Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Monday told attendees at the National Association of Counties that government infrastructure projects should be done by teams of workers who ethnically look like the neighborhood in which they work.
“We have heard way too many stories from generations past of infrastructure where you got a neighborhood, often a neighborhood of color that finally sees the project come to them but everyone in the hard hats on that project looking like, you know, doing — doing the good paying jobs don’t look like they came from anywhere near the neighborhood,” said Mr. Buttigieg.
Federal contracts already require that a percentage of a project go to minority-certified businesses.
Mr. Buttigieg, who faced criticism about his record on race issues as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, during the 2020 Democratic primary, has been amping up his political policy portfolio on racial equity as President Biden’s transportation secretary.
Last June, Mr. Buttigieg, who said that the interstate highways built in the 1950s harmed primarily lower-income, Black communities, launched an unprecedented $1 billion pilot program connecting cities and racially segregated neighborhoods.
Advocacy organizations envisioned infrastructure projects including rapid bus transit lines to tie these communities to jobs, highways featuring green spaces, bike lanes and walkways to allow for safe crossings over the roadways, and partial removal of highways.
“I think we can’t tell you what your community’s priorities are. But we can partner with you on priorities that I think we all share. Safety, absolutely. Job creation. And by the way, not just the job creation supported by having a great transit agency or a great highway or a new bridge,” Mr. Buttigieg said.
He urged the group of county officials to “really work with organized labor, to work with your contractors, to work with your community colleges, on building a workforce that reflects the community.”
The National Association of Counties is hearing from a number of White House Cabinet officials this week, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra. President Biden will deliver remarks to the group on Tuesday.
According to its website, the organization serves about 40,000 county elected officials and 3.6 million county employees.