In a narrowly tailored program, it is important that DBE credit be awarded only for work actually being performed by DBEs themselves. The necessary implication of this principle is that when a DBE prime contractor or subcontractor subcontracts work to another firm, the work counts toward DBE goals only if the other firm is itself a DBE. This represents a change from the existing rule and the SNPRM, which said that all the work of a DBE's contract (implicitly including work subcontracted to non-DBEs) counts toward goals. A few comments urged such a change. The new language is also consistent with the way that the final rule treats goals for DBE prime contractors.
The value of work performed by DBEs themselves is deemed to include the cost of materials and supplies purchased, and equipment leased, by the DBE from non-DBE sources. For example, if a DBE steel erection firm buys steel from a non-DBE manufacturer, or leases a crane from a non- DBE construction firm, these costs count toward DBE goals. There is one exception: if a DBE subcontractor buys supplies or leases equipment from the prime contractor on its contract, these costs do not count toward DBE goals. Several comments from prime contractors suggested these costs should count, but this situation is too problematic, in our view, from an independence and commercially useful function (CUF) point of view to permit DBE credit.
One of the most difficult issues in this section concerns how to count DBE credit for the services of DBE trucking firms. The SNPRM proposed that, to be performing a CUF, a DBE trucking firm had to own 50 percent of the trucks it used in connection with a contract. A number of comments said that this requirement was out of step with industry practice, which commonly involves companies leasing trucks from owner-operators and other sources for purposes of a project. In response to these comments, the Department revisited this issue and reviewed the trucking CUF policies of a number of states. The resulting provision requires DBEs to have overall control of trucking operations and own at least one truck, but permits leasing from a variety of sources under controlled conditions, with varying consequences for DBE credit awarded.
A DBE need not provide all the trucks on a contract to receive credit for transportation services, but it must control the trucking operations for which it seeks credit. It must have at least one truck and driver of its own, but it can lease the trucks of others, both DBEs and non-DBEs, including owner operators. For work done with its own trucks and drivers, and for work with DBE lessees, the firm receives credit for all transportation services provided. For work done with non-DBE lessees, the firm gets credit only for the fees or commissions it receives for arranging the transportation services, since the services themselves are being performed by non-DBEs.
When we say that a DBE firm must own at least one of the trucks it uses on a contract, we intend for recipients to have a certain amount of discretion for handling unexpected circumstances, beyond the control of the firm. For example, suppose firm X starts the contract with one truck it owns. The truck is disabled by an accident or mechanical problem part way through the contract. Recipients need not conclude that the firm has ceased to perform a commercially useful function.
Most commenters who addressed the issue agreed with the SNPRM proposal that a DBE does not perform a CUF unless if performs at least 30 percent of the work of a contract with its own forces (a few commenters suggested 50 percent). This provision has been retained. A commenter suggested that the use of two-party checks by a DBE and another firm should not automatically preclude there being a CUF. While we do not believe it is necessary to include rule text language on this point, we agree with the commenter. As long as the other party acts solely as a guarantor, and the funds do not come from the other party, we do not object to this practice where it is a commonly-recognized way of doing business. Recipients who accept this practice should monitor its use closely to avoid abuse.
One commenter noted an apparent inconsistency between counting 100 percent of the value of materials and supplies used by a DBE construction contractor (e.g., in the context of a furnish and install contract) and counting only 60 percent of the value of goods obtained by a non-DBE contractor from a DBE regular dealer. The two situations are treated differently, but there is a policy reason for the difference. There is a continuing concern in the program that, if non- DBEs are able to meet DBE goals readily by doing nothing more than obtaining supplies made by non-DBE manufacturers through DBE regular dealers, the non-DBEs will be less likely to hire DBE subcontractors for other purposes. As a policy matter, the Department does not want to reduce incentives to use DBE subcontractors, so we have not permitted 100 percent credit for supplies in this situation. Giving 100 percent credit for materials and supplies when a DBE contractor performs a furnish and install contract does not create the same type of disincentive, so the policy concern does not apply. In our experience, the 60 percent credit has been an effective incentive for the use of DBE regular dealers, so those firms are not unduly burdened.