There were relatively few comments on this section. One commenter disagreed with the proposal to continue the provision that a firm owned by a DBE firm, rather than by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, was not eligible. The argument against this provision, as we understand it, is that precluding a DBE firm from being owned by, for example, a holding company that is in turn owned by disadvantaged individuals would deny those individuals a financing and tax planning tool available to other businesses.
This argument has merit in some circumstances. The purpose of the DBE program is to help create a level playing field for DBEs. It would be inconsistent with the program's intent to deny DBEs a financial tool that is generally available to other businesses. The Department will allow this exception. Recipients must be careful, however, to ensure that certifying a firm under this exception does not have the effect of allowing the firm, or its parent company, to evade any of the requirements or restrictions of the certification process. The arrangement must be consistent with local business practices and must not have the effect of diluting actual ownership by disadvantaged individuals below the 51 percent requirement. All other certification requirements, including control by disadvantaged individuals and size limits, would continue to apply.
Another commenter suggested a firm should not be certified as a DBE if its owners have interests in non-DBE businesses. We believe that a per se rule to this effect would be too draconian. If owners of a DBE-- whether disadvantaged individuals or not--also have interests in other businesses, the recipient can look at the relationships among the businesses to determine if the DBE is really independent.
One commenter opposed basing certification on the present status of firms, seeking discretion to deny certification based on the history of the firm. We believe there is no rational or legal basis for denying certification to a firm on the basis of what it was in the past. Is it a small business presently owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals? If so, it would be contrary to the statute, and to the intent of the program, to deny certification because at some time--perhaps years--in the past, it was not owned and controlled by such individuals. The rule specifies that recipients may consider whether a firm has engaged in a pattern of conduct evincing an intent to evade or subvert the program.
The final provision of this section concerns firms owned by Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs), Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian Organizations. Like the NPRM, it provides that firms owned by these entities can be eligible DBEs, even though their ownership does not reside, as such, in disadvantaged individuals. These firms must meet the size standards applicable to other firms, including affiliation (lest large combinations of tribal or ANC-owned corporations put other DBEs at a strong competitive disadvantage). Also, they must be controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. For example, if a tribe or ANC owns a company, but its daily business operations are controlled by a non-disadvantaged white male, the firm would not be eligible.
Commenters pointed us to the following provision of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA):
(e) Minority and economically disadvantaged status--
(1) For all purposes of Federal law, a Native Corporation shall be considered to be a corporation owned and controlled by Natives and a minority and economically disadvantaged business enterprise if the Settlement Common Stock of the corporation and other stock of the corporation held by holders of Settlement Common Stock and by Natives and descendants of Natives, represents a majority of both the total equity of the corporation and the total voting power of the corporation for the purposes of electing directors.
(2) For all purposes of Federal law, direct and indirect subsidiary corporations, joint ventures, and partnerships of a Native Corporation qualifying pursuant to paragraph (1) shall be considered to be entities owned and controlled by Natives and a minority and economically disadvantaged business enterprise if the shares of stock or other units of ownership interest in any such entity held by such Native Corporation and by the holders of its Settlement Common Stock represent a majority of both--
(A) The total equity of the subsidiary corporation, joint venture, or partnership; and
(B) The total voting power of the subsidiary corporation, joint venture, or partnership for the purpose of electing directors, the general partner, or principal officers. (43 U.S.C. 1626(e)).
The question for the Department is whether, reading this language together with the language of the Department's DBE statutes, DOT must alter these provisions.
The DOT DBE statute (TEA-21 version) provides as follows:
(b) Disadvantaged Business Enterprises.--
(1) General rule--Except to the extent that the Secretary determines otherwise, not less than 10 percent of the amounts made available for any program under titles I, III, and V of this Act shall be expended with small business concerns owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
Definitions--In this subsection, the following definitions apply:
(A) Small business concern.--The term ``small business concern'' has the meaning such term has under section 3 of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. 632); except that such term shall not include any concern or group of concerns controlled by the same socially and economically disadvantaged individual or individuals which has average annual gross receipts over the preceding 3 fiscal years in excess of $16,600,000, as adjusted by the Secretary for inflation.
(B) Socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.--The term ``socially and economically disadvantaged individuals'' has the meaning such term has under section 8(d) of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. 637(d)) and relevant subcontracting regulations promulgated pursuant thereto; except that women shall be presumed to be socially and economically disadvantaged individuals for purposes of this subsection.
(4) Uniform certification--The Secretary shall establish minimum uniform criteria for State governments to use in certifying whether a concern qualifies for purposes of this subsection. Such minimum uniform criteria shall include but not be limited to on-site visits, personal interviews, licenses, analysis of stock ownership, listing of equipment, analysis of bonding capacity, listing of work completed, resume of principal owners, financial capacity, and type of work preferred.
While the language Sec. 1626(e) is broad, the terms used in the two statutes are not identical. Section 1626(e) refers to ``minority and economically disadvantaged business enterprise[s]'', while the Department's statutes refer to ``small business concerns owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.'' Requirements applicable to the former need not necessarily apply to the latter.
The legislative history of Sec. 1626(e) lends support to distinguishing the two statutes. The following excerpt from House Report 102-673 suggests that the intent of Congress in enacting this provision was to focus on direct Federal procurement programs:
[The statute] amends section [1626(e)] of ANCSA to clarify that Alaska Native Corporations are minority and economically disadvantaged business enterprises for the purposes of implementing the SBA programs * * * This section would further clarify that Alaska Native Corporations and their subsidiary companies are minority and economically disadvantaged business enterprises for purposes of qualifying for participation in federal contracting and subcontracting programs, the largest of which include the SBA 8(a) program and the Department of Defense Small and Disadvantaged Business Program. These programs were established to increase the participation of certain segments of the population that have historically been denied access to Federal procurement activities. While this section eliminates the need for Alaska Native Corporations or their subsidiaries to prove their ``economic'' disadvantage the corporations would still be required to meet size requirements as small businesses. This will continue to be determined on a case-by-case basis. (Id. at 19.)
This statute, in other words, was meant to apply to direct Federal procurement programs like the 8(a) program or the DOD SBD program, rather than a program involving state and local procurements reimbursed by DOT financial assistance.
The TEA-21 program is a more recent, more specific statute governing DOT recipients' programs. In contrast, the older, more general section 1626(e) evinces no specific intent to govern the DOT DBE program. There is no evidence that Congress, in enacting section 1626(e), had any awareness of or intent to alter the DOT DBE program.
A number of provisions of the TEA-21 statute suggest that Congress intended to impose specific requirements for the DOT program, without regard to other more general statutory references. For example, the $16.6 million size cap and the uniform certification requirements suggest that Congress wanted the eligibility for the DOT program to be determined in very specific ways, giving no hint that they intended these specific requirements to be overridden in the case of ANCs.
The Department concludes that section 1626(e) is distinguishable from the DOT DBE statutes, and that the latter govern the implementation of the DBE program. The Department is not compelled to alter its approach to certification in the case of ANCs.