Introduction and summary
Since the historic passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), federal agencies have focused on deploying hundreds of billions of dollars in new climate funding as quickly as possible. However, with the 2024 elections looming over the future for both landmark pieces of legislation, there is a great urgency to advance and maximize their opportunities. The success of the Inflation Reduction Act and IIJA heavily relies on the ability of states and local governments to access and deliver on these massive once-in-a-generation climate investments. More robust federal technical assistance infrastructure would dramatically enhance state and local government efforts to apply for and implement funding during this critical time.
Defining technical assistance
The authors define technical assistance as specific programmatic offerings that meet the explicit demands of implementing federal climate investments directly delivered to implementing governments by experts.
According to the White House, “Technical assistance can mean different things to different people. For the purposes of this document, we define technical assistance as programs, processes, and resources that provide targeted support to a community, region, organization, or other beneficiary to help them access and deploy federal funding to deliver results.”1
States and local governments often experience capacity constraints with limited staff and resources, making navigating each federal agency’s release of guidance, program, and eligibility requirements difficult. Existing federal technical assistance infrastructure falls short when it comes to identifying and working directly with small, rural, or underserved states and local governments that need it most, and the lack of timely place-based regionalized federal support creates a gap where states and local governments are left on their own to apply for and implement these investments. With these implementation challenges confronting states and local governments nationwide, and with the urgency of the nation’s decarbonization goals, the federal government should provide more flexible and accessible technical assistance, regionalize technical assistance programs, and better leverage nongovernmental technical assistance to better realize the benefits of the Biden administration’s landmark climate investments.
With unprecedented climate funding in need of deployment, federal agencies must respond to the increased need for more state and local technical assistance, particularly by helping states and local governments deliver opportunities for the hardest to reach and most in need communities. As described in “Implementing America’s Clean Energy Future,” a recent CAP report:2
Actions at the state and local levels will determine whether historic new federal investments are maximally benefiting their constituent communities, companies and consumers, and the climate. However, state and local implementation of new federal investments, and new subnational climate leadership, also entails real challenges. These include: a lack of state and local administrative capacity to successfully pursue and effectively deploy federal funding; siloed climate expertise in certain agencies; inaccessible or poorly suited technical assistance; a time and prioritization deficit for advancing complementary state and local policies; and misunderstood or underresourced community engagement.
The recommendations below offer suggestions for how the federal government can maximize efforts to alleviate the burden on states and local governments. The framework proposed in “Implementing America’s Clean Energy Future”3 underpins the recommendations put forth in this report:
- Provide more flexible and accessible federal technical assistance.
- Build greater regional federal infrastructure.
- Leverage nongovernmental technical assistance resources to enhance federal technical assistance infrastructure.
Each of the recommendations in this report includes at least one, if not all, of these three guiding principles for improving Inflation Reduction Act and IIJA implementation, aiming to produce multiple co-benefits. Successful deployment of federal climate funding is more than just about designing programs and allocating resources. Technical assistance is a critical component of effective implementation, and the federal government needs to invest time and resources to ensure technical assistance offerings help states and local governments execute and optimize federal investments.
Climate leadership from U.S. subnational governments over the past decade has helped make the passage of federal climate legislation possible. Now, with states and local governments on the front lines of implementation, enhanced federal technical assistance will be important in helping them deliver and raise ambition on climate action over the coming decade and beyond. Furthermore, the relative importance of the role of subnational governments in delivering on America’s climate progress will likely continue to increase as states and local governments seek to lock in additional, durable, and equitable climate action. The federal government must help them deliver.
Fund responsive, real-time federal technical assistance
As critical deployment partners, states and local governments are on the front lines of implementation, and federal technical assistance resources should be flexible and responsive to meet their evolving needs and the circumstances on the ground.
