Chair Payne, Jr. Statement from Hearing to Examine if Discrimination Exists in Federal Passenger Rail Contracting
Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) during today’s hearing titled, “Does Discrimination Exist in Federal Passenger Rail Contracting?”
Video of Payne’s opening statement is here.
More information on the hearing can be found here.
Chair Payne, Jr.:
Good morning. When I had the honor of being selected by my colleagues to become Chair of this subcommittee, one of my first priorities was seeing how I could help bring equity to the rail sector.
Unfortunately, I have since learned that much work still needs to be done to ensure that everyone has a fair shot at obtaining work on federal passenger rail contracts.
The first question I asked when I got this gavel was how we could strengthen the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program at the Federal Railroad Administration. Imagine my surprise when I found out that there was no DBE program at the FRA.
To be clear, today’s hearing is not to debate the merits of creating a program. The purpose of today’s hearing is to allow business-owners to share their experiences of working in the rail sector.
We are going to hear uncomfortable stories of the very real discrimination that our witnesses have suffered.
Today, our responsibility is to listen and reflect on each person’s experience.
I would be remiss if I didn’t share my own experience. The question is often asked: “How do you know you are being discriminated against?”
I know. As a black man, I know that feeling when people treat you differently because of the color of your skin.
I know that when companies conspire against a supplier to shut out the only minority firm manufacturing a particular product, you are being discriminated against.
I was fortunate. Because of government intervention, that particular discrimination was stopped. Others have not been so lucky.
The experiences we are going to hear today from our panel will be different than mine. The point of holding this hearing is to try to understand someone else’s experience.
I do not know what it is like to experience discrimination as a member of a different minority group or what discrimination women face in an industry dominated by men.
That is why we have invited a diverse panel of witnesses to share their unique experiences.
I commend our witnesses for being courageous enough to share extremely personal and often painful experiences that should not happen in any setting, and least of all in a professional setting.
It is not easy to come forward and describe when discrimination has happened to you, but it is a necessary story to tell.
I encourage all members to listen closely to these experiences. Some members may have gone through similar things and others may not have.
We can’t change what happened to our witnesses but we have the privilege and responsibility of being able to correct these injustices, to ensure that future generations will be playing on a level field.
What I want to prevent are instances where business owners decide that it isn’t even worth trying to bid for work because they know they will be judged by what they look like rather than the quality of their work.
I commend the Biden administration for taking bold steps toward ensuring diversity and inclusion.
Secretary Buttigieg has committed to working with me and this committee to identify ways to create a fair shot to compete for federal rail contracts.
Information gathered from today’s hearing will help inform Congress whether actions must be taken to address discrimination in the transportation sector.
It is my sincere hope that today, members can put themselves in other people’s shoes, if just for a moment, to understand the damage a well-entrenched system of discrimination can cause to business owners simply trying to provide for their families and succeed in the rail industry.
Some uncomfortable conversations need to be had to bring about a positive result. These conversations are not easy, but they are necessary.
I again thank the witnesses for being here and I look forward to their testimony.
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