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The infrastructure plan passed. Now, departments are figuring out how to spend it

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Biden will sign his infrastructure bill into law on Monday. Yesterday, he was in Baltimore explaining how pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into that city's port would lead to more jobs and lower prices.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Here in Baltimore, you've got a port that's older than America itself.

KELLY: That was just one of many stops Biden will make as he tries to explain how his administration will spend the trillion dollars in his infrastructure plan. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez has more.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: President Biden pumped his fist and smiled as the Cincinnati TV host asked him if a crumbling bridge connecting Kentucky and Ohio will finally be fixed.

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BIDEN: The answer is yes.

ORDOÑEZ: It was an important opportunity for the president to explain to those watching WKRC at home how he'll work with state officials to finish a job that two previous presidents could not.

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BIDEN: And so my guess is that that's going to be the choice that your governors are going to make and want to get done. And we can get it done now.

ORDOÑEZ: The package includes almost $50 billion to improve ports and airports around the country and $65 billion for broadband access.

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GINA RAIMONDO: We are saying to them show us a plan that guarantees every single person in your state has access to high-speed, affordable internet.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who calls this moment a critical turning point for the digital economy.

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RAIMONDO: I will confess this is going to be a massive undertaking for the Department of Commerce, but we're up for it. We've been planning for months, and we're up for it.

ORDOÑEZ: That excitement and trepidation is understandable. It's a huge amount of money, but there are new challenges, particularly how to spend it effectively.

JOSH SCHWERIN: Well, it's imperative that we show the American people that this law is having a real impact as soon as possible.

ORDOÑEZ: Josh Schwerin is a Democratic strategist who worked at a leading Biden superPAC. Republicans are already blaming Biden's agenda for rising inflation, and Schwerin says it's critical before next year's midterms that Democrats show Americans how the law is making life more affordable.

SCHWERIN: Republicans are going to be out there vilifying the bill, trying to make it seem like this was just Washington playing games and spending money and not actually helping the American people.

ORDOÑEZ: But the administration also needs to be more careful about wasteful spending, says Austan Goolsbee, who was an economic adviser to former President Barack Obama.

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE: The utmost effort needs to be on getting it right as opposed to getting it out rapidly.

ORDOÑEZ: These types of projects come around maybe once in a lifetime. And he says the administration can't afford to build expensive projects such as a bridge to nowhere with questionable economic impacts.

GOOLSBEE: This is the turkey for Thanksgiving. If you carve it up all wrong, you know, that's going to be on you. You got to be careful on performance day.

ORDOÑEZ: So far, the White House has said little about oversight, except that there will be a tremendous amount.

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PETE BUTTIGIEG: And it's a generational investment in every sense of the word, something that means a lot more to me now as a new father because this is how we do right by the next generation before it's too late.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary. He says his department will likely need to hire more people to manage all the applications. And he breaks down their work in two parts - those that are already underway that just need a boost and others that need to be stood up from scratch, like reconnecting minority communities divided by past highway projects.

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BUTTIGIEG: It's short term, but it's long term. That's why the president talks about looking back on this moment from the 2050s.

ORDOÑEZ: And he says that work starts now. Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.