DOT, COMTO working together for a level playing field
The Conference Of Minority Transportation Officials has a simple goal: seeing the diverse faces of America equally reflected in all levels of the transportation industry. And since 1971, COMTO has worked hard to ensure a level playing field and greater participation for minority individuals and businesses in transportation.
The Department of Transportation shares a similar commitment to fair treatment and improved access to opportunity for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) and workers. Yesterday, at COMTO's 42nd National Meeting and Training Conference, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff and Deputy Federal Rail Administrator Karen Hedlund reaffirmed that commitment.
As Administrator Rogoff said, "One of the best things we can do for the future of transportation is to make sure everyone has the ability to take advantage of opportunities in transportation today and in the future."
Through our Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization and DBE programs in several DOT agencies, we have helped increase the percentage of transportation contracts awarded to Historically Underutilized Businesses.
For example, the Federal Transit Administration's DBE program offers training to help minority-owned businesses compete more effectively. It also helps transit agencies across the country increase DBE participation in their projects. That effort has paid real dividends. In the first half of Fiscal Year 2013, businesses participating in FTA’s DBE Program achieved a participation rate of 12.5% for new contracts awarded. With about $2 billion in new contracts, that means $252 million to disadvantaged businesses.
The Federal Railroad Administration is also doing its part. As Deputy Administrator Hedlund noted yesterday, "When we invested in a 30-mile track extension project in Maine, 53 companies in 20 states received a supply order."
However, Congress has not yet authorized FRA to start a formal DBE program. With a rail reauthorization currently under discussion in Congress, FRA hopes to get that statutory authority soon. Until then, said Hedlund, "Many of our grantees have their own programs. And we continue to encourage all of our borrowers and grantees to maximize their use of disadvantaged businesses."
In addition to business opportunities, DOT agencies have also worked to increase access to employment. From mechanics to operators to managers, transportation is a growth industry. And DOT agencies are reaching out to potential transportation workers like never before.
In the past two years, FTA alone has invested in nearly 30 workforce development programs to help train new people to work in transportation and to help existing employees expand their skills. The Florida DOT's Certified Transit Technician Program in Tallahassee, for example, has 35 students enrolled, with nine graduates already employed by transit agencies throughout the Sunshine State.
We're making progress in ensuring a level playing field and increasing opportunities for minority businesses and workers in transportation. And in everything we’ve accomplished, we’ve been able to rely on the leadership of COMTO members. But, we still have further to go, so we will continue to work hard and partner with COMTO and others who can help us achieve these important goals.
Todd Solomon works on digital media for the DOT Office of Public Affairs.