Audience members attending the 2011 APTA Annual Meeting crowded into a conference room Oct. 4 to hear Peter M. Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), speak about the agency’s priorities and updates.
Joined by Therese McMillan and Dorval Carter, FTA deputy administrator and chief counsel respectively, Rogoff expressed a desire both to inform the public about priorities for his agency and to solicit input about how best to address certain issues. In addition to McMillan and Carter, he brought additional members of his executive management team to ensure that all questions would be answered.
“We are working under a president who cares about what we do,” he said. “Public transportation is at the center of the president’s recovery agenda and he is critically interested in helping us move forward.”
Rogoff cited $8.7 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds directed toward public transportation and $9 billion included in the American Jobs Act now under consideration. He also said FTA will oversee $5 billion in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants once Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood determines the recipients. In addition, Rogoff announced $10 million in federal funding for a national infrastructure bank.
According to Rogoff, federal initiatives—such as the “State of Good Repair” program, which would receive $6 billion of the American Jobs Act funding—are key to the future of public transportation.
He also pointed to the “critical need to recapitalize projects at the same time we are expanding into a larger footprint,” advocating for passage of a surface transportation reauthorization bill and a rail/transit safety bill.
Rogoff emphasized the importance of compliance with environmental justice, Title VI, and Buy America policies for his agency. He also invited the audience to provide input about ways to simplify and streamline the triennial review process.
“I would like to reform the oversight process because we spend a lot of resources doing oversight of funds without clear benefit,” he said. “We can miss really big things because the working checklist isn’t organized to identify them and instead we spend time on things of relatively little risk. We need to do better and we need to have a dialogue to get us there. “
McMillan announced the completion of two compliance circulars, one on environmental justice and the other on Title VI. She chaired the task force that produced the circulars, which are now out for notice and comment.
She noted that the environmental justice directives are not new, but this is the first time FTA has produced a circular to provide clear and consistent direction on the topic. “Before, it was embodied in an executive order, a directive to federal agencies. It was less than a page,” she said. “Now it explains in detail what must be done to uphold environmental justice requirements.”
The Title VI circular, McMillan noted, also was pre-existing but has undergone a major revision. “There are no new requirements,” she explained, “but now the old requirements are clearer.”
Carter continued the theme of compliance by stressing the administration’s robust focus on enforcing compliance with Buy America requirements. “If you have a question or aren’t sure, call us,” he said. “There will be less flexibility to correct non-compliance the further you go in the procurement process.”
He also warned that self-certification is no longer an option and that verification is required. FTA is using audits to validate adherence to Buy America provisions.
In addition, he said, FTA is no longer granting public interest waivers and non-availability waivers are subject to far greater scrutiny than in the past.
Rogoff underscored the more stringent enforcement of the Buy America policy and issued a warning: “If you thought before that it was better to ask forgiveness than permission with Buy America, that has changed.”