Buttigieg reverses Trump decision, reinstates local hiring program

By Jenny LescohierMay 24, 2021

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg reinstates Obama-era local hiring initiative

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced expanded construction hiring and workforce development pilot programs designed to aid minority and disadvantaged people by ensuring local hiring for public works projects.

The Transportation Department’s four-year pilot initiative is to be managed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

Originally launched by the Obama administration in 2015 but reversed by former President Donald Trump in 2017, the program will permit state and local agencies receiving federal transit or highway money to impose local hiring preferences, such as those favoring veterans, minorities and low-income workers, the Associated Press reported.

“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 touring the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, a decades-old span across the Anacostia River that’s undergoing a massive reconstruction. The bridge project was launched under the local hiring rules that Buttigieg is bringing back.

“We know this can work because it worked right here,” Buttigieg was quoted. “It’s such a great example of the things we’re talking about.”

FHWA’s Enhancing Workforce Development Opportunities Contracting Initiative aims to help rebuild the skilled workforce needed to improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure and enable state transportation agencies and contractors to better recruit qualified construction workers, which can be challenging in many parts of the country. 

President Joe Biden is pushing a $2.3-trillion infrastructure plan geared toward creating millions of jobs, prompting a range of advocacy groups and Democratic senators to urge Buttigieg to roll out a new local hiring program. Supporters said that the federally funded construction projects could dole out ways for local residents to access well-paying jobs and revitalize regional economies.

The effort will also seek to help transit agencies implement “best practices” to hire employees for advanced technology projects, including electric buses and high-speed rail.

The Associated General Contractors of America reportedly opposes the program, arguing it would increase construction costs or reduce competition in the contract bidding process.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said that imposing the hiring preferences can “take a little longer on the front end” of a project, but it allows local governments a measure of control over the way infrastructure dollars flow through the community, according to the AP.

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