Out Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg reversed a Trump administration policy this week, allowing for more federal dollars spent on public works projects to go to minority and disadvantaged workers.
“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,” he said in a statement released after touring the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge that links D.C. and Maryland. The decades-old bridge is undergoing renovations and it is the first project to benefit from Buttigieg’s rule change.
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The Reagan administration banned local governments from imposing rules on the hiring practices of federal projects in their areas, but Barack Obama started a five-year project in 2015 to allow local governments to have hiring preferences to help veterans, minorities, and low-income workers.
Donald Trump scrapped the project in 2017, but Buttigieg brought the initiative back as two four-year pilot programs this past Wednesday. The Enhancing Workforce Development Opportunities Contracting Initiative will allow state and local agencies to hire local workers in Federal Highway Administration projects.
Buttigieg said that many parts of the country need to be able to use the federal funds to develop their local workforce instead of bringing in workers from other places.
“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,” he said.
The Equitable Economic Recovery and Workforce Development Through Construction Hiring Pilot Program will allow transit agencies to impose geographic, economic, or pro-equality hiring preferences for projects funded through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
“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.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) praised the programs, saying that they help local governments address how federal money flows through their communities even if the hiring preferences can “take a little longer on the front end.”
In February, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) urged Buttigieg to bring the Obama-era program back.
“As the nation rebuilds from the COVID pandemic and reckons with our long history of institutional racism, we must prioritize policies that build back our economy with a focus on racial equity, inclusion, investment in struggling communities, and good jobs,” they wrote in a letter.
Since these are pilot programs, they will allow the Transportation Department to test the effects of the hiring preferences on projects’ costs and competition for contractors.
The programs were announced as Buttigieg has become one of the Biden administration’s most prominent advocates of its $2 trillion infrastructure bill. One of the key selling points of the bill is the jobs that it will create, and these programs could be key to rallying support from local governments by allowing them to use the bill’s funding to develop their local economies.