U.S. Department of Transportation AmeriCorps Partnership
The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) announce a collaborative effort designed to expand youth workforce development opportunities and strengthen transportation career pathways at the State level. The USDOT is statutorily required by The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (“Section 1524 of MAP-21”) to encourage States and regional transportation planning agencies to use youth service and conservation corps to perform appropriate transportation-related projects.
Qualified youth service and conservation corps include any program established by a State or local government or nonprofit organization that are capable of providing meaningful, full-time, productive experiences for individuals between the ages of 16 and 25 in an urban or public works or transportation setting and gives participants a mix of job and life skills, education, training, and support services in addition to providing participants with the opportunity to develop citizenship values and skills through service to their communities and their country.
A State or regional transportation planning agency may enter into cooperative agreements with qualified youth service and conservation corps to perform work on scenic turn-out and overlook, recreational trail, transportation alternatives, bicycle and pedestrian, or safe routes to school projects. AmeriCorps has the proven ability to move this effort forward. By collaborating with State and regional transportation agencies to use AmeriCorps members in DOT-supported projects, States and municipalities can provide a ladder of economic and educational opportunity to disadvantaged youth—setting them on a pathway of success.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) held a webinar on December 9, 2014 to explore ways in which state and regional transportation agencies can use AmeriCorps members in DOT-supported projects. The webinar, Creating Access to Opportunity: Strengthening Transportation Career Pathways and Youth Workforce Development Through Service, provided an overview Section 1524 of MAP-21 which encourages states to use AmeriCorps members to perform eligible activities under the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) and other Federal-aid highway programs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Over the course of providing outreach to stakeholders at the state level, common questions have come up as states explore this new strategy to expand AmeriCorps. Use this as a resource and if you have further questions that are unanswered, be sure to review the other materials posted or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why is there such a push for AmeriCorps members to perform DOT-funded activities at the state level?
Both the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) realize the potential of this partnership as a ladder of opportunity for young adults—setting them on a pathway of success. The hard and soft skills developed by improving state infrastructure during a year of service in AmeriCorps can translate directly to transportation-related careers, creating a trained pipeline for future workforce needs.
Do prevailing wage laws under the Davis-Bacon Act (Subchapter IV of Chapter 31 of Title 40) apply to youth service positions generated through this partnership?
No. 40 U.S.C. § 3146 of the Davis-Bacon Act provides that the statute “does not supersede or impair any authority otherwise granted by federal law to provide for the establishment of specific wage rates.” Section 1524(b)(1) of MAP-21 requires the Secretary of Transportation to establish a living allowance or rate of pay for youth service and conservation corps as required under State law or for conservation corps in states without such a state law, at an amount not to exceed the maximum living allowance authorized by section 140 of Public Law 101–610 (42 U.S.C. 12594), as amended. Section 140 of Public Law 101–610 statutorily sets the living allowance and other benefits that must be provided for AmeriCorps members. Therefore, participants utilizing AmeriCorps members would not be covered by Davis-Bacon labor standards in accordance with 40 U.S.C. § 3146. In addition, according to the Department of Labor, AmeriCorps members are exempt from the wage and hour provisions.
Can state or regional planning agencies sole-source contracts and cooperative agreements to qualified youth service and conservation corps for DOT-supported projects?
Yes. Section 1524(b)(2) exempts contracts and cooperative agreements with youth service and conservation corps from Federal-aid highway program contracting requirements under 23 U.S.C. 112. A State or regional transportation planning agency may sole-source contracts and cooperative agreements to qualified youth service and conservation corps for work undertaken for byway, recreational trail, transportation alternatives, bicycle and pedestrian, or Safe Routes to School projects.
Should State Service Commissions be communicating with state transportation authorities?
Yes. State Service Commissions have an opportunity to expand AmeriCorps in their states by connecting state transportation authorities who oversee DOT formula funding with AmeriCorps programs that have the capacity to accomplish the work. They can serve as a liaison and can get the word out about the benefits of utilizing AmeriCorps members on DOT-funded projects.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Division Offices can help to facilitate these exploratory meetings as well as provide other technical assistance. Additionally, most states already have experience working with youth service and conservation corps on Recreational Trails Program (RTP) projects and this may serve as a starting point for broadening the conversation.
