Commenters, most of whom were recipients, focused on two issues in this section. First, a majority of the comments favored the ``coordination mechanism'' concept for ensuring consistent DOT guidance and interpretations. The few that disagreed with this approach did so out of a concern that the mechanism would add delays to the process. These commenters favored additional training or an 800 number hot line to speed up the process.
We believe that proper coordination of interpretations and guidance is vital to the successful implementation of this rule. As the preambles to the 1992 and 1997 proposed rules mentioned, inconsistent implementation of part 23 has been a continuing problem, which has been criticized by a General Accounting Office report and which has created unnecessary difficulty for recipients, contractors, and the Department itself. A process for ensuring that the Department speaks with one voice on DBE implementation matters, and for letting the public know when DOT has spoken, will greatly improve the service we give our customers.
We do not believe this coordination process will result in significant delays in providing guidance. Nor will it inhibit the ability of DOT staff and customers to communicate with one another. For example, the process does not apply to informal advice provided by staff to recipients or contractors over the phone or in a letter or e- mail. It does maintain, however, the important distinction between informal staff assistance on one hand and a binding institutional position on the other.
For clarity in the process, we have modified the language of the rule text to make clear that interpretations and guidance are binding, official Departmental positions if the Secretary signs them or if the document includes a statement that they have been reviewed and approved by the General Counsel. The General Counsel will consult fully with all concerned offices as part of this review process.
We intend to post significant guidance documents and interpretations on the Department's web site to make them widely and quickly available. As some commenters suggested, we are also continuing to consider forming an advisory committee (or working group of an existing committee) to facilitate customer input into DBE program matters. This is separate from the coordination mechanism, however, which is an internal DOT process.
The rule's provisions regarding exemptions and waivers, previously found in the SNPRM's Sec. 26.9 (c) and (d), are now included as a separate section at Sec. 26.15.