Bipartisan Deal Creates Special Hiring, Pay Authorities for New Agency to Launch Infrastructure Projects
Agency would mirror organizations within the departments of Defense and Energy

The bipartisan infrastructure package agreed to over the weekend would create a new agency in the Transportation Department to fund innovative projects, with lawmakers providing the organization free reign to hire without restrictions and to pay higher salaries than those of most civil service jobs.

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

ARPA-I would be headed up by a Senate-confirmed director, who would 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 director would set pay rates as he or she saw fit but capped at level two of the Executive Schedule, which in 2021 is $199,300. Employees could also earn annual bonuses of up to $25,000 or 25% of their salaries. Lawmakers proposed authorizing the agency to contract with private recruiting firms to help with staffing.

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