By Guest Columnist KIMBERLY A. KING, director of the equal opportunity program at the Georgia Department of Transportation
For more than 20 years, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has had a policy in place aimed at helping small businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, including minorities and women. This is known as the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program, and it extends to each state’s Department of Transportation.
The goal of this federal program is to level the playing field – to serve our communities to the best of our ability by remedying past and ongoing discrimination. Over the past two decades this program has provided tens of thousands of Georgia’s small businesses a fair opportunity to compete for federally funded transportation contracts.
In 2016 alone, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) awarded more than 1,200 subcontracts valued in excess of $170 million to DBE firms. Progress is reported twice annually to our federal highway administration to demonstrate that GDOT is consistently working towards Georgia’s goal for the full inclusion of DBE firms in the expenditure of federal funds.
DBE firms do business with GDOT in one of two ways. They are either prime contractors or subcontractors for professional service, which is a qualification-based selection, or through competitive low bids of construction projects, again either as a prime or sub-contractor.
Every three years, GDOT takes a look into how well our DBE program is working. In 2015, we took the proactive step of commissioning a disparity study. A disparity study is one of the ways governmental entities such as GDOT provide for the creation or continuation of remedial procurement programs like the DBE program.
Outside experts hired to conduct the study provide an unbiased evaluation of and recommendations for the program. This disparity study, in reviewing the availability of DBE firms, compared to the department’s utilization of those firms, provides a basis for continuing our program and actively supporting and developing DBEs. Many of the study’s recommendations have already been implemented by GDOT and others are being reviewed for implementation at this time. Overview presentation
To fully understand the findings of the study, it is important to first understand the DBE process, and GDOT’s efforts in executing a successful program that ultimately serves the state, our contractors and their sub-contractors, and Georgia’s citizens.
First, GDOT serves as the “one stop shop” for companies wishing to become DBE-certified in the State of Georgia. This means that GDOT is responsible for the analysis, review and approval of all DBE applications for certification, as well as supporting those companies who are certified once approved. The process for certification is rigorous, and for good reason. While we always seek to give the most opportunity to the most businesses, our first responsibility is that of good steward of taxpayer dollars.
Once a company is certified, GDOT commits to the growth and development of DBE firms to ensure the broadest opportunity for qualified contractors to secure contracts and work. On all federally funded projects and on appropriate state-funded projects – those that have subcontracting opportunities that allow for goal attachment on the project – a team of GDOT divisions work together to set data-driven project goals that will provide sufficient subcontracting opportunity to allow for DBE participation on a project. This goal-setting process requires the review of every work item associated with the project, including work types, DBEs that perform in those work types, the location of the project and the budget. A federally-approved formula is then used to determine the DBE participation goal for that specific project, typically ranging from 3 percent to 20 percent.
But we understand that these steps alone may not always ensure full DBE participation. So, once the goal is set, we partner with a team of supportive services consultants, who work hand in hand with DBE firms to ensure they are able to meaningfully participate in the prime and subcontract engagements available. These consultants provide training to DBE firms, including bid matching assistance, which identifies DBE firms by work activity and experience and matches those firms to appropriate GDOT projects. Once “matched” to a project, the DBE is made known to the prime contractors that are likely to bid on the project identified. Bid-matching occurs through a variety of electronic communications and in-person events, facilitating relationship-building that can help to expand opportunities for the DBE.
This relationship building also translates into mentoring and joint venturing relationships where a DBE firm is able to work with and learn from a larger contractor with significant experience in GDOT engagements. Our goal with all of this is to help to develop the DBE subcontractor in particular work areas so that over time the firm can grow its operation into Prime contracting opportunities.
Georgia’s DBE firms also have access to GDOT’s Business Resource Center, located in Decatur. The Business Resource Center is a physical location that provides DBEs and small businesses with access to live consultant assistance, workshops, computer skill and other training, use of office equipment and meeting space, as well as access to plans and project information. Learn More
GDOT certified DBE firms gain access not only to GDOT projects, but also other state agency and local government contract opportunities. With the passage of the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, DBE-certified contractors also have the opportunity to participate in these expansive state-funded projects. Certified firms receive ongoing, proactive communications from GDOT about opportunities across a wide variety of work areas.
We’re proud of the work GDOT does to support small and disadvantaged businesses in Georgia, and we’re committed to continuing to explore and develop ways to provide ever greater participation opportunity to our DBE partners. The office of Equal Employment Opportunity is the dedicated DBE administrator within the Agency, but all divisions — from Construction and Engineering, to Program Delivery and Planning – understand and are involved in the consideration of DBE participation as an integral part of the GDOT operation.
GDOT is open for business and is committed to making DBE and small business part of its plan for continued growth of an efficient and safe transportation system in Georgia.