For some time, the Department has heard allegations that DBEs are overconcentrated in certain fields of highway construction work (e.g., guardrail, fencing, landscaping, traffic control, striping). The concern expressed is that there are so many DBEs in these areas that non-DBEs are frozen out of the opportunity to work. In an attempt to respond to these concerns, the SNPRM asked for comment on a series of options for ``diversification'' mechanisms, various incentives and disincentives designed to shift DBE participation to other types of work.
The Department received a great deal of comment on these proposals, almost all of it negative. There were few comments suggesting that overconcentration was a serious problem, and many comments said that the alleged problem was not real. Some FTA and FAA recipients said that if there was a problem with overconcentration, it was limited to the highway construction program. As a general matter, recipients said that the proposed mechanisms were costly, cumbersome, and too prescriptive.
Prime contractors opposed the provisions because they would make it more difficult for them to find DBEs with which to meet their goals, while DBEs opposed them because they felt the provisions would penalize success and force them out of areas of business in which they were experienced. Many commenters suggested using outreach or business development plans as ways of assisting DBEs to move into additional areas of work.
The Department does not have data from commenters or other sources to support a finding that ``overconcentration'' is a serious, nationwide problem. However, as part of the narrow tailoring of the DBE program, we believe it would be useful to give recipients the authority to address overconcentration problems where they may occur. In keeping with the increased flexibility that this rule provides recipients, we give recipients discretion to identify situations where overconcentration is unduly burdening non-DBE firms. If a recipient finds an area of overconcentration, it would have to devise means of addressing the problem that work in their local situations. Possible means of dealing with the problem could include assisting prime contractors to find DBEs in non-traditional fields or varying the use of contract goals to lessen any burden on particular types of non-DBE specialty contractors. While recipients would have to obtain DOT approval of determinations of overconcentration and measures for dealing with them, the Department is not prescribing any specific mechanisms for doing so.