The U.S. Department of Transportation's DBE (disadvantaged business enterprise) program provides a vehicle for increasing the participation by MBEs in state and local procurement. DOT DBE regulations require state and local transportation agencies that receive DOT financial assistance, to establish goals for the participation of DBEs. Each DOT-assisted State and local transportation agency is required to establish annual DBE goals, and review the scopes of anticipated large prime contracts throughout the year and establish contract-specific DBE subcontracting goals. Along with the OSDBU, the Departmental Office of Civil Rights, and the Office of the General Counsel; there are three major DOT operating administrations are involved in the DBE program. They are the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Transit Administration.
In addition to establishing goals, state and local recipients also certify the eligibility of DBE firms to participate in DOT-assisted projects. Some groups are presumed to be socially and economically disadvantaged for the purposes of participation in this program. In 1987 Congress added women to the groups presumed to be disadvantaged. The main objectives of the DBE Program are:
- To ensure that small disadvantaged business enterprises (DBE) can compete fairly for federally funded transportation-related projects.
- To ensure that only eligible firms participate as DBEs.
- To assist DBE firms in competing outside the DBE Program.
There has been, since 1983, a statutory provision requiring DOT to ensure that at least 10% of the funds authorized for the highway and transit financial assistance programs be expended with DBEs. DOT has established a single DBE goal, encompassing both firms owned by women and minority group members.
To be certified as a DBE, a firm must be a small business owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. Certifiers make the determinations based upon on-site visits, personal interviews, reviews of licenses, stock ownership, equipment, bonding capacity, work completed, resume of principal owners and financial capacity.