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Metro responds to FTA letter about “Buy America”

As we know, Metro had received a letter from the FTA that challenged its compliance with the FTA’s “Buy America” requirement due to Metro’s agreement to buy two prototype light rail cars that would be built in Spain. Metro has now responded to that letter and produced some rather compelling evidence that their actions did not put them out of compliance with “Buy America”.

A year-old voicemail retained by one of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s outside attorneys may hold the key to preserving the first federal light-rail funds in Houston history.

The April 17, 2009, message from Scott Biehl, then the Federal Transit Administration’s acting chief counsel, to Metro attorney Ed Gill responded to Gill’s inquiry about whether “Buy America” rules would permit the assembly of two prototype rail cars in Spain if the cars were purchased with local, not federal, funds.

“Ed, you nailed it,” Biehl said in the message, which was included in Metro’s formal response Friday to the FTA’s Buy America investigation. “The answer is we don’t care.”

Based on this message and the advice of its lawyers, Metro believed the arrangement would pass muster under Buy America rules, which require that assembly of all rolling stock for federally funded projects take place in the United States, Metro chief counsel Paula Alexander said in the response letter.

Metro sent the eight-page letter, along with a binder containing 32 supporting exhibits, to the FTA on Friday.

You can listen to the voice mail at the story link, and you can read Metro’s response letter, along with a letter from Chair Gilbert Garcia proclaiming their sincere desire to do right by “Buy America” here. Based on that voice mail, it’s easy to see why Metro thought they were on solid ground. Which is good, because up till this point it was looking like they had simply assumed their workaround was sufficient. Barring anything unusual, it looks like Metro has cleared this obstacle.

It’s still not over till it’s over, of course.

The FTA said in a statement that it had received Metro’s letter, but it noted that procurement of the two prototype rail cars wasn’t the only issue under review. The most important issue, spokesman Paul Griffo said, was overall compliance with Buy America rules, beyond the rail cars, in the entire federally funded portion of the project.

Alexander wrote that all Metro contractors subject to Buy America requirements had submitted certificates of compliance.

There could still be something lurking here, but this sounds pro forma to me. Unless the agency decides that the voice mail evidence isn’t good enough, I feel reasonably confident that Metro is in good shape for the grants.

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  1. […] for light rail construction would have been – yes, I’m assuming at this point that the voice mail from the past will save their bacon on that score – but it is annoying. One hopes they can find a way […]

  2. The USA, land of “free trade”, advocates of open markets protect their own market with Buy America rules. Surely this is against the very principles that you bully the rest of the world with. hypocrisy yet again !