By: Micah Bucy
Last year Congress authorized $1.2 trillion in spending through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. You’re probably thinking “Great! What happens next? How do I get my project funded?” Well, as you might expect with a 2,702-page law, the answer is complicated. This post attempts to provide an overview of the disbursement process and what you can and should be doing to be prepared for when the funds become available.
It’s important to remember that although $1.2 trillion is a big dollar figure, that money is earmarked for different types of projects in varying amounts. In other words, the Jobs Act is unlikely to “solve” all infrastructure issues but rather offer funds for improvements in many areas. For instance, $55 billion is earmarked for drinking water infrastructure but this amount will not fix every issue with the nation’s lagging drinking water infrastructure. Or take the $65 billion earmarked for power infrastructure improvements—this amount of money will both improve the existing power infrastructure and help to onboard renewable power sources, but it will neither fix all current infrastructure issues nor make us a 100% renewable energy-sourced country.
Takeaway No. 1: What this means in terms of getting your project funding is that, at some point, someone will need to make hard decisions : whether to fund your project or John Smith’s equally deserving project proposal. It is with this backdrop of competitiveness in mind that you should analyze your proposed project today to be in the best position to receive funding tomorrow.
The $1.2 trillion dollar pie is initially cut into different pieces like roads/bridges, power infrastructure, public transportation, etc. But these larger pieces are then cut into much smaller, specific-program pieces. For example, the $65 billion earmarked for power infrastructure is cut into much smaller pieces like $500MM to demonstrate the viability of clean energy projects on former mining lands and $100MM for wind energy projects. For each of these projects, the Department of Energy will directly select the projects to be funded through a competitive application process.
The distribution of funds for the wind energy and mining lands programs stands in stark contrast to the $55 billion earmarked for improving the nation’s drinking water infrastructure. The drinking water money will be disbursed to all states according to need as determined by existing formulas that consider different variables such as population and infrastructure age/need. Once a state receives its allotted amount, it will likely implement a competitive grant application process – because again every state is likely to receive less than the amount needed to solve all of its infrastructure problems. The key difference between the power and drinking water infrastructure application processes is the identity of the decisionmaker; for the former, it’s a federal agency that will be considering applications from all over the country, whereas the latter is likely to be a state agency that is considering applications from in-state operators.
Takeaway No. 2: The identity of the funding decisionmaker is important for multiple reasons. The first of which is simply recognizing where to look for Jobs Act funding opportunities—if your proposed project is being administered directly by a federal agency the Funding Opportunity Announcement (“FOA”), the public notice of the application process, will be found in certain places (e.g. federal agency websites and specific federal grant websites), whereas if a state agency is administering the application the FOA will be found in different places.
Takeaway No. 3: Building relationships are key. One of the biggest barriers to entry is simply the need to know when grant opportunities are available—this is especially true if state agencies are the ones administering the money. If you start now to build relationships with local and state leaders, consultants, attorneys, and others you will inevitably need to bring your project to fruition, these people can act as an informational pipeline to notify you when grant opportunities become available. You will also want to connect with experience grant writers that know what agencies expect. Some federal agencies expect you to have signed up on their website in advance of the application, other agencies consistently expect you to have a GANTT chart or CVs included in your application. Having an experienced grant writer on your team can help you avoid pitfalls and provide you with timely advice to give you a competitive edge.
Whether the decisionmaker is a federal or state agency, grant award decisions are almost certainly going to be made through competitive grant application processes. For projects where the decisionmaker is a federal agency, you will likely be competing against applicants from all over the country. For projects where the decisionmaker is a state agency, you will be competing against other projects located only within your state. There are probably pros and cons to pursuing federal vs. state administered Jobs Act grants, but what will be true is that the grant application process is likely to be highly competitive regardless of who is administering the grants.
Takeaway No. 4: Preparation is vital. You should begin preparing your project proposal now so that when the FOA is announced you’re prepared to submit your proposal. Missing the deadline to submit your proposal is simply not an option. Now certainly, FOA’s will be tailored to the specific type of project it is seeking to fund—the information requested for a wind energy project will be different than what is requested for a drinking water project—but for whatever project you propose, you will need to: (i) have a detailed description of your project, (ii) have an explanation for how your project will further the Jobs Act program, (iii) have detailed plans or sketches of your project, (iv) have detailed technical aspects of your project, and (v) a recognition of what, if any, federal, state, or local approvals you will need to execute on your project proposal. There are additional materials that you can and should prepare in advance that will make your company and project standout amidst those competing for the funds. This is all groundwork that you can do today without having the FOA’s specific requirements in front of you.
Takeaway No. 5: Consider your audience. An application process means that some person or group of people are going to read your application and based solely on that application, decide if your project is worthy. Imagine the FOA imposes a 100-page limit on the applications submitted for this particular grant opportunity, but there are 100 different applications submitted. That is a lot of reading that your reviewer(s) are going to need to do. Your application needs to be able to effectively communicate your project proposal in an organized way that makes reading your proposal easier than reviewing the other 99 submissions. Think about it: if you were a reviewer would you be more likely to recommend a proposal that is easy to read and understand because its well-written and organized or a proposal that is difficult to follow because of organization and typographical errors throughout?
Finally, the end goal is to get your project funded through a Jobs Act grant. To do that, consider what needs to happen; primarily, a detailed project proposal that addresses the FOA and which effectively communicates the technical aspects of your project. This is not a task that can be completed by one person or that can be completed in a week. You should be putting together a team that has experience and demonstrated success in various aspects of your proposed plan. This may include technical consultants, vendors, lobbyists, attorneys (regulatory, land use, corporate, etc.), and grant application writers among others. Assembling this team and developing your proposal now will give you the best opportunity to succeed in receiving your piece of the Jobs Act’s $1.2 trillion.