2023 Management Excellence

Paul Nissenbaum, Gloria M. Shepherd, Maria S. Lefevre and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Implementation Team

Helped craft and implement the $1 trillion infrastructure law that will modernize the nation’s highways, bridges, shipping ports, railroads and airports.

The $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act approved by Congress in 2021 is the largest investment in highways, rail, shipping ports and airports in decades, and is designed to repair, renew and reinvigorate the country’s aging transportation systems. 

The effort to put this once-in-a-generation investment into operation quickly and effectively is led by the Department of Transportation’s Paul Nissenbaum, Gloria Shepherd and Maria Lefevre. 

“This team has successfully rolled out scores of new and expanded funding programs all across the country,” said Carlos Monje, the DOT undersecretary. “Their diligence and hard work have resulted in equitable and sustainable programs that will improve our ability to compete globally and renew Americans’ faith that their government can deliver.” 

The law includes several thousand projects across the country, each of which came with specific rules about such details as how it is funded, which purchasing regulations apply and where the money is to be spent. The team reorganized DOT offices and staffs and set up systems to follow the money for each project as well as to meet the needs of each community and the objectives of Congress.  

“We talk about the transformational investment,” said Stephanie Pollack, the former deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. “They understood that it was internal transformation too.” 

Shaping and implementing the law 

Nissenbaum, Shepherd and Lefevre worked with Congress and the White House to shape the legislative language that would be in the bill. They also prepared for the law in anticipation of its passage by updating department-wide systems to track grants more efficiently, to be more adept at performing oversight, and to be proactive in attracting contractors and defining the requirements.  

“This was a sea change for us,” Nissenbaum said of the way the team transformed procedures within the department so that all divisions would be prepared to move quickly.  

Their anticipatory work paid off. In 2022, the department announced 1,887 transportation projects that were awarded nearly $10 billion in discretionary funds on top of $82.3 billion in formula money. In addition, they implemented 76 new or expanded grant programs and initiated bridge repair programs, a national electric vehicle charging network and a host of safety initiatives. 

Divvying up responsibility  

While the team worked closely together, some of the work was divided according to the expertise of each individual. Nissenbaum, with decades of railroad experience, took charge of reorganizing the Federal Railway Administration, which received $66 billion, the largest investment in passenger rail since Amtrak was created in 1971.  

Shepherd, the most senior career official within the Federal Highway Administration, took over the highway portions of the bill, particularly investments in bridges, electric vehicle charging infrastructure and working with the Department of Energy to electrify the federal vehicle fleet.  

“Gloria, like Paul, had to convince people that we had to do things differently than we had five or 10 years ago,” Pollack said.  

Lefevre brought all the pieces of the law together, matching talent to the projects and setting up a center to work with and support project sponsors outside of the department, such as state departments of transportation and tribal communities, so that those entities could put projects into service faster. 

“She’s been the secret sauce,” said Pollack, noting that Lefevre has been “instrumental in helping us think about how we get better, smarter and more efficient about delivering the programs and making sure they are having the intended effects.”  

For Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the achievements of the new law depend on successful implementation. That means, he said, “having excellent career staff who can take the existing pulleys and levers of our agency and combine them with the new resources that we have. That’s where this team came in.” 

“They have displayed creativity with a sense of urgency,” Buttigieg said. “And they have added passion and depth to the job.”