And last, the joint letter from Secretary Foxx and CEO Wendy Spencer dated January 28, 2015 may also serve as a starting point for your collaboration. In it, they announce a national service collaboration to expand youth-workforce development opportunities and strengthen transportation career pathways while improving infrastructure.
How might an AmeriCorps grantee secure additional member positions for this partnership?
There is not a uniform answer to increasing the number of member slots; rather, it depends on factors that vary state to state. State Service Commission and National Direct grantee staff should reach out to their AmeriCorps Program Officer to discuss options for requesting additional member positions. State Service Commission sub-grantees should contact their commission to discuss options for requesting additional member positions. Here are some known options for requesting slots:
· As part of a State Service Commission’s 2015 Formula Funding Request
· Through the 2016 AmeriCorps State & National funding opportunity (Notice of Funding not yet released)
· Through the CNCS Partnership Challenge process (NOFA released June, 2015)
How might a state prioritize youth service or conservation corps in its transportation projects?
Prioritizing youth service or conservations corps is encouraged by DOT and is the intent behind Section 1524 of MAP-21. The strategy may vary from state to state, but what has become clear is that there are many pathways to engage AmeriCorps members in DOT-supported projects. For example, in the state of Washington, an Interagency Agreement (IAA) to perform work on transportation-related projects exists between the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Washington Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps grantee. Alternatively, states can give priority to youth service and conservation corps during the competitive process, such as in Maine and California. In Maine, points are awarded if an applicant partners with the Maine Conservation Corps to supply a stated amount of labor. Backed by legislative action, California has created a structure that requires priority be given to applicants who seek the California Conservation Corps’ participation as partners to undertake or construct applicable transportation projects.
Which DOT programs in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance would be applicable to youth service and conservation corps?
Most of the applicable programs within the Federal Highway Administration can be located under 20.205, including the Federal Lands Highway Program, Surface Transportation Program, and Transportation Alternatives Program. However, the Recreational Trails Program is located separately under 20.219.
Have any states successfully utilized AmeriCorps members on their DOT-supported projects?
Yes. The following case studies provide an example of some approaches states have taken to include AmeriCorps members in their DOT-supported projects. Because they are AmeriCorps programs, these organizations are able to recruit across the nation, creating highly diverse work crews. Additionally, these participants may receive a post-service education award and other benefits afforded to AmeriCorps members.
Maine has a long history of collaborating with key stakeholders, connecting transportation dollars at the federal, state and local level with conservation corps. Maine Conservation Corps (MCC), a member of The Corps Network and part of the AmeriCorps family, collaborates with the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Bureau of Parks and Lands to utilize RTP funding for trail construction and restoration projects. MCC receives funding from AmeriCorps through Maine’s State Service Commission, Maine Commission for Community Service, as well as through a national direct grant sponsored by The Corps Network.
The Texas Conservation Corps is part of the AmeriCorps network and is a sub-grantee of The Corp Network. Using RTP funds dispersed by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, an AmeriCorps crew builds and maintains trails in Texas state parks. The Texas Conservation Corps also works annually with a number of community groups or municipalities who receive RTP grants by serving as trail builders and/or project consultants.
Washington is another example of a state that has already begun building partnerships between Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and stakeholders to expand service opportunities for youth. Using combined federal and state dollars, WSDOT has funded the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) through an Interagency Agreement to perform work in transportation related projects. The WCC is a member of The Corps Network and is also part of the AmeriCorps family as a state competitive program, therefore, members are able to receive education awards and other benefits.
Over the last several years, the WCC has completed various wetland and riparian mitigation projects as part of the Southwest Region’s Environmental Mitigation Establishment Program. Sample activities include irrigation and fence installation, vegetation management and weed control, plant installation as well as other natural resource preservation and enhancement activities. By utilizing WCC AmeriCorps, WSDOT gains substantial cost savings while members gain hands on experience and technical skills in natural resource management and environmental stewardship.
The Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia (CCCWV) has AmeriCorps members who work on trails and trail development projects funded through RTP and administered by the West Virginia Department of Transportation via the Division of Highways. These projects include trail work, building, and maintenance for both motorized and non-motorized trails.
To find additional state and national examples of corps doing DOT-related activities, please refer to FHWA.