Transportation department withdrawing proposed local hire provisions for infrastructure projects

By Kermit Kaleba, August 25, 2017

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) this week announced that they would be withdrawing a proposed rule developed under the Obama administration that would permit local governments to use geographic hiring preferences for transportation infrastructure contracts.

USDOT regulations generally do not permit recipients or sub-recipients of federal dollars to impose in-state or local geographic preferences in procurement processes unless those preferences are explicitly permitted or encouraged under federal law. However, many communities have sought to use “local hire” provisions to help ensure that low-income individuals and other underrepresented populations in or near infrastructure projects are able to benefit from jobs created through these investments.

The Obama administration had sought to expand access to local hire provisions under federal transportation contracts, launching a pilot program under USDOT to allow for local hire initiatives in at least nine states and the District of Columbia. USDOT also issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in March 2015 that would have explicitly permitted such provisions, but the USDOT withdrawal announcement signals that the Trump administration will not be carrying forward this important effort.

The withdrawal is particularly disappointing given President Trump’s continued support for a major infrastructure package, and more generally his campaign promises to focus on job creation and economic growth. A recent report from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce estimated that a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure could create more than 11 million new jobs in construction, manufacturing, and other critical sectors. As National Skills Coalition highlighted in a recent report, a well-designed infrastructure bill could include significant new investments in work-based learning strategies and work supports that help to diversify the pipeline of workers into these new jobs, promoting economic opportunities while also helping employers address existing and future workforce gaps. NSC was pleased to support bipartisan legislation introduced earlier this year by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH), the Building U.S. Infrastructure by Leveraging Demands for Skills (BUILDS) Act, that would invest in industry-driven partnerships in infrastructure sectors while also supporting critical pre- and post-employment services to help low-skilled individuals advance in these careers.

National Skills Coalition urges the Trump administration and USDOT to reconsider this unfortunate decision regarding local hire provisions, and work with employers and other stakeholders to help ensure that all federal infrastructure investments maximize economic and employment opportunities in our communities.