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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Background." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Compendium of Successful Practices, Strategies, and Resources in the U.S. DOT Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25538.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Background." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Compendium of Successful Practices, Strategies, and Resources in the U.S. DOT Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25538.
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5 State DOTs and the Federal DBE Program Since 1983, state and local governments have been required to implement the federal Dis­ advantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program if they receive U.S. DOT funds for transporta­ tion projects. The DBE program and earlier versions of it (Minority Business Enterprise and Women Business Enterprise Program) have been in place since 1980. A DBE is a firm that is socially and economically disadvantaged as defined by program regulations. Most DBEs are minority­ or women­owned companies. State departments of transportation (DOTs), as recipients of U.S. DOT funds for trans­ portation projects, are required to establish a DBE program and to set overall goals for DBE participation on contracts assisted by the U.S. DOT. State DOTs meet the overall goals through DBE participation as subcontractors and as prime contractors. Objectives of the pro­ gram include facilitating DBE participation through supportive services, removing barriers to DBE participation in contracts assisted by U.S. DOT, establishing race­neutral measures, and creating a level playing field for DBEs. A further objective is “to assist the development of firms that can compete successfully in the marketplace outside the DBE Program” (49 CFR Section 26.1 (g)). To be certified as a DBE, the firm and its principal minority and/or woman owner(s) must not exceed the stipulated personal net worth, as well as limits regarding the owner’s ability to accumulate substantial wealth. The minority and/or woman owner(s) must own, control, manage, and direct the firm, and the firm must be a small business as defined by the Small Busi­ ness Administration (SBA). Although “graduation” of DBEs from the program is not specifically mentioned in the federal regulations, eligibility requirements anticipate that some firms will develop to a point where assistance under the program is no longer needed. Graduated firms do not count toward meeting a state DOT’s overall annual DBE participation goal. Most state DOTs provide supportive services to DBEs to assist in their development. Budgets for those services are limited, and state DOTs seek a mix of technical assistance that has the greatest benefit to DBEs. More than 40 state DOTs also set race­conscious DBE contract goals in their implementation of the program. Prime contractors can only count certified DBEs toward contract goal attainment. When a firm that was used by prime contractors to meet DBE contract goals graduates from the program, more subcontracting opportunities open for other DBEs. Federal regulations also anticipate the possibility that DBEs might become overconcentrated in a certain type of work. If a state DOT observes such overconcentration, which might unfairly prevent non­DBEs from competing for subcontracts, it must assist DBEs in performing work in other fields (49 CFR Section 26.33). C H A P T E R 1 Background

6 Compendium of Successful Practices, Strategies, and Resources in the U.S. DOT Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program Research Objectives The U.S. DOT and state DOTs need additional information about successful DBEs, the extent to which DBEs have graduated from the federal DBE program, and how state DOTs and their partners can improve efforts to help firms succeed in the marketplace outside the DBE program. Currently, state DOTs have little data about the transportation contracting firms that have been most successful and factors contributing to their success. In addition, trade associations and other providers of assistance to firms in the transportation contracting industry would benefit from evidence­based direction on ways to help DBEs. The lack of sufficient information has been a source of criticism of the federal DBE program inside and outside of the federal government (U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General 2013). This research has four primary objectives: 1. Identify good practices for state DOTs and their partners to promote “success” and self­ sufficiency of DBEs on contracts falling under the federal DBE program as well as state­ funded contracts and other work outside the program. 2. Add to knowledge concerning the characteristics, business practices, and behaviors of firms that have participated in the federal DBE program and are no longer DBE certified (they graduated, either voluntarily or perhaps involuntarily through a state DOT process of decertification). 3. Assess whether once­certified DBEs that are no longer certified have been able to survive post­graduation, and, if so, assess the factors that contributed to post­program sustainability. 4. Start to identify specific practices of state DOTs and their partners that have contributed to (or hindered) DBE success. Research conducted under TRB’s Cooperative Research Programs as well as other research efforts have contributed to advancing the research objectives listed above (see bibliography). State DOTs have also conducted disparity studies and other research examining experiences and barriers for DBEs. However, the research presented here is the first to focus on successful DBEs, including firms that have graduated.

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Firms that have graduated from the federal Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program or have successfully competed for state transportation agency contracts are the focus in NCHRP Research Report 913: Compendium of Successful Practices, Strategies, and Resources in the U.S. DOT Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program.

The DBE program provides small businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged persons with opportunities to participate on federally assisted highway contracts. As a requirement of receiving federal highway funds, state departments of transportation (DOTs) must administer the DBE program. FHWA provides oversight of the state DOTs’ operation of the program to ensure that they are in compliance with federal regulations.

The report includes appendices that define success, profile successful DBEs, and describe state DOT initiatives for DBE success. It also explores the types of business assistance that contribute to the success of DBE firms.

The report serves as a resource for staff in state transportation agencies, U.S. DOT, and other groups implementing the DBE program or providing business assistance.

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