Fund federal technical assistance infrastructure
Federal investment in technical assistance must be central to programs and infrastructure that actively support state and local climate action. This is a necessary precondition to scaling federal technical assistance to meet the needs of the moment. Federal agencies and Congress must commit to long-term funding for technical assistance infrastructure that will support the full life cycle of federal climate programs. This includes prioritizing effective new models already deployed within certain programs and continuing to innovate and develop new responsive models for technical assistance. In particular, federal agencies should leverage administrative and discretionary funding for technical assistance holistically and ensure those dollars are not spread thinly across unrelated projects.
Federal agencies and Congress must commit to long-term funding for technical assistance infrastructure that will support the full life cycle of federal climate programs.
For example, the Climate Pollution Reduction Grants program included $142 million4 in reserve funding to be leveraged at the discretion of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A major chunk of this funding could be used to set up the infrastructure needed to increase federal, state, and local technical assistance coordination and accessibility. It is unclear what, if any, of this funding remains, thus providing a proof point of the risk if these dollars are not intentionally and strategically leveraged for this opportunity. Other sources of reserve funding, such as IIJA funding for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) State Energy Program,5 permitted the DOE to use funds for its own technical assistance, rather than deliver support directly to states and local governments. When direct funding options are not available or feasible, the federal government should coordinate across agencies to address state and local government technical assistance needs, such as through the Thriving Communities Network’s approach. A whole-of-government coordinated approach to funding technical assistance infrastructure is among the highest and best uses of administrative funding. Federal agencies should use their discretionary authority to jump-start a long-term commitment to federal infrastructure programs—including by funding some of the recommendations in this report.
A whole-of-government coordinated approach to funding technical assistance infrastructure is among the highest and best uses of administrative funding. Federal agencies should use their discretionary authority to jump-start a long-term commitment to federal infrastructure programs.
Ensure responsive, real-time technical assistance
To maximize their effectiveness, federal technical assistance programs must be responsive to the changing circumstances on the ground and to the needs of state and local entities across the country. These needs may differ across regions and state and local jurisdictions with different characteristics. Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers6 (TCTAC) are an existing model for how the federal government can directly deliver community benefits through trusted regional partners. The TCTAC program, along with other programs within the EPA’s Thriving Communities Network, should continue to be strongly supported by EPA headquarters and regional staff. Programs such as TCTAC should embrace a culture of continuous learning, and staff should prioritize gathering lessons from grant applicants and recipients to better inform their stakeholders and community engagement activities.
Across federal technical assistance programming, improved communication processes can offer more responsive technical assistance engagement for states and local governments. Direct community engagement and clarity around what successful applications look like for competitive programs would allow states and local governments to target their efforts most effectively and efficiently. This would benefit resource-constrained disadvantaged communities with webinars, public slide decks, and handouts—centralized within programmatically relevant websites—that clearly organize eligibility and key components. This would allow for more successful proposals enabling local governments to prioritize resources and capacity in applying for funding they are best positioned to receive. Applying for any and all potential funding opportunities is not only impossible for many states and local governments and other eligible entities, but the practice is also a poor use of resources for smaller state and local entities. Well before the release of funding, federal agencies should hold roundtable listening sessions with representatives from community organizations, underserved communities, and states and local governments to hear directly from them on what elements of program funding design are helping or hindering their ability to directly access funds, similar to a recent discussion7 hosted by EPA staff under its PREPARED program.8 When developing program guidance, resource-constrained applicants would benefit from clear, concise, and realistic eligibility guidelines to help prioritize which programs to target with their limited capacity.
Federal agencies should hold roundtable listening sessions with representatives from community organizations, underserved communities, and states and local governments to hear directly from them on what elements of program funding design are helping or hindering their ability to directly access funds.
In competitive programs with multiple funding rounds, agencies should provide detailed information, via webinar or in a public announcement, about which applications were successful—and why—to further help states and local governments maximize their efforts and resources. The DOE’s Grid Deployment Office offered a webinar9 in October 2023 to provide information about the recipients of 58 successful Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships. Beyond discussing what made applications successful, the webinar specifically aimed to “examine lessons learned and help prepare attendees for future funding opportunities.”10 Other DOE offices and fellow agencies should learn from this model and replicate across competitive opportunities. Additionally, federal agencies should help unsuccessful grant applicants connect with nongovernmental organizations and philanthropic organizations that could help advance their plans without federal funding.
