Open Back Better Act
U.S. public buildings – hospitals, universities, schools, public venues, airports and others – are critical infrastructure that enable federal, state, and local governments to fulfill their missions. In the event of a public health crisis or natural disaster, public buildings deliver life-saving services and capacity for temporary healthcare, emergency shelter, command and control, and other community relief operations. But as we have seen in the COVID-19 crisis, many of these facilities are in dire need of improvements to meet modern demands.
In response to the crisis and to stimulate the economic recovery, we propose that Congress appropriate $22 billion over five years to retrofit critical facilities. The federal funding – along with energy cost savings from efficiency improvements – would leverage private investment at a 4:1 ratio through Public-Private Partnerships (P3), performance contracting and performance-based services contracts, delivering a total of $110 billion in infrastructure improvements. Not only would this put people back to work – largely in construction, engineering and manufacturing – but it would better prepare us for disasters in the future.
Legislation based on this proposal, titled the Open Back Better Act, was introduced in the 117th Congress by Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), and we are working to have it passed into law.
The need for infrastructure improvement in public facilities is well documented. The projected $100 billion leveraged investment in this proposal is less than half of the $223 billion potential performance contracting activity estimated by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
By combining federal funds with private investment and seizing on savings from improved energy and operational efficiency, building infrastructure can be renewed to improve health, safety and resiliency while providing the technology infrastructure and flexibility to respond to a variety of public health crises, natural disasters and other emergencies.
Under this proposal, federal funding would flow through the Department of Energy’s State Energy Program (SEP), and there are several existing legislative authorizations through which the funding could be adopted. At least $2.5 billion of the funding will be directed to federal projects.
In addition to addressing over $1 trillion in deferred maintenance in public buildings, the guiding principle for infrastructure renewal should be to build back better, not to simply replace failed building systems and components, and make mission critical public buildings safe, efficient, resilient, and flexible.
Many public buildings have antiquated ventilation, drinking water systems, or emergency lighting installations that have not been properly maintained, which threatens public health and safety.
Renewed facilities should be renovated to be as efficient as possible, lowering long-term operating and maintenance costs while enhancing occupant health, wellness, and productivity.
To maintain critical operations during emergencies, our infrastructure’s structural, electrical, mechanical and technology systems must be resilient.
Renewed facilities should be flexible enough to transform public buildings into a temporary healthcare facility or shelter during emergencies, with the ability to quickly add critical environmental systems, sufficient power, and secure network to accommodate clinical and building systems.
Learn more about the OPEN BACK BETTER ACT
- Find out more in the Mission Critical Facility Renewal Proposal, which formed the basis of the Open Back Better Act
- Read a September 2021 letter to Congress calling for inclusion of the Open Back Better Act in the budget reconciliation package
- Read the letter sent to Congress supporting the proposal, signed by nearly 80 companies and organizations
- Find out more about the Open Back Better Act's introduction on our blog
- Read former Alliance Interim President Clay Nesler's blog: Economic Stimulus – Let’s Do Building Retrofits RIGHT
- Check out Andrew McAllister's, Commmissioner of the California Energy Commission, op-ed in Real Clear Energy: Roads and Bridges, Yes. It’s Also Time to Put People to Work Rebuilding Mission Critical Facilities
- Read the Washington State Department of Commerce's letter to the state congressional delegation about clean energy stimulus investments, which includes mission critical public facilities infrastructure renewal
- Watch Clay Nesler, former Alliance Interim President, discuss the benefits of retrofits for urban resilience (24:45-38:30)
- Watch Andrew McAllister, Commissioner of the California Energy Commission, discuss the role mission critical facility renewals could play in a stimulus relief package in this IEA webinar (32:33-42:26)