Thursday, February 17, 2011

FTA Sets Its Position on "Buy America" Waivers

Many of the community-based programs that partner with Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grantees to provide coordinated transportation services use small (by transit standards) vehicles, often purchased "off-the-lot" from dealers. Quite a few of the minivans, vans, and other small transit vehicles are produced, at least in part, in Canada, Mexico, or overseas. When FTA funds are involved, it becomes important to assure compliance with FTA's specific and unique "Buy America" requirements. Indeed, a few communities have turned to non-FTA sources, such as the HUD Community Development Block Grant program, for vehicle purchases at least in part because the process of assuring Buy America compliance becomes a challenging obstacle.

This week, FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff put into writing a statement of principles that had been in force ever since states and transit agencies began purchasing vehicles with "stimulus" funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but which FTA applies to all vehicle acquisitions involving FTA grant funds, regardless of programs.

In this February 16, 2011, "Dear Colleague" letter, Mr Rogoff explicitly states, "FTA will not consider any requests for a public interest waiver of FTA’s Buy America regulation." In this same letter, he goes on to say "FTA has raised the bar for all Buy America waiver requests.  All requests will be scrutinized.  Most requests will result in FTA offering technical assistance to develop a solution that will not necessitate a waiver.  Please be cautious about leading your projects down a path where a Buy America waiver will be needed, as it is unlikely to be granted."

Given the tenor of this letter, anyone concerned with the Buy America provisions that apply to capital purchases involving FTA funding should pay close attention to the regulations and related information at FTA's "Buy America" web page.

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