October 22, 2021
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The Federal Railroad Administration is conducting what the agency calls the “first-of-its-kind” nationwide “disparity study” of small, minority-owned, and woman-owned businesses – seeking to determine whether the playing field is level for firms aspiring to win subcontracts from projects receiving FRA grants.

[Above photo by the FRA.]

The agency noted that it awarded more than $1 billion in grants in 2020 for freight and passenger projects through the numerous discretionary and competitive funding programs authorized by Congress.

Amit Bose

“We are firmly committed to increasing equity across the American economy and ensuring that women and minority-owned businesses have a fair shot at contracting opportunities funded by federal dollars,” explained Amit Bose, FRA’s acting administrator, in a statement.

“Assessing the current extent of DBE [disadvantaged business enterprise] and WBE [woman business enterprise] inclusion, and if any disparities exist, is necessary to accomplish this goal. We’re asking all businesses and stakeholders who were selected to take this survey to respond as soon as possible,” he said. “Doing so will help FRA and Congress fully understand the market and take steps to ensure it is both fair and open to all.”

The agency said its electronic invitation-only survey – which takes an estimated 15 minutes or less to complete – will determine the availability and use of small, minority-owned and woman-owned businesses in the publicly funded railroad landscape.

Photo by FRA

FRA plans to submit the results to Congress in a report to determine whether the agency needs a DBE program.

To date, the FRA has distributed 22,000 surveys and said it expects to send out an additional 8,000 surveys.

“These surveys will be critical to helping us understand if disparities exist and the nature of the disparities,” FRA’s Bose said. “We’ll use these results to assess how many small and disadvantaged businesses we’re reaching and whether we can do a better job of working with all that aspire to be FRA contractors.”

The FRA’s diversity focus mirrors a similar effort occurring among state departments of transportation.

For example, in November 2020, the board of directors for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials unanimously passed a resolution pledging to address issues related to race, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The organization also agreed to address those efforts within the transportation industry with “humility, introspection, and respect, being mindful of the importance of listening to and learning” from those most adversely affected by past decisions.

editor@aashto.org

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