Additionally, the White House should issue clear guidance that federal agencies are permitted to provide technical assistance to applicants for competitive awards. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides direct technical assistance to communities through its Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Direct Technical Assistance program. FEMA’s wide-ranging nonfinancial support ranges from pre-application activities to grant closeout, enabling communities to successfully compete and be awarded funding. Technical assistance should not be construed as providing unfair advantage, and all agencies should be directed to deliver it.
Create regional federal climate and infrastructure implementation task forces
Solving challenges is easier when help is available—ideally, help that is familiar with the requestor and familiar with the need. The same is true for federal climate funding. The heterogenous geographies, economic and political conditions, stakeholder communities, governmental capacities, , energy markets, and transmission infrastructure vary widely across the country. To meet this reality, federal technical assistance support should be regionalized through implementation task forces comprised of regional offices of federal agencies. These regional federal climate and infrastructure implementation task forces would provide a one-stop-shop for accessing implementation assistance; coordinating federal support appropriate to local community needs; convening stakeholders within the region on important issues related to program implementation; and helping make federal technical assistance and the other recommendations in this report more efficient and effective. Jump-started by the administrative and discretionary funding model recommended above, this decentralized model would enable smoother communication and coordination, grounded in regionalized expertise.
Federal technical assistance support should be regionalized through implementation task forces comprised of regional offices of key federal agencies.
Federal agencies such as the DOE’s newest regional office in Alaska, the Arctic Energy Office,11 are responding to this gap. The success of regional task forces will depend on their ability to build trust with stakeholders and provide ongoing touch points to exchange information, share best practices, and identify lessons learned. Specifically, staff should seek out and identify eligible grantees in the community and engage directly in formula-funded opportunities.
In support of the responsive, real-time federally funded technical assistance recommended above, the regional task forces could connect stakeholders, nongovernmental technical assistance providers, and federal technical assistance opportunities to maximize efficient and effective assistance.
A major benefit of regionalized implementation support is that the federal government, its state and local funding partners, and nongovernmental partners such as certain technical assistance service providers are better able to advance environmental equity objectives through regionalized coordination with local governments. Local governments often have the strongest ties and the most trusted relationships with communities. Regionalized implementation programs will help direct technical assistance support to those local governments with the trust and expertise to deliver benefits most effectively to communities.
The DOE and the EPA should look to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Rural Partners Network (RPN)12 as a model. A new pilot program was launched in 2023, and the USDA’s Rural Development office created RPN to coordinate targeted regional assistance to rural and underserved communities under a whole-of-government approach. RPN works across 20 federal agencies,13 including the DOE and EPA, and operates in 10 states and Puerto Rico. Using vulnerability assessment indices, RPN uses public data to identify funding-eligible counties to build community networks composed of local leaders, residents, civic and business organizations, nonprofits, service providers, and more. A similar data-driven approach to direct implementation assistance to qualified applicants would be helpful for climate and infrastructure funding implementation. Other examples of successful regionalized federal initiatives include the Interagency Working Group14 on Coal Power Plant Communities, led by the DOE; the Build Back Better Regional Challenge program.15 led by the U.S. Department of Commerce; and the Thriving Communities Initiative,16 led by the U.S. Department of Transportation. These examples should be replicated and built upon to advance the clean energy transition, conducted by the DOE and in partnership with state energy offices, local and regional governments, public utilities commissions, municipal energy providers, community-based organizations, and other stakeholders.
