DJ Gribbin, the White House staffer who oversaw development of the Trump administration's infrastructure investment blueprint, is leaving his position, the White House has confirmed. Industry officials praise Gribbin's work on the framework, released in February, but say that with or without Gribbin in the White House, a wide-ranging infrastructure proposal faces long odds in Congress this year.
A White House official said that Gribbin's last day in his job is April 12. The official said via email on April 12 that the National Economic Council "is well along in the process of identifying who will succeed DJ in his position."
The official added, "We will have an announcement on who that individual will be soon. In the meantime, the administration continues to work both at the administrative level and with Congress to turn the president's vision into policy."
On April 3, about the time the news broke that Gribbin would be leaving, the White House official said that he "will be moving on to new opportunities," but didn't specify what those would be.
Jay Hansen, National Asphalt Pavement Association executive vice president, says that Gribbin's main accomplishment was "actually putting a plan together that was kind of outside-the-box thinking."
Hansen says, "It got people to think about alternative ways to finance the [highway] system. Whether they were the right ways or not, that's a different issue."
The administration said the plan would raise $1.5 trillion over 10 years, but it proposes only $200 billion in direct federal funding—an amount that industry officials and congressional Democrats felt was too low.
It emphasized nonfederal funding, including state and private-sector dollars.
Gribbin joined the White House in February 2017 as special assistant to the president for infrastructure policy after about a year with engineering firm HDR as director of strategic consulting. Before that, Gribbin was a managing director with Macquarie Group, which has been involved with public-private infrastructure deals.
Earlier, during the George W. Bush administration, Gribbin was the Federal Highway Administration's chief counsel and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation's general counsel.
Over the years, Gribbin had become a familiar face in construction and transportation circles. "We all knew DJ," says one industry lobbyist. "He was deeply knowledgeable about the [infrastructure] programs." The source says Gribbin was accessible to industry officials as the plan was drafted and adds, "The industry probably feels that they lost their voice, if you will—or their access—to whatever the administration is now going to do on the infrastructure plan. DJ was clearly the go-to guy."
Although most of Gribbin's background was in transportation, Adam Krantz, National Association of Clean Water Agencies chief executive officer, was pleased to see that water infrastructure was part of the administration's proposal. Krantz adds, "I actually think he tried to take an approach to the infrastructure package that didn't necessarily put one infrastructure sector above another."
He says, "My main criticism of the package—not of DJ, but of the package—was that it didn't provide enough federal funding."
Looking ahead, a comprehensive infrastructure plan seems unlikely to make it through Congress this year. For one thing, the compressed election-year schedule in the House and Senate leaves little time for major legislation.
Democrats have taken a different tack from the administration in their $1-trillion infrastructure plan, which is composed completely of direct federal funding. Partisanship almost surely will intensify as Election Day approaches, making it more difficult to close the gap in infrastructure approaches.
Hansen says another reason why a sweeping infrastructure measure is unlikely this year is the $21-billion increase for infrastructure programs in the recently enacted 2018 omnibus spending package. He says that measure "was so good that it takes the wind out of the sails to do a multi-year [transportation] reauthorization this year."
Brian Turmail, an Associated General Contractors of America spokesman, says Gribbin did "yeoman's work" in producing the administration's infrastructure document. He adds, "Whether the plan he put together ultimately becomes a version that comes into law or just stimulates a robust conversation about infrastructure, what he's done has been important."
Turmail, who worked with Gribbin at the U.S. DOT, cites the major infrastructure infusion in the omnibus appropriations bill and says, "We're already seeing results of the fact that we've had this dialogue emerge."
But transportation and industry officials feel more needs to be done. Bud Wright, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials executive director, acknowledged in a statement to ENR that Gribbin took steps "to make transportation infrastructure a top administration priority."
But Wright added, "It is now up to Congress to keep the issue moving forward, because the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Highway Trust Fund will need a $138-billion cash infusion through 2027, just to maintain current spending levels plus inflation." AASHTO and other groups want to see a long-term fix for the trust fund's revenue problem.
Story updated on April 12 with White House comment about search for Gribbin's replacement.