The Department of Transportation distributes substantial Federal funds to finance transportation projects initiated by State and local governments, public transit authorities, and airport entities. The DOT is responsible for ensuring that all business enterprises have a fair opportunity to compete for federally-funded transportation contracts.
The Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, DBE program, is the DOT's strongest tool for creating a level playing field. The DBE program began in 1980 as a minority and women's business enterprise program. The program was established under the authority of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial, ethnic, and national origin discrimination, and other statutes prohibiting gender discrimination that apply to DOT financial assistance programs.
Congress has reauthorized the DBE program several times since its inception. Most recently, Congress established a continued need for the DBE program in the "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act." As a condition of receiving Federal financial assistance, recipients of funds from the Federal Highways Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, and Federal Transit Administration are required to follow the DBE program regulations located in 49 CFR parts 26 and 23. The Departmental Office of Civil Rights coordinates the Department's oversight of the program. These three Operating Administrations (FHWA, FAA, and FTA) are primarily responsible for overseeing the day-to-day administration of the program by recipients, providing training and technical assistance, and enforcing compliance.
The DBE program remedies ongoing discrimination and the continuing effects of past discrimination in federally-assisted transportation contracting markets nationwide. The day-to-day administration of the DBE program is carried out by recipients of Federal funds at the state and local level. This includes approximating how much participation is expected from DBEs by setting an annual overall DBE goal that represents the level of participation anticipated absent the effects of present and past discrimination.
Recipients must set an overall goal for DBE participation and monitor results to foster nondiscriminatory environments and ensure that DBEs have an equal opportunity to compete fairly. The DBE program isn't a quota or set aside program. Instead it’s based on narrowly tailored goals and participation by prime contractors, subcontractors, and agency partners. Certification of eligible firms is a key component of the DBE program.
But what is a DBE? A disadvantaged business enterprise is a for-profit small business. At least 51% of the business is owned by 1 or more individuals who are both socially and economically disadvantaged. And the management and daily business operations are controlled by 1 or more of the socially and economically disadvantaged business owners.
Firms meeting the eligibility standards can contact state departments of transportation or state DBE liaison and certification officers for instructions on how to apply for DBE certification. Each state has a unified certification program (UCP) to ensure certification decisions are honored by all recipients in that state. There's also a streamlined inter-state certification process for existing DBE’s wishing to participate in other states. A firm must be certified to be counted toward a “DBE goal”.
To find out more about the DBE program, how to apply to the program, and other useful contacts, visit the DOT website.