There has been some confusion as to this rule's distinction between exemption and waiver. Put simply, exemptions are for unique situations that are most likely not to be either generally applicable to all recipients or to have been contemplated in the rulemaking process. If such a situation occurs and it makes it impractical for a particular recipient to comply with a provision of part 26, the recipient should apply for an exemption from that provision. The waiver provision, by contrast, is not designed for extraordinary circumstances where a recipient may not be able to comply with part 26. Waiver is for a situation where a recipient believes that it can better accomplish the objectives of the DBE program through means other than the specific provisions of part 26.
There were a number of comments about the proposed program waiver provision. Most commenters on this issue favored the proposal, believing it could add flexibility to the way recipients implement the DBE program. A few commenters were concerned that too liberal use of the waiver provision might undermine the goals of the rule.
The Department believes that the waiver provision is an important aspect of the DBE program. The provision ensures that the Department and a recipient can work together to respond to any unique local circumstances. Recipients are encouraged to carefully review the circumstances in their own jurisdictions to determine what mechanisms are best suited to achieving compliance with the overall objectives of the DBE program. If a recipient believes it is appropriate to operate its program differently from the way that a provision of Subpart B or C provides, including, but not limited to, any provisions regarding administrative requirements, overall or contract goals, good faith efforts or counting provisions, it can apply for a waiver. For example, waiver requests could pertain to such subjects as the use of a race- conscious measure other than a contract goal, different ways of counting DBE participation in certain industries, use of separate overall or contract goals to address demonstrated discrimination against specific categories of socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, the use or wording of assurances, differences in information collection requirements and methods, etc.
The Department will, of course, carefully review any applications for waivers to make sure that innovative state or local programs are able to meet the objectives of the statutes and regulation. Decisions on waiver requests are made by the Secretary. This authority has not been delegated to other officials. The waiver provision, which the Department believes will help assist recipients to ``narrowly tailor'' the program to state and local circumstances and ensure nondiscrimination, remains in the final rule.