There was little disagreement about the main point of this section. When a recipient sets a contract goal, the basic obligation of bidders is to make good faith efforts (GFE) to meet it. They can demonstrate these efforts in either of two ways, which are equally valid. First, they can meet the goal, by documenting that they have obtained commitments for enough DBE participation to meet the goal. Second, even though they have not met the goal, they can document that they have made good faith efforts to do so. The Department emphasizes strongly that this requirement is an important and serious one. A refusal by a recipient to accept valid showings of good faith is not acceptable under this rule.
Appendix A discusses in greater detail the kinds of good faith efforts bidders are expected to make. There was a good deal of comment concerning its contents. Non-minority contractors recited that good faith efforts standards should be ``objective, measurable, realistically achievable, and standardized.'' Not one of these comments provided any examples or suggestions of what ``objective, measurable, realistically achievable, and standardized'' standards would look like, however. Certainly a one-size-fits-all checklist is neither desirable nor possible. What constitutes a showing of adequate good faith efforts in a particular procurement is an intrinsically fact-specific judgment that recipients must make. Circumstances of procurements vary widely, and GFE determinations must fit each individual situation as closely as possible.
The proposed good faith efforts appendix suggested that one of the factors recipients could take into account is the behavior of bidders other than the apparent successful bidder. For example, if the latter failed to meet the contract goal, but other bidders did, that could suggest that the apparent successful bidder had not exerted sufficient efforts to get DBE participation. Recipients who commented on this issue favored the concept; non-DBE contractors opposed it. The final rule's Appendix A makes clear that recipients are not to use a ``conclusive presumption'' approach, in which the apparent successful bidder is summarily found to have failed to make good faith efforts simply because another bidder was able to meet the goal. However, the track record of other bidders can be a relevant factor in a GFE determination, in more than one way. If other bidders have met the goal, and the apparent successful bidder has not, this at least raises the question of whether the apparent successful bidder's efforts were adequate. It does not, by itself, prove that the apparent successful bidder did not make a good faith effort to get DBE participation, however. On the other hand, if the apparent successful bidder--even if it failed to meet the goal--got as much or more DBE participation than other bidders, then this fact would support the apparent successful bidder's showing of GFE. The revised Appendix makes these points.
The proposed good faith efforts appendix also expanded on language in part 23 concerning price-based decisions by prime contractors. The existing language provides that a recipient can use, as evidence of a bidder's failure to make good faith efforts, the recipient's rejection of a DBE subcontractor's ``reasonable price'' offer. The SNPRM added that a recipient could set a price differential from 1-10 percent to evaluate bidders' efforts. If a bidder did not meet the goal and rejected a DBE offer within the range, the recipient could view the bidder as not making good faith efforts. This was an attempt to provide additional, quantified, guidance to recipients on this issue.
Comment was mixed on this issue. Non-DBE prime contractors generally opposed the price differential idea, saying that it encouraged deviations from the traditional low bid system. It should be noted, however, that subcontracts are typically awarded outside any formal low bid system. Some recipients thought that it was a bad idea to designate a range, because it would limit their discretion, while others liked the additional definiteness of the range. Most recipients supported the ``reasonable price'' concept in general, even if they had their doubts about the value of a range. Some DBE organizations favored the range approach.
Taking all the comments into consideration, the Department has decided to retain language similar to that of part 23, without reference to any specific range. Appendix A now provides that the fact that some additional costs may be involved in finding and using DBEs is not in itself sufficient reason for a bidder's failure to meet a DBE contract goal, as long as such costs are reasonable. Along with this emphasis on the reasonableness of the cost necessarily comes the fact that prime contractors are not expected to bear unreasonable costs. The availability of a good faith efforts waiver of the contract goal helps to ensure that a prime contractor will not be in a position where it has to accept an excessive or unreasonable bid from a DBE subcontractor. At the same time, any burden that a non-DBE subcontractor might face is also limited by the reasonableness of competing bids. This approach retains flexibility for recipients while avoiding the concerns commenters expressed about a particular range.
The SNPRM proposed that recipients would have to provide for an administrative review of decisions that a bidder's GFE showing was inadequate. The purpose of the provision was to ensure that recipients did not arbitrarily dismiss bidders' attempts to show that they made good faith efforts. The provision was meant to emphasize the seriousness with which the Department takes the GFE requirement and to help respond to allegations that some recipients administered the program in a quota-like fashion. The SNPRM also asked whether such a mechanism should be operated entirely by the recipient or whether a committee including representatives of DBE and non-DBE contractors should be involved.
A number of recipients, and a few contractors, opposed the idea on the basis of concern about administrative burdens on recipients and potential delays in the procurement process. A greater number of commenters, largely non-DBE contractors but also including recipients and DBEs, supported the proposal as ensuring greater fairness in the process. A significant majority of all commenters said that the recipient should operate the system on its own, because a committee would make the process more cumbersome and raise conflict of interest issues.
The Department will adopt this proposal, which should add to the fairness of the system and make allegations of de facto quota operations less likely. The Department intends that reconsideration be administered by recipients. The regulation does not call for a committee involving non-recipient personnel. The Department intends that the process be informal and timely. The recipient could ensure that the process be completed within a brief period (e.g., 5-10 days) to minimize any potential delay in procurements. The bidder would have an opportunity to meet with the reconsideration official, but a formal hearing is not required. To ensure fairness, the reconsideration official must be someone who did not participate in the original decision to reject the bidder's showing. The recipient would have to provide a written decision on reconsideration, but there would be no provision for administrative appeals to DOT.
