State and local government officials talked about some of the best strategies governments can use to maximize funding flowing to them through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) approved by Congress late last year, during a GovExec webinar on December 13th.
The BIL came in at roughly $1 trillion, with $550 billion in new spending over five years. As one of the largest public works investments in U.S. history, the BIL is set to funnel billions of dollars to states and local governments to upgrade outdated roads, bridges, transit systems and much more. (State allocations are here.) The law also created a larger and much more complex funding environment than the earlier American Rescue Plan.
State and local IT leaders are planning to tap this infrastructure bill, utilizing infrastructure coordinators or “czars,” to employ data so they can make the most valuable use of their share of the money.
To address this issue and others, the GovExec webinar included a virtual panel with Matt Garbarek, who’s the infrastructure czar for Baltimore City’s budget; Jill Curry, Senior Budget & Policy Analyst for the Utah Governor’s Office of Management and Budget; Andy MacIsaac, Marketing Director, Public Sector for Alteryx; and moderator Camille Tuutti, Principal Writer and Author for Tech Writers Bureau.
During its session entitled “Ready to Rebuild: Using Federal Funds to Bridge the Data Gap,” the panel was tasked with defining efficient strategies leaders are implementing to maximize the new funding and opportunities offered by BIL.
They also shared strategic techniques helping them move into a new age of data-driven government, and explored the paths enabling them to improve the quality of their data and analytics projects so they can build smarter, safer, and stronger communities.
Utah’s Curry began the discussion by walking through how her organization uses data analytics today to identify opportunities from BIL to allocate funding.
“Here in Utah, we have a few different tools that we’re using to identify BIL opportunities,” Curry said. “In terms of collecting information, we have a grant tracking form, where entities can report whether they are pursuing a grant opportunity under BIL, or if they’ve decided not to pursue an opportunity.”
Along with the form, they also use a spreadsheet to track grant opportunities and whether they’re being pursued. Along with other details, they put together a dashboard with information related to BIL.
“Here stakeholders can find the answers through the grant opportunities that are out there, a timeline with due dates, what entities are eligible for each grant opportunity, and other application details, along with a lot of other information,” she said. “Those are kind of the main, high-level tools that we’re using in Utah.”
Garbarek, who is Baltimore’s infrastructure czar, explained that the city has long been very focused on data. “We’re one of the first cities to adopt CitiStat’s performance measurement system for city operations. That was about 20 years ago,” he said.
Baltimore’s operating budget each year is tied to performance indicators with specific outcomes that the city is trying to achieve. In recent years, the city shifted to looking at the capital side of the house. “We developed our capital improvement program which will be where all these investments from the bipartisan infrastructure law are going to be invested,” Garbarek said.
Baltimore expects to have an integrated planning framework for BIL where officials can evaluate the different projects based on scores reflecting their impact and the benefits that they are going to have.
“This score will assess a number of different criteria ranging from environmental impacts to equity, and improvements to safety and health conditions,” he said. These scored improvements are critical, as their performance measures are a BIL reporting requirement.
“To appropriately fund something like this, one of those criteria must have quantifiable data that actually tells that story,” he said. “One of the issues we do have though, is a lot of our data is locally owned by agencies or offices and it is somewhat difficult to ensure that there’s consistent data quality, and governance, across everything,” he said.
Consequently, there’s a lot of scrubbing, reviewing, and making sure that the data is clean so that it accurately tells the story provided to the granting authorities.
And while we may be a bit skeptical about Utah’s use of forms and Excel spreadsheets to track Federal funds, perfect can be the enemy of the good, as insistence on perfection often prevents implementation of basic, “good” improvements. As a result, both Baltimore City and the State of Utah appear adequately prepared for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, even if it does add $256 billion to projected deficits according to the Congressional Budget Office.