One of the key points of both the SNPRM and this final rule is that, in meeting overall goals, recipients have to give priority to race-neutral means. By race-neutral means (a term which, for purposes of this rule, includes gender neutrality), we mean outreach, technical assistance, procurement process modification, etc.--measures which can be used to increase opportunities for all small businesses, not just DBEs, and do not involve setting specific goals for the use of DBEs on individual contracts. Contract goals, on the other hand, are race- conscious measures.
In the context of these definitions, it is important to note that awards of contracts to DBEs are not necessarily race-conscious actions. Whenever a DBE receives a prime contract because it is the lowest responsible bidder, the resulting DBE participation was achieved through race-neutral means. Similarly, when a DBE receives a subcontract on a project that does not have a contract goal, its participation was also achieved through race-neutral means. Finally, even on projects that do carry contract goals, when a prime awards a particular subcontract to a DBE because it has proven in the past that it does the best or quickest work, or because it submitted the lowest quote, the resulting DBE participation has, in fact, been achieved through race-neutral means. We also note that the use of race-neutral measures (e.g., outreach, technical assistance) specifically to increase the participation of DBEs does not convert these measures into race-conscious measures.
A number of non-DBE contractors commented that race-neutral measures should not only be given priority, but must be tried and fail before any use of contract goals can occur. This, they asserted, is essential for a program to be narrowly tailored. The law on this point is fairly clear, and does not support the commenters' contention. The extent to which race-neutral alternatives were considered and deemed inadequate to remedy the problem is the relevant narrow tailoring question. Both in past legislation and when considering TEA-21, Congress did consider race-neutral alternatives. In fact, as described above, throughout the debate, Member after Member gave examples of how state and local race-neutral programs without goals fail to overcome the discriminatory barriers that face DBEs. Congress' careful consideration and conclusion that race-neutral means are insufficient, buttressed by this rule's emphasis on achieving as much of the goal as possible through race-neutral means, satisfies this part of the narrow tailoring requirement.
No one opposed the use of race-neutral means, though a number of DBEs and recipients stressed that these means, standing alone, were insufficient to address discrimination and its effects. Most recipients and non-DBE contractors supported the use of race-neutral measures, though some recipients said that increased use of these measures would require additional resources.
The relationship between race-conscious and race-neutral measures in the final rule is very important. The recipient establishes an overall goal. The recipient estimates, in advance, what part of that goal it can meet through the use of race-neutral means. This projection, and the basis for it, would be provided to the concerned operating administration at the same time as the overall goal, and is subject to OA approval.
The requirement of the rule is that the recipient get the maximum feasible DBE participation through race-neutral means. The recipient uses race-conscious measures (e.g., sets contract goals) to get the remainder of the DBE participation it needs to meet the overall goal. If the recipient expects to be able to meet its entire overall goal through race-neutral means, it could, with OA approval, implement its program without any use of contract goals.
For example, suppose Recipient X establishes an 11 percent overall goal for Fiscal Year 2000. This is the amount of DBE participation that X has determined it would have if the playing field were level. Recipient X projects that, using a combination of race-neutral means, it can achieve 5 percent DBE participation. Recipient X then sets contract goals on some of its contracts throughout the year to bring in an additional 6 percent DBE participation. Recipients would keep data separately on the DBE participation obtained through those contracts that either did or did not involve the use of contract goals. Recipients would use this and other data to adjust their use of race- neutral means and contract goals during the remainder of the year and in future years. For example, if Recipient X projected being able to attain 5 percent DBE participation through race-neutral measures, but was only able to obtain 1 percent from the race-neutral measures it used, Recipient X would increase its future use of contract goals. On the other hand, if Recipient X exceeded its prediction that it would get 5 percent DBE participation from race-neutral measures and actually obtained 10 percent DBE participation from the contracts on which there were no contract goals, it would reduce its future use of contract goals. A recipient that was consistently able to meet its overall goal using only race-neutral measures would never need to use contract goals.
