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Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program (DBE)

The Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program (DBE) is a legislatively mandated USDOT program that applies to Federal-aid highway dollars expended on federally-assisted contracts issued by USDOT recipients such as State Transportation Agencies (STAs). The U.S. Congress established the DBE program in 1982 to:


The DBE program ensures that federally assisted contracts for highway, transit and aviation projects are made available for small business concerns owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. The DBE program was most recently reauthorized by MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (P.L. 112-141). The program is administered by the three modal administrations (i.e., FHWA, FTA, and FAA) with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) maintaining a significant stewardship role for the program. Implementation of the DBE program is guided by USDOT regulations found at 49 CFR Part 26 (Part 23 for airport concessions).

Every three years, STAs are required to set an overall DBE goal that they must either meet, or show that they used good faith efforts to meet, annually. This goal is in the form of a percentage of federal funds apportioned annually to each STA and is calculated based upon the relative availability of DBE firms as compared to all firms in the relevant geographic market area. STAs that do not meet their goal in any given year, must submit a document to their operating administrations, such as FHWA, identifying and analyzing the reasons why the goal was not met and creating specific steps to correct the problems going forward.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rendered a decision in 2005 that significantly impacted the ability of within that Circuit to set race-conscious measures in implementing their DBE programs.  As a result, USDOT issued guidance advising STAs in the Ninth Circuit to suspend the use of race-conscious contract goals until they could be supported by sufficient evidence of discrimination or its effects in the state's contracting market. All the STAs in the Ninth Circuit now have completed disparity and/or availability studies. Some STAs received DBE program waivers from USDOT to set DBE contract goals that include only those groups for whom significant disparities were shown based on evidence in their studies. At this time, Idaho is the only Ninth Circuit state that continues to implement a wholly race neutral program.

Key FHWA Stewardship/Oversight Responsibilities:

DBE/Supportive Services Program:

The DBE Supportive Services (DBE/SS) Program is one that has been consistently operated as an adjunct to the DBE program; statutory authorization exists for the FHWA's implementation of the program. The primary purpose of the DBE/SS is to provide training, assistance, and services to DBEs certified in the DBE program to increase their activity in the program, and to facilitate the firms' development into viable, self-sufficient organizations capable of competing for, and performing on Federally- assisted highway projects. Since 1982, Congress has authorized up to $10 million, annually, to accomplish these objectives.

FHWA annually apportions the DBE/SS funds to (STAs) for the purpose of carrying out a DBE/SS program. The FHWA approves the funding of STA programs only if they demonstrate the ability to directly assist certified DBEs’ development through identifiable, metric-based results.


Points of Contact:

Martha Kenley
DBE/Contractor Compliance Team Leader
Programs Manager
(202) 366-8110

David Pinckney
DBE/Contractor Compliance Team Program Analyst
(202) 366-1583

Tracy Duval
DBE/Support Services Coordinator Program Analyst
(202) 366-1604

Page last modified on February 9, 2018
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