A point raised by several non-DBE commenters was that DBEs should have to make good faith efforts (even when they were not acting as prime contractors). The commenters suggested things like providing capacity statements and documenting that they have bid on contracts. This point is unrelated to the subject of this section, which has to do with what efforts bidders for prime contracts have to make to show that they have made to obtain DBE subcontractors. It is difficult to see what purpose the additional paperwork burdens these commenters' requests would serve.
One of the most hotly debated issues among commenters was whether DBE firms bidding on prime contracts should have to meet goals and make good faith efforts to employ DBE subcontractors. Under part 23, DBE prime contractors did not have to meet goals or make good faith efforts. The rationale for this position was that, as DBEs, 100 percent of the work of these contractors counted toward recipients' contract goals, which the firms automatically met.
A significant majority of commenters on this issue--particularly non-DBE contractors but also including some recipients and a few DBEs-- argued that DBE primes should meet goals and make GFE the same as other contractors. Failing to do so, they said, went beyond providing a level playing field to the point of providing an unfair advantage for DBE bidders for prime contracts. This change would also increase opportunities for DBE subcontractors, they said. One comment suggested requiring DBE prime contractors to meet goals or make GFE, but stressed that work they performed with their own forces as well as work awarded to DBE subcontractors should count toward goals.
Supporters of the current system said that many prime contracts performed by DBEs are too small to permit subcontracting (of course, goals need be set only on contracts with subcontracting possibilities). Moreover, these commenters--mostly DBEs and recipients--said that there was already inequity as between DBEs and non-DBEs, and requiring DBEs to meet the same requirements simply maintained the inequity. There was also some support for a third option the Department included in the SNPRM, in which DBEs would have to meet goals and make GFE to the extent that work they proposed to perform with their own forces was insufficient to meet goals.
The Department believes that, in a rule aimed at providing a level playing field for DBEs, it is appropriate to impose the same requirements on all bidders for prime contracts. Consequently, part 26 will depart from the part 23 approach and require DBE prime contractors to meet goals and make good faith efforts on the same basis as other prime contractors. However, in recognition of the DBE bidders' status as DBEs, we will permit them to count toward goals the work that they commit to performing with their own forces, as well as the work that they commit to be performed by DBE subcontractors. DBE bidders on prime contracts will be expected to make the same outreach efforts as other bidders and to document good faith efforts in situations where they do not fully meet contract goals.
Under part 23 and the SNPRM, recipients have a choice between handling bidder compliance with contract goals and good faith efforts requirements as a matter of responsiveness or responsibility. Some recipients and other contractors recounted successful experience with one approach or the other, and suggested reasons why everyone should follow each approach (e.g., responsiveness as a deterrent to bid- shopping; responsibility as a more flexible and cost-effective approach). Both approaches have their merits, and the Department believes the best course is to maintain the existing recipient discretion on this issue.
Some recipients use so-called ``design-build'' or ``turnkey'' contracts, in which the design and construction of an entire project is contracted out to a master contractor. The master contractor then lets subcontracts, which are often equivalent to the prime contracts that the recipient would let if it were designing and building the project directly. In a sense, the master contractor stands in the shoes of the recipient.
On design-build contracts, the normal process for setting contract goals does not fit the contract award process well. At the time of the award of the master contract, neither the recipient nor the master contractor knows in detail what the project will look like or exactly what contracting opportunities there will be, let alone the identity of DBEs who may subsequently be involved. In these situations, the recipient may alter the normal process, setting a project goal to which the master contractor commits. Later, when the master contractor is letting subcontracts, it will set contract goals as appropriate, standing in the shoes of the recipient. The recipient will exercise oversight of this process.
The final issue in this section has to do with replacement of DBEs that drop out of a contract. What actions, if any, should a prime contractor have to take when a DBE is unable to complete a subcontract, for whatever reason? Should it matter whether or not the DBE's participation is needed to achieve the prime contractor's goal?
Comment on this issue came mostly from recipients, with some non- DBE contractors and a few DBEs providing their views. A majority of the commenters believed that replacement of a fallen-away DBE with another DBE (or making a good faith effort toward that end) should be required only when needed to ensure that the prime contractor continued to meet its contract goal. Others said that, since using DBEs to which the prime had committed at the time of award was a contractual requirement, replacement or good faith efforts should be required regardless of the prime's ability to meet the goal without the lost DBE's participation.
The Department believes that, in a narrowly tailored rule, it is not appropriate to require DBE participation at a level exceeding that needed to ensure a level playing field. Consequently, we will require a prime contractor to replace a fallen-away DBE (or to demonstrate that it has made good faith efforts toward that end) only to the extent needed to ensure that the prime contractor is able to achieve the contract goal established by the recipient for the procurement. The Department will also retain the SNPRM provision--supported by most commenters who mentioned it--that a prime contractor may not terminate a DBE firm for convenience and then perform the work with its own forces without the recipient's written consent. This provision is intended to prevent abuse of the program by a prime contractor who would commit to using a DBE and then bump the DBE off the project in favor of doing the work itself.