Commenters generally supported this certification process section, and we are adopting it with only minor changes. Commenters suggested that provision for electronic filing of applications be discretionary rather than mandatory. We agree, and the final rule does not mandate development of electronic filing systems. Some commenters remained concerned about site visits and asked for more guidance on the subject. We intend to provide future guidance on this subject.
Most commenters who addressed the subject favored the development of a mandatory, nationwide, standard DOT application form for DBE eligibility. A number of commenters supplied the forms they use as examples. We believe that this is a good idea, which will help avoid confusion among applicants in a nationwide program. However, we have not yet developed a form for this purpose. The final rule reserves a requirement for recipients to use a uniform form. We intend to work on developing such a form during the next year, in consultation with recipients and applicants. Meanwhile, recipients can continue to use existing forms, modified as necessary to conform to the requirements of this part.
The SNPRM said recipients could charge a reasonable fee to applicants. A majority of commenters, both recipients and DBEs, opposed the idea of a fee or said it should be capped at a low figure. Fees are not mandatory, and they would be limited, under the final rule, to modest application fees (not intended to recover the cost of the certification process). However, if a recipient wants to charge a modest application fee, we do not see that it is inconsistent with the nature of the program to allow it to do so. Fee waivers would be required if necessary (i.e., a firm who showed they could not afford it). All fees would have to be approved by the concerned OA as part of the DBE program approval process, which would preclude excessive fees.
Given that reciprocity is discretionary among recipients, we thought it would be useful to spell out the options a recipient has when presented by an applicant with the information that another recipient has certified the firm. The recipient may accept the other recipient's certification without any additional procedures. The recipient can make an independent decision based, in whole or in part, on the information developed by the first recipient (e.g., application forms, supporting documents, reports of site visits). The recipient may make the applicant start an entire new application process. The choice among these options is up to the recipient. (As noted above, UCPs will have these same options.)
Most commenters on the subject supported the three-year term for certifications. Some wanted a shorter or longer period. We believe the three-year term is appropriate, particularly given the safeguards of annual and update affidavits that the rule provides. In response to a few comments that recipients should have longer than the proposed 21 days after a change in circumstances to submit an update affidavit, we have extended the period to 30 days. If recipients want to have a longer term in their DBE programs than the three years provided in the rule, they can do so, with the Department's approval, as part of their DBE programs.
A few recipients said that the 90-day period for making decisions on applications (with the possibility of a 60-day extension) was too short. Particularly since this clock does not begin ticking until a complete application, including necessary supporting documentation, is received from the applicant, we do not think this time frame is unreasonable. We would urge recipients and applicants to work together to resolve minor errors or data gaps during the assembly of the package, before this time period begins to run.