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Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Final Rule Summary & Contact Information


This final rule revises the Department of Transportation's regulations for its disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) program. The DBE program is intended to remedy past and current discrimination against disadvantaged business enterprises, ensure a level playing field and foster equal opportunity in DOT-assisted contracts, improve the flexibility and efficiency of the DBE program, and reduce burdens on small businesses. This final rule replaces the former DBE regulation, which now contains only the rules for the separate DBE program for airport concessions, with a new regulation. The new regulation reflects President Clinton's policy to mend, not end, affirmative action programs. It modifies the Department's DBE program in light of developments in case law requiring narrow tailoring of such programs and last year's Congressional debate concerning the continuation of the DBE program. It responds to comments on the Department's December 1992 notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and its May 1997 supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM).


This rule is effective March 4, 1999. Comments on Paperwork Reduction Act matters should be received by April 5, 1999; however, late-filed comments will be considered to the extent practicable.


Persons wishing to comment on Paperwork Reduction Act matters (see discussion at end of preamble) should send comments to Docket Clerk, Docket No. OST-97-2550, Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Room 4107, Washington, DC 20590. We emphasize that the docket is open only with respect to Paperwork Reduction Act matters, and the Department is not accepting comments on other aspects of the regulation. We request that, in order to minimize burdens on the docket clerk's staff, commenters send three copies of their comments to the docket. Commenters wishing to have their submissions acknowledged should include a stamped, self-addressed postcard with their comments. The docket clerk will date stamp the postcard and return it to the commenter. Comments will be available for inspection at the above address from 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

For Further Information Contact

Robert C. Ashby, Deputy Assistant General Counsel for Regulation and Enforcement

Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590 
Phone: (202) 366-9310
Fax: (202) 366-9313
TDD: (202) 755-7687

David J. Goldberg
Office of Environmental, Civil Rights and General Law
Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Phone: (202) 366-8023
Fax: (202) 366-8536

Supplemental Information


The Department has the important responsibility of ensuring that firms competing for DOT-assisted contracts are not disadvantaged by unlawful discrimination. For eighteen years, the Department's most important tool for meeting this responsibility has been its Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program. This program began in 1980. Originally, the program was a minority/women's business enterprise program established by regulation under the authority of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination statutes that apply to DOT financial assistance programs. See 49 CFR part 23.

In 1983, Congress enacted, and President Reagan signed, the first statutory DBE provision. This statute applied primarily to small firms owned and controlled by minorities in the Department's highway and transit programs. Firms owned and controlled by women, and the Department's airport program, remained under the original 1980 regulatory provisions. In 1987, Congress enacted, and President Reagan signed, statutes expanding the program to airports and to women-owned firms. In 1991 (for highway and transit programs) and 1992 (for airport programs), Congress enacted, and President Bush signed, statutes reauthorizing the expanded DBE program.

After each statutory amendment, and at other times to resolve program issues, the Department amended part 23. The result has been that part 23 has become a patchwork quilt of a regulation. In addition, years of interpretation by various grantees and different DOT offices has created confusion and inconsistency in program administration. These problems, particularly in the area of certification, were criticized in General Accounting Office reports. The Department's desire to improve program administration and make the rule a more unified whole led to our publication of a December 1992 notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).

The Department received about 600 comments on this NPRM. The Department carefully reviewed these comments and, by early 1995, had prepared a draft final rule responding to them. However, in light of the Supreme Court's June 1995 decision in Adarand v. Pena and the Administration's review of affirmative action programs, the Department conducted further review of the DBE program. As a result, rather than issuing a final rule, we issued a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM) in May 1997. This SNPRM incorporated responses to the comments on the 1992 NPRM and proposed further changes in the program, primarily in response to the ``narrow tailoring'' requirements of Adarand. We received about 300 comments on the SNPRM. The Department has carefully considered these comments, and the final rule responds to them. The final rule also specifically complies with the requirements that the courts have established for a narrowly tailored affirmative action program.

At the same time that the Department was working on this final rule, Congress once again considered reauthorization of the DBE program. In both the House and the Senate, opponents of affirmative action sponsored amendments that would have effectively ended the program. In both cases, bipartisan majorities defeated the amendments. The final highway/transit authorization legislation, known as the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), retains the DBE program. In shaping this final rule, the Department has listened carefully to what both supporters and opponents of the program have said in Congressional debates.

Last updated: Tuesday, June 25, 2013