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Environmental Review Toolkit

Collaborative Problem Solving: Better and Streamlined Outcomes for All

Guidance on Managing Conflict and Resolving Disputes between State and Federal Agencies During the Transportation Project Development and Environmental Review Process

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Example Executive Panel Structure for Upward Referral of Disputes

Following is a "Standing Executive Panel" form of conflict resolution under consideration by a state DOT. This structure could be used on a project-specific basis, or it could be established on an on-going basis for a series of projects.


The key to prevention/resolution of conflicts on complex transportation projects, which involve 404 issues, is regular, continuous dialogue across the agencies, at all levels. The leadership of these agencies (the state DOT, FHWA, and US Army Corps of Engineers) will meet regularly as a Board to model an open, trusting, and problem solving approach where concerns can be laid on the table and the agencies will focus attention on working them out. The Board process will serve as the state's conflict resolution plan. This process must be defined so it can continue if and when personnel changes occur in leadership positions in these agencies.


The FHWA Division Administrator, the District Commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the Deputy Director of the state DOT (chosen because of his environmental leadership role for the DOT) will serve as an Executive Board ("the Board,") and will meet regularly. The Board will serve as the state's conflict resolution process. The purpose of this Board is to:

  • Advance the program or project through resolution of issues and meeting the needs of the transportation, regulatory, and resource agencies
  • Provide corporate guidance on tough projects where: there are unresolved issues, timely agreement at key project development points cannot be achieved at the staff level, or higher authority is needed to approve a course of action or use of resources suggested by the staff level
  • Forge general agreements that may impact multiple projects or issues
  • Model a practice of working together to solve problems and a commitment to moving the program forward to whatever outcome is appropriate

The philosophy of the Board is that the Board's function is to help the project managers be successful by using the Board's authority to remove barriers to resolution and to assume risks where necessary. The focus will be to attack the problem, not to criticize an agency or person. Board members will approach issues both from their agency viewpoint and from a corporate, multi-agency perspective.

Operational Structure of the Board

  1. The Board will meet monthly at first (shifting to bi-monthly later, if appropriate). Board meetings will typically be scheduled for two hours.
  2. The Board will hold special meetings when an issue arises that needs their attention and that cannot wait until the regularly scheduled meeting. The project manager can request special meetings of the Board.
  3. The Board meetings will be working sessions where the Board discusses issues in the presence of relevant staff. The Board decides what staff is needed for each meeting, depending on the issues on the agenda. The staff help the Board maintain perspective on local, pragmatic needs inherent in the presented issue.
  4. The responsibility for hosting the meeting (arranging the meeting place and developing the agenda) will rotate among Board members.
  5. The host agency will gather agenda items from its staff and from the other agencies and will then distribute the agenda to the agencies so that each agency can bring the appropriate staff/information to the meeting.
  6. Any project manager or agency may raise an issue to the Board. The Board will focus on those issues that will affect time, quality, cost, and location/design of the project as well as those more general issues that have crosscutting implications for multiple projects or interagency processes.
  7. The person who raises an issue will take the lead in the discussion of the issue. Each affected agency will participate in the briefing on the issue.
  8. Regular Board meeting agendas will include:
    • Informational updates
    • Review of critical projects with problems
    • Decision making on application of policy, procedures (general things)
    • Relationship building/sharing what's going on
  9. Where there is lack of agreement at key points in the streamlining program/project development process, including non-agreement from other agencies, the Board will make a decision on whether the project should advance to the next step.
  10. Documentation from each Board meeting will include (a) decisions that were made and (b) actions that were agreed to, identifying the party responsible for undertaking the action and the time frame for the action.
  11. When people raise issues that are not appropriate for Board deliberations, the Board or an individual Board member can make procedural decisions on how to address these issues, or an individual Board member can take action outside Board meetings to get these issues resolved.

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