DBEs Not Included in $66b Railroad Infrastructure Plan

Without public oversight large prime contractors regularly fail to subcontract or buy supply from small underrepresented firms.

Source : Pixabay

November 25, 2021

Author : Alex Bustillos

On November 15, 2021 President Joe Biden signed into law the $1.2 trillion infrastructure act. We recently reported on how the funds have been allocated to different sectors, such as roads, bridges, and broadband.

Among the sectors is Amtrak & Rail which will be injected with a total of $66b. The Biden administration's original proposal had included $80b for the sector, while the GOP counter proposal included $20b.

For decades America's rail system has suffered from a lack of investment and upgrades, outpaced by China and even by much smaller economies such as Egypt. The US currently only has 33.9 miles of passenger rail capable of supporting train speeds greater than 150mph.

Biden admin officials have pledged the new law will be inclusive of minority and women-owned businesses. To help facilitate this the Department of Commerce has launched the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). 

Of much greater significance, there already exists the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program, administered through the federal and state Department of Transportations (DOTs) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The program has a long track record of creating goals, promoting outreach, and facilitating the integration of underrepresented firms into federal procurement and construction projects.

However, unlike the DOT and FTA, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) does not have a DBE program. 

As the news outlet Construction Dive reports this “means those dollars could follow the same path as past infrastructure projects where a relatively small number of large, established prime contractors got most, if not all, of allocated government funds.”

Taking up this cause, on the 9th of November a handful of DBE owners spoke out to the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. 

The assembled DBE owners spoke of racial discrimination in the construction industry.

Melvin Clark, CEO of G.W. Peoples, explained how a $93 million Amtrak project in Chicago had included only $112,000 for one African American owned firm. This happened, he observed, because no DBE requirements were in place.

“They said they had no obligation to meet any kind of minority participation goals and they paid no more than lip service to minority businesses,” Clark said.

If no local, state or federal government requirements are in place, prime contractors regularly fail to subcontract or buy supply from minority, women, and disabled veteran owned firms.

Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-MA) and other congresspeople spoke out in support of the FRA having a DBE program. Auchincloss concluded, “We should not repeat the mistakes of the past”.

While the DOT has had its DBE program since 1987, the FRA has fallen way behind.




Category : Disadvantaged Business Enterprises Federal Government Railroads

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