The U.S. Dept. of Labor has announced a new program that will provide free assistance to construction contractors and subcontractors­—and public- and private-sector owners—in gathering diverse workforces for certain major projects funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Jenny R. Yang, director of DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, (OFCCP), said that a goal of the program, announced March 14, is to “provide equal opportunity to all workers by removing barriers that have historically prevented our construction trades from tapping the full talent that exists in communities that have been underrepresented.” 

The program initially will address a group of IIJA-funded projects that each have a value of $35 million or more and will extend for more than one year. 

For starters, the so-called "mega projects" will draw on IIJA funds that the statute designates for the Dept. of Transportation and General Services Administration. 

The program could expand in the future to IIJA projects funded by the Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency and to Commerce Dept. projects funded by the CHIPS and Science Act, according to the OFCCP.

But Brian Turmail, Associated General Contractors of America vice president-public affairs and strategic initiatives, told ENR via email, “The compliance assistance feels misplaced.”

Turmail said, “Contractors working on mega projects tend to be the larger and more sophisticated firms and have created industry-leading policies to comply with labor and employment requirements.”

He added, “We would rather the administration make more compliance assistance programs available, especially for small contractors.”

DOL did not immediately release the names of the first batch of selected mega projects. Edwin Nunes, a DOL spokesperson, told ENR via email on March 15, “Projects have been designated and information about the designated projects will be available soon.”

Nunes said the OFCCP assembled the initial list of mega projects by “applying neutral criteria” to a “pool” of federal and federally assisted DOT and GSA projects. 

He also said that information about the methodology for selecting the projects would be released when the list of projects is announced.

DOL said the program would provide “extensive and no-cost compliance assistance to contractors and subcontractors" in areas such as recruitment, hiring and adhering to fair-employment practices.

A major focus will be on attracting more people from underrepresented communities to work in construction, the department added.   

DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement: “Right now, America is taking on some of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in living memory and we cannot succeed if we leave any talent on the table.”