Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton's (D-DC) roundtable hearing last night on the hiring of D.C. residents and small businesses at downtown General Services Administration (GSA) and the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of African American History and Culture construction projects drew a large crowd and new ideas to increase local hiring at construction sites downtown. Because most GSA job sites are scattered throughout the city, unlike the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) headquarters construction site in Ward 8, which has its own Opportunities Center for hiring, the GSA Deputy Regional Commissioner for the National Capital Region, Shapour Ebadi, agreed to consider posting construction job openings and upcoming business opportunities for the downtown GSA construction projects on a website, and to consider an "easily accessible site" where residents and businesses could learn of opportunities. The Smithsonian Institution's Chief of Construction, Derek Ross, also agreed to consider posting openings online, where they already post small business opportunities.
Norton noted significant improvement in the hiring of D.C. residents by Whiting-Turner, the contractor rehabilitating the GSA headquarters, in August after a poor showing in July, but she said that this project had a special obligation to "lead by example," given GSA's jurisdiction over all federal construction projects. In her opening statement, she recalled that from the beginning, "we were clear that we did not intend to bring federal construction projects to a city suffering high unemployment, while our residents were relegated to the role of onlookers, rather than workers, in their community, where the construction is occurring." The Congresswoman noted that while federal law bars requirements to hire from a particular group or geographic area, she would continue to make maximum use of the aggressive local outreach that the federal government allows and encourages and that has been successful at the DHS construction site in Ward 8. "We are ready to work with contractors and unions on these sites, but in return we will need them to work harder in taking seriously the outreach to our community for jobs on these sites," she said.
The text of Norton's opening statement follows.
Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton
Roundtable Hearing on D.C. Hiring and Small Business Contracting
August 21, 2012
This evening's roundtable is one of several hearings and roundtables we have had since I chaired the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, and was able to get unprecedented funding for General Service Administration (GSA) projects in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA or stimulus). Our purpose is to monitor this construction to ensure that funds that Congress provided specifically to spur employment do exactly that for the residents of the District of Columbia.
The District of Columbia received funding for the largest number of stimulus construction projects in the United States, because the city is dominated by federal buildings that have long been on the GSA list for rehabilitation and repair. In addition, we were able to get funds for the largest GSA construction project in the country, the Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Ward 8. Our prior hearings and roundtables focused on the DHS headquarters complex. However, the first building in the complex, the Coast Guard headquarters, is nearly complete. The full funding of the President's fiscal year 2013 DHS headquarters request of $89 million has the support of Congress, an indication that both the President and Congress are committed to completing the multi-building complex, but at a significantly slower rate than anticipated.
Today's roundtable turns to other stimulus-funded GSA projects, and to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture. Although not individually as important as the planned DHS headquarters complex, these projects, taken together, are equally important. In addition, we will hear testimony from the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture Museum, which has begun construction. The same expectations we have had for the other federal projects, of course, apply equally to the new Smithsonian museum.
At the outset, we were clear that we did not intend to bring federal construction projects to a city suffering high unemployment, while our residents were relegated to the role of onlookers rather than workers in their community, where the construction is occurring. At the same time, no Member of Congress can require contractors to hire or unions to allow residents to work, and federal law and regulations do not permit a hiring advantage to the community where federal construction is occurring or numerical goals for hiring specific groups. I have therefore made maximum use of all the tools available to us under federal law. This roundtable is surely one of them because it allows the community to hear from residents and some of the major actors on federal projects here, in addition to D.C. residents who can testify about how they got their jobs, which can inform us and residents. Today's roundtable supplements other important systematic tools we regularly use for accountability, such as our monthly monitoring of federal construction here based on payroll data and unannounced visits to construction sites.
We indicated concerns with some of the hiring in our July report announcing today's roundtable. Yesterday, we released the most current D.C. hiring figures. Taken together, the figures show a modest improvement over the course of a single month. While the trajectory is heading in the right direction, the unevenness among contractors needs to be understood and explained. For example, many of the federal projects downtown are doing similar types of work in rehabilitating federal buildings to make them more energy efficient. Why, then, do some of the contractors employ as few as 5% D.C. workers while others show almost triple that number? In general, is there specific outreach to the community on these projects? At the DHS headquarters construction site, there is an Opportunities Center that provides a place known and visible to the community for residents and small businesses to come for work and training. With projects in a number of locations, contractors and unions would need to be strategic if they are serious about outreach.
We are not naïve. We do not expect these projects to absorb the many residents who are unemployed. We recognize that each job is different in size, place of work, and the skills needed at particular junctures. Moreover, my work as a civil rights lawyer and as chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission taught me that there must be a match between the skills and workers for a particular job. However, our experience at the DHS headquarters makes unacceptable the excuse that employers cannot find D.C. residents who can do the work. The District of Columbia is only 10% percent of the population of this region but hiring of D.C. journeymen and apprentices at the DHS headquarters construction site for the past two years has tended to be at 20% or above. We cannot and do not require specific numbers of D.C. residents to be hired at the sites under discussion tonight. But the DHS experience, where many levels and varieties of skills were required, gives us a realistic understanding of the skill levels of our residents. We are ready to work with contractors and unions but in return we will need them to work harder in taking seriously outreach to our community for jobs on these sites. We will hold all who receive contracts with federal funds accountable.