Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE)

Ok, this I know is a hot topic. This posting will not go into whether or not the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) system is a good idea or not, or how it works out in the real world. That is a whole other series of discussions for other people on other blogs.

First off what is a DBE? Well, for our purpose it is a minority owned business. To get the full story on who qualifies, how to get signed up as a DBE, or for a listing of DBE’s in your area you need to go to TDOT’s Civil Rights Office (http://www.tdot.state.tn.us/civil-rights/smallbusiness/) where they have a whole website set up to talk about DBE’s.

So, what does this have to do with Local Programs? Well it turns out quite a bit.

As part of the checklist for getting Construction funds obligated a DBE goal must be set. Last week I called and spoke with Larry McGoogin (615-532-3160)  of TDOT Local Programs and he told me the following:

All projects have to have a DBE goal but only the projects over $500k have to actually be evaluated for a goal and meet that goal. Projects under $500k should give good faith effort to meet a DBE goal.

Now remember for a question on your specific project you need to talk with your planner to get the most up to date information. Also for any questions about the DBE program, or if you need help in setting a goal call Ross Webb (615-253-1067) of the TDOT DBE office. I have worked with Ross for years and he is easy to work with and very knowledgeable.

So if your project is less than $500k then don’t worry about a DBE goal and put zero? Well, maybe, but I am not sure that this is such a good idea, especially if you know there are good DBE’s in your area. There may come a time when a DBE goal will be mandatory on all projects. The guidance does call for a good faith effort to set a DBE goal. I know that in some of rural Tennessee there are not many DBE’s. As the local government, for projects under $500k the call, and responsibility is up to you.

Now for projects over $500 things are a little more complicated. The TDOT Civil Rights Office has some guidance for setting the DBE goal on your project. With whatever worksheets you have attached you email your TDOT Local Programs planner with your goal. Say you figure you can do a 10% goal. The Local Programs Office emails this up to Ross Webb and the Civil Rights office who look at the project, and how you came up with your goal. If they agree then you print that email to save in the project file as your “DBE Certification” and you can move forward.

So what happens if they say “not high enough”? The question you will have is “..if 10% is not high enough, what number do you want us to go with”? Well, the TDOT DBE Office does not want to set your goal for you, so they won’t give you an actual number. What you do is re-work your numbers to work a higher DBE percentage, say 11%. Then you resubmit that.

From my experience, fortunately most of the time the DBE goal is accepted by TDOT the first time around. In the few cases where the local government had to play “guess what I am thinking” with TDOT, it was able to get sorted out fairly quickly. So the DBE process may take a little effort, but from what I have seen is not a show stopper.

Now for projects over $500k that a DBE goal set been on, this is not a “goal”. You will meet the DBE number that has been set. I am not an expert on how things work once things hit the Construction phase. From what I understand sometimes through circumstances out of the local governments, and contractors control the DBE goal can not be met. In that case you had better be working through this issue hand in hand with the TDOT Civil Rights Office. TDOT will hold you to that goal, and bad things can happen if it is not met.

That is the fast and dirty version of how the DBE program works from the Local Programs perspective. Remember, stay in touch with your TDOT representatives in the Local Programs and Civil Rights offices and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

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About arran375

I work for Askew, Hargraves, Harcourt and Associates, Inc. here in Nashville, Tennessee. The short version of what I do is that we help local governments spend the Federal funds they get from TDOT on road, and bridge projects.
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