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Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program helps companies get contracts that include federal transportation funds

COURTESY: ODOT - ANGELA CRAIN

Editor's note: This month's column was written by Angela Crain, civil rights manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

One of the bright pages in the work we do at ODOT involves the companies signed up in the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program.

This effort gives companies a leg up that might not otherwise have had a chance. It helps remove barriers and creates a competitive environment when we award contracts that include federal transportation funds. Many of these contracts are with Oregon companies, so the program also helps keep wages in the state and ensure money is spent at local businesses.

Here's how it works: Under federal law, state and local governments must operate a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program if they receive any transportation funds from the federal government. A great majority of our projects use federal funds. ODOT has an overall Disadvantaged Business Enterprise goal of 15.37% Disadvantaged Business Enterprise usage, a level approved by the Federal Highway Administration.

KRIS STRICKLERFirst, I want to make a few things clear. It is ODOT policy to:

  • Make sure there's no discrimination in the awarding and administering ODOT contracts.
  • Create a level playing field where companies in the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program can compete fairly for contracts involving federal transportation funds.
  • Ensure the program complies with applicable laws.
  • Be certain that only eligible firms participate.
  • Remove barriers that obstruct participation by Disadvantaged Business Enterprises.
  • Assist firms in competing successfully in the marketplace.
  • To qualify, at least 51% of a company must be owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian-Pacific Americans, Subcontinent Asian Americans, women, and others on a case-by-case basis.

    We make an effort to get companies certified in the program. We frequently hold or participate with other stakeholders and community groups to hold events that educate and inform firms on resources such as how to get certified and the procurement process. In collaboration with the City of Portland, for example, the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project has launched an extensive outreach program to bring contracts to qualified minority companies.

    We certify many kinds of firms, among them trucking companies, excavators, architects and engineering companies. And they all have their own stories to tell.

    For example, Global Transportation Engineering opened its doors in 2015 by licensed engineers Monica Leal and Dana Beck. They became certified in the program, and today they have six employees and have had a role in a range of ODOT contracts, including the Fanno Creek Trail, the OR 99E Railroad Tunnel, and the Lincoln City U.S. 101 pedestrian ramps. They have offices in downtown Portland, and they control their own destiny.

    I love seeing companies grow right out of a project. Think of a disadvantaged business that maybe starts out getting a few subcontracts under a prime contractor. That helps the business gain experience, helps the company grow, and maybe they add employees.

    By working on projects with a prime contractor, businesses can use the experience, the expertise and the track record to forge ahead on the path they choose for their own future. For some, that may mean becoming a prime contractor and maybe hiring disadvantaged businesses as subcontractors themselves.

    Making all of this work the way it's intended to work requires effort on our part. In addition to helping support the ability of disadvantaged businesses to work on ODOT projects, we also exercise oversight of the program requirements.

    That includes monitoring performance and doing everything we can to ensure here's no fraud. That sometimes means surprise on-site inspections to make sure the companies with the contracts are actually doing the work.

    The program allows companies to grow. We get to cultivate and diversify our available workforce, and maybe we help out some small businesses that might not have otherwise had a chance.


    Angela Crain is ODOT's civil rights manager. Comments may be directed to 888-AskODOT.


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