Research Projects

Best practices for streamlining Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and Airport Concession DBE Certifications In Reserve

Interstate certification regulations at 49 CFR Part 26.85 intend to reduce the burdens for DBEs to be certified in multiple states. However, the wide differences in implementation among certifiers and the multiplying effect of complying with information requests may actually result in an increased burden; impacting DBE resources and opportunities and USDOT recipients' attainment.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

Since its promulgation in 1999, 49 CFR Part 26 has included the following objective under 49 CFR 26.1:(e) To help remove barriers to the participation of DBEs in DOT-assisted contracts. Many DBEs feel that the certification process itself (with documentation and information requirements) serves as a barrier to participation. A thorough review and evaluation of an initial application is paramount to the integrity of the program. However, Unified Certification Programs (UCP) and USDOT should evaluate unnecessary additional barriers and practices, some of which are outside of the regulations, that serve to lower potential participation. One that deserves additional research originates from the area of interstate certification and the annual affidavit of no-change requirement related to interstate certifications.

In 2011, USDOT issued regulatory language at 49 CFR 26.85 to address interstate certification and streamline the process for firms already certified in their home state. In the intervening decade since 49 CFR 26.85 became effective, many positive enhancements have been undertaken by DOT to foster further confidence in the consistency of certifications and the transparency of DBE removals and denials across the nation, including the requirement for certifiers to complete training modules developed by the National Highway Institute and improvements to the Departmental Office of Civil Rights website to add more transparency relative to DBE denials of initial certification and ineligibility proceedings. In reading some recent appeal determinations from USDOT, it is clear that USDOT is aware that barriers and impediments make it difficult for DBEs to be able to compete outside of their home states.

The best avenue for many small, diverse firms to expand their potential for growth and sustainability, particularly for highly-specialized airport work, is by becoming certified in states other than their home state; having cleared the rigor of home state certification. This is especially true for ACDBEs because of the low concentration of airports within a state. Some states report receiving more or a similar number of interstate certification applications than they do initial home-state applications. Changes to interstate certification could almost certainly translate to reduction of burden to certifiers and USDOT staff; allowing them to focus their efforts on strengthening their evaluation of home-state initial certifications and annual updates; rather than having to process volumes of interstate certification applications. This can strengthen overall certification integrity. Additionally, the current burden to DBEs is not insignificant. It can be calculated that one DBE, certified in five states can be required to respond to over 25 document requests annually to maintain these certifications. An additional consideration is the potential for exposure of confidential information that presents itself when UCPs require additional information from DBEs for interstate certification.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

The final product of this research would provide a compilation of best practices and benefits of streamlining interstate certification, maintaining the integrity of the certification process, and increasing available DBEs and ACDBEs for use on airport projects. This research could support recommendations to USDOT to revise interstate certification regulations or move to a national reciprocity model for certification

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)

A combination of research of available certification and attainment data and USDOT regulations; survey and interviews of certifiers, USDOT personnel, and DBEs/ACDBEs; and focus groups or case studies for recommendations would support this research. Some suggestions data points could include:

• UCPs that implement 49 CFR 28.85 (b) versus those that opt for 26.85 (c)

• USDOT-sponsored DBE/ACDBE and UCP review reports

• Number and percentage of recent USDOT appeals and determinations related to interstate certification

• Trend data from UCPs on the number of new in-state applications vs interstate applications

• Data from UCPs on the number/percentage/reasons for interstate certifications denials

Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

Because of the narrow focus of this research and the easy accessibility of much of the data, it is estimated that this effort could be accomplished in nine to twelve months for approximately $100,000. This would allow for up to approximately 650 hours of research in the following areas:

Research of current UCP certification practices: 100

Documentation and evaluation of applicable regulations and USDOT guidance: 50

Review of USDOT databases and reports (e.g., FAA Civil Rights Connect, USDOT Appeals and Denials Databases, UCP Compliance Review Reports): 100

Development and deployment of survey tool: 100

Interviews with stakeholders: 50

Analysis of survey and stakeholder input 50

Development of recommendations, best practices, and guidebook 200

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

• ACRP Research Report 217 - Guidance for Diversity in Airport Business Contracting and Workforce Programs. This document includes passages on consistency of certifications and training on certification requirements but does not delve deeply into interstate certification.

• ACRP Report 126: A Guidebook for Increasing Diverse and Small Business Participation in Airport Business Opportunities.

• Transportation Research Board webinar on "Determining Social and Economic Qualifications in the DBE Program" October 2020

• DBE Best Practices – TRB Compendium of Successful Practices, Strategies, and Resources in the FHWA Program; Webinar presentation March 2019

• DBE/MBE/WBE Recent Legal Cases and Challenges - Presented to the Transportation Research Board Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Committee - January 13, 2020

• TRB Webinar: Understanding Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Interstate Certification. May 2019

Idea No. 719