AASHTO equity pledge picks up 13 more states

Thirteen additional state departments of transportation have pledged to create more opportunities for historically underutilized businesses, boosting the visibility and clout of the Equity in Infrastructure Project.

Representatives of Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin signed on to the pledge during a Wednesday cerermony at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Washington Briefing. The new recruits represent about $96 billion in annual capital budgets.

The Equity in Infrastructure Project’s main goal is to improve public contracting practices by creating more opportunities for historically underutilized businesses to build generational wealth and reduce the racial wealth gap by creating more prime, joint venture, and equity contracting opportunities for these firms. 

The impetus of the project began when Phillip A. Washington, the CEO of Denver International Airport, was asked to contribute policy drafts to the Biden-Harris administration. The group produced 80 to 100 proposed executive orders and policies.

“One of those that we’ve proposed ended up as Executive Order 13985, which is advancing racial equity,” said Washington.
That January 2021 order, among other things, directed the Office of Management and Budget to evaluate equity and fairness in federal policy and identify areas in which federal agency policy could be improved in that respect.

Washington is also Joe Biden’s pick to run the Federal Aviation Administration and is facing stiff opposition from Senate Republicans who question his lack of experience as a pilot.

Washington’s proposed executive order was signed by the President on his first day in office which launched a mission and a search for multimodal support. He found converts with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philadelphia, the Chicago Transit Authority, the Port of Long Beach, Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles County, and his home base of Denver International Airport. 

One of the program’s initiatives is boosting the visibility of minority owned firms.

“I wasn’t just asking agencies to commit to this pledge. It was really asking agencies to help streamline the administration of contracting with historically underutilized businesses,” said Washington. “There’s an effort to create a national certification database so small businesses don’t have to run from state to state to get certified.”  

The project began picking up steam when it was launched publicly last April. “With the signing today, 28 different public entities representing hundreds of billions of dollars in capital budgets have signed on to our pledge,” said John D. Porcari, EIP Co-founder, former Deputy Secretary, U.S. DOT. “They include some of our nation’s largest cities, transit agencies, airport authorities, water district, seaports and infrastructure companies.”

Roger Millar, AASHTO’s President and Secretary of the Washington State DOT sees participation in the project as a progression in how DOTs work with and in the societies they serve. “Back in 2020, the National Board of Directors passed an important resolution for the state DOTs acknowledging that their actions in the past have disproportionately impacted low-income communities, minority neighborhoods and people of color and that the legacy of those disparities exists to this day,” he said.

The Equity in Infrastructure project echoes other organizations’ efforts including the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority to add diversity, equity, and inclusiveness in the public finance community.     

“President Biden has made clear that equity and building wealth for disadvantaged enterprises is a cornerstone of his commitment to a strong middle class,” said Carlos Monje Jr., under secretary of transportation for policy at the U.S. DOT. “We’ve taken up this mantle ferociously in the department and pursued a comprehensive approach. Progress starts with days like this.”  

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