26 September 2023

UNITED STATES: New Agency for infrastructure fund

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The massive infrastructure package passed by the United States Congress is to require a new Agency, working within the Department of Transportation, to administer it.

The Agency would select innovative projects to fund with its $1 trillion ($A1.35 trillion) budget.

Lawmakers have given the Organisation free reign to hire without restrictions and to pay higher salaries than those of most Public Service jobs.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, negotiated in recent months by a bipartisan group of 10 Senators and the White House, will launch the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Infrastructure (ARPA-I) to provide grants to universities, companies and research foundations working on early-stage projects.

The funds will go toward projects the private sector would be unlikely to take on without assistance due to “technical and financial uncertainty”.

Research conducted with the grants is to be aimed at reducing costs of the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges and mass transit; lowering the environmental impacts of related projects; and boosting their resiliency to physical and cyber threats.

The ARPA-I is to be headed by a Senate-confirmed director, who will then be granted wide latitude to build a workforce for the Agency.

The measure would allow the Agency to staff up as necessary to carry out its obligations and “without regard to the Civil Service laws”.

The ARPA-I Director is to set pay rates as they see fit, but capped at Level Two of the Executive Schedule, which in 2021 was $US199,300 ($A299,433), although employees could also earn annual bonuses of up to 25 per cent of their salaries.

Senate Democrats are now expected to move forward with another package to authorise additional infrastructure spending and other legislative priorities through a process that will not require Republican support.

That package is expected to contain sweeping operational reforms for Agencies across Government, including a major boost to funding and hiring at the Internal Revenue Service.

Washington, 4 August 2021

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