Business, Labor, Environmental Groups to the D.C. Metrorail: Buy American

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Fancy budget tricks to avoid domestic procurement rules disadvantage American workers.

It’s not easy to run Washington, D.C.'s Metrorail system.

It simply doesn’t go to enough places in the Washington region, which means shutting down lines for necessary maintenance, which in turn creates huge service delays.

It’s hounded by busybodies who don’t act in good faith.

And it’s got serious funding issues, as the pandemic-induced drop in ridership has caused its revenue to fall off a cliff.

That said: The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration (WMATA), the agency that runs Metro, is also responsible for plenty of own goals. Like, for example, its plans to rearrange its budget so it can claim the hundreds of millions of dollars it gets from the federal government annually will not be spent on its next series of rail cars. That way, WMATA won’t have to adhere to federal Buy America rules when it awards that humongous contract.

That idea stinks, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.

A few months ago, D.C.’s congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, wrote a letter to WMATA expressing concern over its plans. A few weeks ago, Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) President Scott Paul wrote one too, calling this move an accounting gimmick and urging it to reconsider using it to guide its contracting decision.

And just today, 15 business, labor and environmental organizations (including AAM) decried this decision in a letter to WMATA. From the letter:

At a time when the COVID-19 related economic fallout has cost tens of millions of Americans their jobs and over seven hundred thousand manufacturing workers have already been laid off, your decision to evade Buy America requirements represents a missed opportunity to put taxpayer dollars to work creating and supporting jobs in factories across the country. WMATA’s arbitrary assertion that it is funding this procurement solely from funds it receives from the District of Columbia, Maryland, and  Virginia is particularly galling in light of WMATA’s much needed recent financial injection of more than a half billion dollars of federal taxpayer money.

The letter also argues that by sidestepping federal money for this purchase, WMATA is inviting rail car bids from Chinese state-owned enterprises that Congress already banned from Metro bids on economic and national security grounds.  

That’s a serious concern, but it’s almost beside the point: The national unemployment is over 10 percent. COVID-19 has killed 160,000 Americans, and the economy has stalled because of it. We should be using infrastructure spending as a national jobs program – something we need now and are going to desperately need in the months ahead.

And as for Metro’s allegation that there are no rail cars Made in America? That’s not true, at all!

Tell WMATA’s board of directors to Buy American.