The semi-annual report is a mandate from the DOT and FTA for any organization that receives federal funds to execute transportation projects. If you’re in the business of transportation, you’re quite familiar with the tedious semi-annual DBE report and the inevitable challenges imposed on compliance officers responsible for managing the process. Moreover, even with the advent of technology, many transportation agencies still unfortunately utilize a manual reporting practice which often leads to inaccurate data, wasted time, and a decline in human productivity. There are three additional obstacles that significantly diminish the efforts of the current reporting process which include:
Contract Payment Data
For each semi-annual report, the compliance officer is required to review every contract included within the reporting period of that report. From there, the DBE officer will need to separate the contracts to identify which received federal funds. Next, the compliance officer identifies each prime/subcontractor and determines their DBE certification status. The final step is to review each payment made to the DBE firms, which should equal the total number of awarded dollars for the report. Without a system to automate these components of the reporting process, it will not only be time consuming, but will likely lead to inaccurate data reflected in the final reports. This means there can be no true picture of community impact, which puts the organization at risk and doesn’t move the needle towards the initial intended purpose of DBE programs.
Managing communications among internal transportation teams so there’s clarity on and efficiency with external messaging, is both a time and energy consumer, but is also an essential component of the reporting process. Tracking outreach efforts is vital for several reasons:
It is imperative for DBELOs and compliance officers to always keep the impact of their various transportation projects top of mind.
If, for example, there is a new bus line project in development, a DBELO or compliance officer should understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the community where projects are set to launch. An example consideration is whether the new bus line will require small businesses in the area to shut down until the development is complete. It takes a village to ensure this type of mutually beneficial relationship is realized and also requires regular engagement with small businesses, community leaders, city resources, contractors, and this should all take place prior to breaking ground on the project.
Another reporting consideration that influences community impact for DBE officers is project location. Certain communities would benefit from tracking workforce utilization to intentionally place jobs in the hands of those within the community. This level of “zip code hiring” increases the economic impact to the community where projects are being developed. Transit organizations are usually located in metro areas, and the communities most adversely affected by these projects are typically highly populated by minority residents who are often burdened by pockets of poverty.
“Rider experience” is a final example of why accounting for community impact is essential to the reporting process. For instance, if a new transportation project requires the relocation of a bus stop, planners and DBE officials must consider community members that may be unfavorably disturbed by the move. Perhaps the project takes place in a community where there are high rates of single parent households, these riders have really early or late shifts at work, and the bus stop that is being relocated was their only or most affordable mode of transportation. These types of scenarios should always be considered.
Having an automated system to monitor, track and report small and diverse business contracting, workforce utilization, rider experience adjustments, community benefit agreements and all of nuances within a transportation project will undoubtedly improve the vitality of the communities where these projects are being developed.