USDOT Reinstates Local Hiring Program
Last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the reinstatement of a pilot program managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration.
The pilot program is aimed at aiding minority and disadvantaged people by ensuring local hiring for public works construction projects. The reinstatement reverses a prior decision made by the Trump administration.
“As we invest in world-class infrastructure for Americans, we want to make sure that our investments create jobs for people in the communities where the projects are located,” said Buttigieg. “We’re proud to launch the Department’s local hiring initiative, with an additional focus on workforce development so that good jobs can become meaningful careers.”
Buttigieg made the announcement after a tour at the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, which is currently undergoing a massive reconstruction. The project was launched under the hiring rules that Buttigieg is bringing back.
About the Program
Originating from the Obama administration in 2015, the Transportation Department’s four-year pilot initiative was created to take a closer look at that longtime prohibition in an effort to make it easier for states and cities to hire local residents for transportation projects.
Many local governments have local hiring provisions for procurements that don't involve federal funding. Such provisions are intended to ensure that communities where projects are located benefit from the jobs that result from their investments.
At the time when it was first announced by former Department Secretary Anthony Foxx, the program aimed to determine whether such requirements “unduly limit competition.” The U.S. Department of Transportation was particularly interested in contracts for which bidders wish to use local or geographic hiring preferences, economic-based hiring preferences, or hiring preferences for veterans.
“We want to create ladders of opportunities for them, as well as for low-income workers and veterans, to help put some of the transportation investments we make in the hands of those who would benefit most,” Foxx stated then.
Short lived, the program was halted in 2017 by former President Trump.
Reviving Local Hire and Workforce Development
Under Buttigieg, both the FHWA’s and FTA’s programs will give contracting agencies expanded flexibility to use hiring preferences to enhance workforce development opportunities for those in economically or socially disadvantaged communities.
According to a press release by the USDOT, FHWA’s Enhancing Workforce Development Opportunities Contracting Initiative will assist to rebuild the skilled workforce needed to improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Over the course of four years, transportation agencies and contractors will be better equipped to recruit qualified construction workers.
“The transportation construction industry needs more trained workers, from a wide array of backgrounds,” said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack. “This program will give new career opportunities to the next generation of highway construction workers.”
Through the FTA’s Equitable Economic Recovery and Workforce Development Through Construction Hiring Pilot Program, transit agencies will be able to use geographic, economic, or other hiring preferences on FTA-funded construction projects over the course of the four-year program as well.
“This FTA pilot program will provide flexibility to transit agencies to promote equitable jobs and workforce development, particularly for economically or socially disadvantaged workers,” said Deputy Federal Transit Administrator Nuria Fernandez.
Through the use of both programs, the FHWA and FTA believe that participation in existing training and apprenticeship programs will improve as well, such as FHWA’s On-the-Job Training (OJT) programs and FTA’s innovative public transportation Workforce Development Program. These programs, among others, will be run by a chosen organization to help transit agencies implement best practices to hire new employees to support advanced technology initiatives, including electric buses and high-speed rail.
Although the reviving of the program has already witnessed support by New York Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, among others, the decision has also witnessed backlash. One group in opposition of the program are the Associated General Contractors of America, arguing that it would increase construction costs or reduce competition in the contract bidding process.
The local-hire initiative pilot programs are located in the Federal Register and are open to recipients and sub-recipients of FHWA and FTA federal funds. FHWA’s pilot program is being administered under Sec. 199B of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, and its Special Experimental Project No. 14 (SEP-14) program to promote innovative contracting approaches.