Experts: Plan Ahead, Monitor Feds for IIJA Funds

Funding far more than roads and bridges, the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) represents an enormous investment in the nation’s technology infrastructure. With grants covering a variety of digital projects, ranging from cybersecurity to artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud, the IIJA stands as a significant opportunity for education institutions and state and local governments to modernize their infrastructure.

Yet while more than 98 percent of education institutions and state and local transportation entities have taken steps to prepare for IIJA funding, according to recent MeriTalk research conducted in partnership with Dell Technologies, many expect to face challenges securing and implementing grant dollars. The top challenges expected from both sectors, the research showed, include length of time to receive funding, monitoring appropriate use of funding, and difficulty preparing cost and performance estimates.

To take advantage of these funding streams, officials need to identify where Federal money could help advance their technology mission, plan ahead, and closely monitor Federal agencies and websites before moving quickly when funds become available, experts on the IIJA funding process said at a recent webinar.

During the webinar, Funding IT Modernization With IIJA Grants, Joseph Phelan, grants development consultant at The Grants Office, laid out the landscape of where the estimated $120.6 billion in tech-friendly IIJA grants are expected to go. Eligible recipients include state or local governments, K-12 school systems, and consortiums in which governments partner with educational institutions, including higher education organizations.

Through detailed slides, Phelan described the five broad types of technology grants:

  • Broadband funding, which is $64.5 billion, the largest portion ($42.5 billion) coming from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program
  • Utilities and Environmental funding, which is $34 billion. The two biggest portions, $14.7 billion each, are from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund
  • Transportation funding, which is $25.4 billion. This includes $7.5 billion in Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE Phelan noted that the first RAISE deadline is Feb. 28
  • Cybersecurity grants, which total $1.7 billion. The largest portion, $1 billion, comes from the State and Local Cybersecurity Grant program
  • The Renew America’s Schools Grant Program, which is making $500 million available to improve energy efficiency in public K-12 schools

Some deadlines for these grant programs have passed, but others will be released in the coming months, Phelan said.

Rob Silverberg, chief strategy and innovation officer, state and local government at Dell Technologies, said the underlying philosophy behind the IIJA’s emphasis on technology is a broader view of what constitutes infrastructure.

“We think about the core intent of this bill, which was to improve our nation’s infrastructure,” he said. “However, we want to think about it a little differently than we did in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.  Instead of thinking about infrastructure just in terms of concrete and steel, we want to think about the new infrastructure as a combination of physical infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, as well as digital infrastructure to support the next generation of transportation.”

Hernan Londono, senior higher education strategist at Dell Technologies, spoke about IIJA education funding opportunities, noting they will also emphasize digital programs. “There are a ton of projects out there where schools are trying to build new programs that will create pipelines for emerging skills,” he said.

With regard to cybersecurity funding, Londono noted that education organizations should “stay in touch with your state leaders … being part of task forces will help.”

To navigate the application process, Phelan said schools and state and local governments can monitor notice of funding opportunities issued by Federal agencies and check the website, while scanning the websites of agencies for announcements.

“Grants can be time-consuming,” he said. “Some of those applications will require 30 pages … so it’s definitely a good idea to plan ahead and really focus in on a couple different grants you could potentially apply for.”

“You need to be able to really study where the source is, the Federal agency that will administer the grant program,” he said. “That’s a great way to stay on top of any opportunity that would be the right fit for your organization.”

For more insight, view the webinar on demand.