Regional strategies are needed for clean energy and transmission deployment
The buildout of transmission and the interconnection of new clean energy resources illustrate the need for regionalized federal infrastructure to adequately address one of the most fundamental challenges to accelerating the transition to a clean energy future. The power sector’s vast diversity in how regional transmission organizations (RTOs) operate, reliability standards, capacity, and generation considerations, among other differences, leave a major coordination gap that regionalized federal coordination could address. The Biden administration should build regionalized teams that bring RTOs, utilities, environmental and consumer advocates, businesses, regulators, and state agencies to the table to flesh out regional considerations for the managed decline of fossil fuels and the transition to clean energy. The success of most climate programs in the Inflation Reduction Act depends on the grid’s ability to provide clean energy; without substantial effort to address the disparate levels of grid preparedness, the Biden administration will fall short of its goals to decarbonize the power sector by 2035. Doing this at the speed required is only possible through an urgent regional approach.
Ease capacity burden on states and local governments
Investment in more robust federal technical assistance programs and infrastructure across agencies can allow for underresourced and time-constrained states and local governments to access much-needed funding to meet their climate and clean energy goals.
Federal climate and infrastructure technical assistance should provide direct capacity support for states and local governments
Recent programs from the DOE and the EPA recognize the urgency of administering technical assistance directly to communities while easing the capacity burden on state, local, and tribal governments. To support capacity-constrained states and local governments, the federal government should focus on increasing federal capacity within states and local governments and communities and easing the processes and paperwork burden of applying for federal funding.
Programs such as the Clean Energy Corps17 and the EPA’s recent investment in regional environmental justice coordinators18 deliver technical assistance to states and local governments and reflect momentum toward increasing federal capacity to support deployment at the regional and local levels. At the DOE’s Office of State and Community Energy Programs, the Community Energy Fellow program19 creates clean energy jobs while also providing federally funded support directly to grant programs, known as the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, which is formula-eligible for local and tribal governments. This model should be replicated across other agencies. The Communities Local Action Energy Program20 funds qualifying communities21 to receive technical assistance through DOE’s National Laboratories to develop clean energy-related economic development pathways. Direct partnership to support this kind of planning reduces the burden on the hardest-to-reach communities who may need customized22 technical assistance to advance environmental justice initiatives. These examples highlight that agencies recognize the capacity constraints facing states and local governments and communities and make efforts to alleviate those burdens. Fellow federal agencies, and other DOE and EPA departments, should deploy hiring practices and program structures that deliver technical assistance directly to states and local governments and communities, starting with building out and replicating these programs across agencies.
Many recent efforts from federal agencies to provide training and guidance have helped connect states with access to upcoming technical assistance resources. Offering clarity and information that can help states and local governments apply for funding, particularly on short notice and at different levels of detail, would enhance state and local capacity regarding how they allocate their time and effort. Federal agencies should also consider expanding and providing more advance notice for in-person opportunities such as the EPA’s recent Climate Action Funding Fair23 and subsequent resource guide.24
Of vital importance to the success of federal climate funding in reducing pollution and growing the clean energy economy are the various incentives in the tax code and the provisions for tax-exempt and governmental entities to receive payment equal to the full value of the tax credits for building qualified clean energy projects. Almost by definition, states and local governments need more in-house tax expertise to understand and fully leverage these direct pay provisions. The U.S. Department of the Treasury and programmatic offices within the DOE should significantly scale their efforts to assist states and local governments seeking to maximize these benefits. This assistance could be direct capacity support to eligible entities on a wholesale or project basis. It could also take the form of expanded nongovernmental and philanthropic partnerships to bring additional legal and financial support to states and local governments.
Streamlining applications reduces the burden on states and local governments and maximizes climate and infrastructure resources
As agencies consider how to maximize the impacts of these programs, several changes at the application stage would allow states and local governments to allocate their limited resources and capacity better. Templatizing and streamlining the grant application processes and developing a common application would allow states and local governments to focus resources and time on the implementation phase. It would also enable nongovernmental technical assistance providers to reach broader audiences in need of application support, increasing the likelihood of eligible, yet capacity-constrained, states and local governments applying for funding opportunities.
Templatizing and streamlining the grant application processes and developing a common application would allow states and local governments to focus resources and time on the implementation phase.
