Civil Rights

DBE Overview Synopsis

What is a DBE? Answer: Disadvantaged Business Enterprise

This is a certification done ONLY by the DOT and applies to certain federally-funded projects with DBE goals under
  • Roads and Bridges
  • Transit
  • Aviation

Main Objectives of the DBE Program

  • To ensure that small, disadvantaged business enterprises (DBE) can compete fairly for federally funded transportation-related projects.
  • To ensure that only eligible firms participate as DBEs.
  • To assist DBE firms in competing outside the DBE Program.
DBE Program Overview (created by the U.S. Department of Transportation) on YouTube.


To become a certified DBE:

  1. Must have a small business (by SBA Standards)
  2. NTE a $28.48 million (three-year average) gross income.
  3. Personal net worth does not exceed $1.32 million
  4. Company must be owned (at least 51 percent) by a socially and economically disadvantaged individual(s).
    • Determined by the Federal Government for socially and economically disadvantaged are women, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Pacific Americans, and Subcontinent Asian Americans.

Three Key Areas in Application

  1. Initial Investment: The firm’s socially and economically disadvantaged majority owner must contribute capital, equipment, expertise (or something comparable to acquire their ownership interests.)
    • Must be consistent with ownership percentage
    • Can be made up of capital, equipment, merchandise, and or expertise, (but it must be applicable to what the most important components are to the business.)
    • Cannot be a gift from a non-disadvantaged individual.
    • Loans or lines of credit must reflect collateral. 
  2. Expertise: The socially and economically disadvantaged majority owner must have an overall understanding of, and managerial and technical competence and experience directly related to, the type of business in which the firm is engaged and the firm's operations.
    • Must be in the field
    • Cannot be limited to bookkeeping or administrative work
  3.  Control: Only an independent business may be certified as a DBE. An independent business is where the viability does not depend on its relationship with another firm or firms.
    • Cannot be a figurehead owner or someone who defers key decisions to a minority owner, or more experienced foreman or manager, or an outside firm the applicant firm is working with.
    • Cap to $28.48 million for the three-year average of gross receipts

Application process

  1. Fill out U.S. Department of Transportation certification application
  2. Must include supporting documents, e.g. personal net worth statement, information about business, personal and business tax returns for three years, and other pertinent documents requested on last document of application form(s)
  3. After paperwork has been submitted, and all documents have been correctly submitted, the next phase of application process is a site visit.
    • For heavy construction equipment, a site visit typically entails a job site visit; DOT certifying representative verifies equipment, employees, etc.
    • For other types of businesses, a site visit is typically done at their business office.

Iowa DOT ensures nondiscrimination and equal employment in all programs and activities in accordance with Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination statutes. If you need more information or special assistance for persons with disabilities or limited English proficiency, contact Iowa DOT Civil Rights at 515-239-1111 or by email at


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