By Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory & legal issues, ARTBA
The House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee spotlighted aspects of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program during a Sept. 23 hearing. In place since 1983, the DBE program seeks to “remedy ongoing discrimination and the continuing effects of past discrimination in federally-assisted highway, transit, airport, and highway safety financial assistance transportation contracting markets nationwide.” Its participation goals and other regulations are a major point of compliance for ARTBA members working on federal-aid projects.
Witnesses at the hearing included current and former owners of DBE engineering and specialty contracting firms, state and local public agency officials, and consultants. Generally, participating committee members praised the DBE program’s effectiveness. T&I Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) acknowledged the DBE program “is not… perfect,” but is an “essential program if we want to ensure a level playing field for all American businesses wishing to compete for federal transportation dollars.”
DBE compliance on federal-aid highway projects remains a key policy issue for federal and state transportation officials, ARTBA and its affiliated chapters, and contractors. However, the hearing focused primarily on the program’s application to engineering and airport concession contracts, transit projects, and the needs of woman- and minority-owned businesses in those sectors. Topics included mentor-protege programs and potential nationwide certification of DBE firms. Some committee members and witnesses expressed support for raising the program’s gross receipts and personal net worth limits.