Most recipients and non-DBE contractors agreed with the SNPRM's proposal that (contrary to the part 23 provision on this subject) contract goals not be required on all contracts. This provision is retained in the final rule. We believe that this provision provides recipients the ability to achieve the objective of a narrowly tailored program. The rule also reiterates that the contract goal need not be set at the same level as the overall goal. To express this more clearly, let us return to the above example of Recipient X. Just because Recipient X has an overall goal of 11 percent, it does not have to set a contract goal on each contract. Nor does it have to establish an 11 percent goal on each contract on which it does set a contract goal. Indeed, since X has projected that it can achieve almost half of its overall goal through race-neutral means, it would most likely set contract goals on some contracts but not on others. On contracts with a contract goal, the goal might be 4 percent one time, 18 percent another time, 9 percent another time, depending on the actual work involved in each contract, the location of the work and the subcontracting opportunities available. The idea is for X to set contract goals that, cumulatively over the year, bring in 6 percent DBE participation, which, added to the 5 percent participation X projects achieving from race-neutral measures, ends up meeting the 11 percent overall goal.
The SNPRM asked for comment on evaluation credits as an additional race-conscious measure that recipients could use to meet overall goals. The vast majority of the many comments on this subject opposed the use of evaluation credits, on both legal (e.g., as contrary to narrow tailoring) and policy (e.g., as confusing and subjective) grounds. A smaller number of commenters favored at least giving recipients discretion to use this tool. While the Department does not agree with the contention that evaluation credits are legally suspect, we do agree with much of the sentiment against using them in the DBE program, particularly the practical difficulties they might involve when applied to subcontracting (which constitutes the main source of DBE participation in the program). As a result, the final rule does not contain an evaluation credits provision.
The SNPRM proposed certain mechanisms for determining when it was appropriate to ratchet back the use of contract goals. Most commenters said they found these particular mechanisms complicated and confusing. The Department believes that, as a matter of narrow tailoring, it is important to have concrete mechanisms in place to ensure that race- conscious measures like contract goals are used only to the extent necessary to ensure a level playing field. The final rule contains examples of four such mechanisms.
The first mechanism applies to a situation in which a recipient estimates that it can meet its overall goal exclusively through the use of race-neutral goals. In this case, the recipient simply does not set contract goals during the year. The second mechanism takes this approach one step further. If the recipient meets its overall goal two years in a row using only race-neutral measures, the recipient continues to use only race-neutral measures in future years, without having to project each year how much of its overall goal it anticipates meeting through race-neutral and race-conscious means, respectively. However, if in any year the recipient does not meet its overall goal, the recipient must make the projection for the following year, using race-conscious means as needed to meet the goal.
The third mechanism applies to recipients who exceed their overall goals for two years in a row while using contract goals. In the third year, when setting their overall goal and making their projection of the amount of DBE participation they will achieve through race-neutral means, they would determine the average percentage by which they exceeded their overall goals in the two previous years. They would then use that percentage to reduce their reliance on contract goals in the coming year, as noted in the regulatory text example. The rationale for this reduction is that the recipient's overall goal represents its best estimation of the participation level expected for DBEs in the absence of discrimination. By exceeding that goal consistently, the recipient may be relying too heavily on race-conscious measures. Scaling back the use of contract goals--while keeping careful track of DBE participation rates on projects without contract goals--will ensure that the recipient's DBE program remains narrowly tailored to overcoming the continuing effects of discrimination.
The fourth mechanism operates within a given year. If a recipient determines part way through the year that it will exceed (or fall short of) its overall goal, and it is using contract goals during that year, it would scale back its use of contract goals (or increase it use of race-neutral means and/or contract goals) during the remainder of the year to ensure that it is using an appropriate balance of means to meet its ``level playing field'' objectives.
There were also a number of comments on how contract goals should be expressed. Most favored continuing the existing practice of adding together the Federal and local shares of a contract and expressing the contract goal as a percentage of the sum because it works well and avoids confusion. A few comments favored expressing contract goals as a percentage of only the Federal share of a contract. Ultimately, we believe that it is not necessary for the Department to dictate which method to use. Recipients may continue to use whichever method they feel works best and allows them to accurately track the participation of DBEs in their program. Recipients need only ensure that they are consistent and clearly express the method they are using, and report to the Department the total federal aid dollars spent and the federal aid dollars spent with DBEs.
As a last note on this topic, FAA recipients are reminded that funds derived from passenger facility charges (PFCs) are not covered by this part and should not be counted as part of the Federal share in any goal calculation. If a recipient chooses to express its contract goals as a percentage of the combined Federal and local share, it may include the PFC funds as part of the local share.