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American DBE Magazine

WMATA To Expand Small Business Opportunities with Two New Certification Programs

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is a tri-jurisdictional government agency that operates transit service in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. WMATA was created by the United States Congress as an interstate compact between the District of Columbia, the State of Maryland, and the Commonwealth of Virginia and is responsible for 91 Metrorail stations and 117 miles of track, along with managing 1,500 buses, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Building and maintaining the agency’s transit system is done with financial assistance from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and its three sponsoring government agencies. Through the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program, WMATA provides opportunities to small, women- and minority-owned businesses to participate in contracts receiving financial assistance from the FTA. The agency is now adding to these opportunities by creating a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Program and a Small Business Preference Program (SBP) to also create greater opportunities on WMATA purchases made with funding from local government sources.

WMATA Director of Small Business Program Meshelle Howard is leading the development of the new programs as one of her first initiatives since joining the agency in August 2020. Howard brought a wealth of experience to the agency after retiring from the Maryland Transportation Authority after 28 years of service, where she worked in procurement and DBE Program administration. Howard believes these two new programs will provide greater guidance and incentive to WMATA staff and will maximize opportunities for businesses in the agency’s small business programs.

WMATA Small Business Program Director Meshelle Howard

WMATA Small Business Program Director Meshelle Howard

The new programs will allow businesses to compete on a level playing field for Metro’s procurement opportunities – either directly as a prime contractor or indirectly through subcontracting. The contracting opportunities that will be subject to the MBE and SBP are funded with local dollars, and therefore are not subject to DBE Program requirements. “We created the programs to provide contracting opportunities for certified small, minority and women-owned businesses in areas that weren’t covered by our DBE Program,” Howard said.

The charge and encouragement to expand opportunities for small businesses is supported by WMATA’s Board of Directors and leadership team. “I have to say that the leadership here at WMATA is extremely supportive of the Small Business Program,” Howard said. “Not only do I have direct access to leadership, but our board members also ask questions to see if we are meeting our goals, and to make sure we have the resources needed for the program.”

The agency’s efforts to expand opportunities is happening just as the agency moves forward on a $2.2 billion contract with Hitachi Rail Washington, LLC to deliver new 8000 series railcars to replace its aging fleet. The contract includes a base order of 256 cars with options to build up to 800 cars in the fleet. Hitachi will complete the final assembly of the railcars in the Metro D.C. region and plans to offer new jobs and contracts to diverse businesses.

Artist rendering of the Hitachi 8000 Series Railcar. WMATA announced a $2.2 billion contract with Hitachi in March 2021 to provide a base order of 256 railcars, with options to build up to 800 in the fleet.

Artist rendering of the Hitachi 8000 Series Railcar. WMATA announced a $2.2 billion contract with Hitachi in March 2021 to provide a base order of 256 railcars, with options to build up to 800 in the fleet.

“The rapid growth of our business translated into direct and indirect U.S. jobs and further capital investment,” Andrew Barr, CEO, Hitachi Rail Group, said in a press release. “We also believe that our downstream supply chain offers considerable opportunities for the participation of diverse business enterprises. We value diversity in the workplace and the marketplace.”

The Hitachi contract was awarded in November 2020 and is planned to last 10 to 15 years. WMATA has assigned an 8% DBE goal on the contract and Howard said the specific scopes of work Hitachi will make available for small businesses is still being determined. “We are working out all the details and working closely with Hitachi to see what types of opportunities will be available for Small Businesses to go after,” she said.

DBE participation on the Hitachi contract will go a long way to helping WMATA reach its overall DBE goal of 25%. The agency has consistently reached its FTA-approved goal in past years, and in fiscal year 2020 achieved 25.1% DBE participation on its federally funded contracting opportunities. DBEs will have opportunities to do business with WMATA as contracts are picking up, coming out of the nationwide coronavirus pandemic. In April 2021, the WMATA board of directors approved a $4.7 billion operating and capital budget for fiscal year 2022 (beginning July 1, 2021) that maintains current service levels and enhancements, while continuing to accelerate capital investment in safety-critical repairs and service reliability improvements.

Included in the budget is funding to continue an aggressive rebuilding campaign as part of the agency’s $2.6 billion capital budget that invests in safety and service improvements, critical repairs to platforms and structures, and system State of Good Repair (SGR) needs. For example, WMATA’s Platform Improvement Project will complete platform rehabilitation work at Green and Yellow line stations this summer, with work at the final stations beginning next year. The four-year project is part of a major initiative to reconstruct 20 deteriorated outdoor platforms and add customer improvements to modernize stations. In addition, WMATA continues to invest in customer improvements including new faregates and fareboxes, along with parking lot and garage rehabilitation, and a multi-year escalator replacement project.

WMATA rail tracks at Washington Dulles International Airport. The tracks are part of the second phase of the Silver Line Metrorail project, slated to open in 2022.

WMATA rail tracks at Washington Dulles International Airport. The tracks are part of the second phase of the Silver Line Metrorail project, slated to open in 2022.

Howard’s Small Business Programs Office is preparing firms for these opportunities by hosting a series of “Meet the Prime” events that allows small businesses to connect with large contractors planning to do work for WMATA. The first virtual event was held in March 2021, with two other events planned for June and September 2021. “These events have been successful. Our certified businesses have the chance to speak directly with prime contractors and visit their rooms in the virtual webinars,” Howard said. “We have between four and six primes at every event, and over 1,000 firms participated in the first session.”

Although the pandemic delayed some contracting opportunities during 2020, WMATA is quickly returning to normal as transit passengers and the nation’s economy rebounds in 2021. Howard plans to make sure the Small Business Programs Office is ready to meet the need of businesses seeking to return to normal and pursue WMATA opportunities. She said, “We want to rally small businesses around what we are doing so they can participate; and we also want to raise the number of business certified with us to make sure they are ready.”