The Department of Transportation is proposing high-speed rail projects be built with 100% American-made parts and equipment.
U.S. transit administrator Peter Rogoff and railroad administrator Peter Szabo explained the 100% Buy America requirement Monday in a conference call with reporters sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association.
Under current law, federal aid for high-speed rail is contingent on a requirement that 60% of the parts and equipment be made in the U.S. The administration would raise that by 10% per year over four years in its proposed transportation plan.
"We consider that absolutely critical to bringing a lot of those design and engineering jobs as well as the core manufacturing jobs back to the United States," Rogoff said.
But before legislation is introduced in Congress, Szabo said that in the group of projects currently under consideration, "one of the things we're going to force the bidders to compete on is not just the cost, but on the percentage of domestically manufactured components."
President Obama proposed spending $53 billion over six years for fast rail.
"We've put forward a bold vision," Rogoff said. "We think it's an important vision and the appropriate vision for the American people, setting it out there to frame the debate. Now it's time to have that debate with Congress."
Congress, however, has ignored the president's plan. "I don't believe anything they are proposing will come to pass," said Ron Utt, a high-speed rail expert at the Heritage Foundation.
House Transportation Committee chairman John Mica, R-Fla. has said, for example, that he will offer legislation to transfer the Northeast Corridor, which Amtrak owns, to the DOT. Under Mica's plan, the government would take private-sector bids for controlling and operating both the infrastructure and the trains "with little or no taxpayer money."
The provisions to be included in a forthcoming bill that have been agreed to by leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee also bear little resemblance to the Obama plan.
Having failed to make any progress on a transportation bill, the administration now seems to be selling it as a jobs program. Rogoff and Szabo came back to that theme repeatedly during the teleconference call. "These are taxpayer investments and we're asking the taxpayers to come forward and reinvest in America," Rogoff said. "We expect that reinvestment to be right here in America. The Obama administration is going to fight for every American manufacturing job it can bring back and save."
With Congress likely to cut spending, Utt said, "it's not likely for an American company to gear up to produce products that aren't likely to be purchased."