thinkglobalhealth.org for more expertise. So thank you all for the work you’re doing. Thank you, Coordinator Landrieu, for your service, we appreciate it, and for this time. Have a good day.

LANDRIEU: Thank you so much. Good being with you.


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