Federal officials are urging the public transportation industry to back President Obama's proposed jobs bill, saying it will mean $9 billion for transit projects. But frustration over partisan bickering in Congress regarding the re-authorization of a long-term transportation funding bill lent a charged air to exchanges at the conference and exposition, held in New Orleans early this month.

Federal Transit Administration (FTA) chief Peter Rogoff and his staff were the marquee draw for American Public Transportation Association (APTA) members. “We are working with a president who cares about what we do,” he said. “We are at the center of his recovery agenda.”

Rogoff noted that the agency is taking an “earnest” look at streamlining the New Starts grant program, with the goal of shaving off months from the approval process. However, Dorval Carter, FTA's chief counsel, drew gasps of surprise when he said the agency was exploring the idea of upping the “Buy American” requirements to 100% from 60% over the next few years. Moreover, FTA will place more emphasis on the scrutiny of requests for Buy American waivers, he added.

Even more lively feedback came during a session held with representatives from the House and Senate regarding the stalled long-term reauthorization of the federal transportation trust fund. The Democratic-led Senate wants a two-year bill at current funding levels, while the Republican-led House wants a six-year bill with funding cut by a third.

“[The House proposal] would mean a loss of 1.8 million transportation jobs,” warned Homer Carlisle, representing the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. But “the two-year bill would bankrupt us,” countered Shannon Hines, chief of staff for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

APTA members run the gamut of party affiliations. But during the question-and-answer period, several participants challenged the Republican representatives to offer ideas not just for cutting taxes, but for creating jobs—including moving forward with high-speed rail—to a smattering of applause.