For competitive programs across agencies, it would help to narrow program guidance where appropriate so that only those jurisdictions or types and scales of projects with a legitimate chance at receiving awards spend the time, energy, and resources to apply. Programs should provide different levels of awards to help potential applicants calibrate their application efforts. Additionally, programs should calibrate the application effort required to the level of funding by providing shorter and less time-consuming applications for smaller funding awards. These kinds of structural changes to the funding application process would allow states and local governments to be more efficient with their resources and time, effectively reducing their capacity burden as it becomes easier to access much-needed funding.
Coordinate government and nongovernmental technical assistance
Although there is a significant opportunity to increase federal technical assistance, federal agencies are limited in the extent they can provide direct capacity to states and local governments due to the agencies’ capacity constraints and the—perhaps incorrect—assumption that they cannot deeply engage in assisting applicants in competitive processes. Nongovernmental technical assistance can supplement and complement federal technical assistance support, and improved coordination between both entities would help states and local governments get the type of help they need to apply for and implement federal funding opportunities more effectively.
Coordination to maximize effective implementation
Federal technical assistance programs should help states and local governments connect with nongovernmental technical assistance providers to maximize efficiency. A regionalized approach to federal technical assistance would further support this recommendation. The community and local relationships often developed by regional technical assistance providers can help inform federal practices, particularly for community and stakeholder engagement. Many nongovernmental technical assistance providers have already been working to coordinate with each other to address state and local government needs, and others are still organizing databases and dashboards of technical assistance providers. These hubs of coordination and technical assistance providers already funded by federal grants, such as with Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers,25 offer a strong starting point to further embed nongovernmental providers within a regionalized technical assistance infrastructure. Regional federal climate and infrastructure implementation task forces should work with philanthropy and the technical assistance stakeholder community to leverage their convening power, their knowledge of federal programming, and their access to program staff to ensure all technical assistance is coordinated and efficient to the maximum extent and to support high-quality, robust, and effective implementation.
Federal technical assistance programs should help states and local governments connect with nongovernmental technical assistance providers to maximize efficiency.
Coordination to ease implementation burdens
Federal agencies can proactively reduce the implementation burden on states and local governments by taking steps to make matchmaking more efficient between technical assistance service providers and implementation entities. Selecting technical assistance service providers is often a lengthy process for states and local governments. Federal agency investment in time and resources to screen and prequalify technical assistance providers who meet major program requirements allows states to select qualified providers and reduce otherwise lengthy and expensive procurement processes. This does not imply that federal agencies are paying for those services or establishing multiagency joint procurement contracts; rather, by using economies of scale, programmatic expertise, and the imprimatur of the federal government, federal agencies can significantly accelerate implementation by reducing the time, expense, and complexity of connecting with technical assistance providers.
Federal agency investment in time and resources to screen and prequalify technical assistance providers who meet major program requirements allows states to select qualified providers and reduce otherwise lengthy and expensive procurement processes.
These nongovernmental implementation partners should have demonstrated experience and commitment to working in partnership with states and local governments and local communities. In screening providers, agencies should establish regional databases of qualified technical assistance providers and make the information as accessible and useful to implementation partners as possible by including details such as service provider areas of specialty and subject matter expertise. This upfront work will further bridge connectivity and ease the burden on states and local governments to identify and partner with providers who can support their climate and infrastructure implementation projects.
Federal agencies should provide more flexible and accessible technical assistance, build greater responsiveness and effectiveness through regional infrastructure, and leverage nongovernmental technical assistance resources to better strengthen states and local governments’ foundational and overall preparedness. These efforts will tangibly increase the reach, value, and maximum benefits of the IIJA and the Inflation Reduction Act. With enhanced federal technical assistance, states and local governments will be well positioned to fully execute the Biden administration’s climate and clean energy goals. As the White House considers greater involvement in state and local technical assistance, agency guidance should focus on structural changes to permit greater technical assistance options for states and local governments.
Moving deeper into 2024, the White House and federal agencies should maximize efforts to support state and local technical assistance that advances the Biden administration’s clean energy and justice goals within states and local communities and best positions states and local governments to continue climate progress—both now and through any changes in the American political landscape in 2025 and beyond.