Many clients come to me only after their DBE/MBE certification has been denied, or after the application has been filed. Often times this is too late. Nevertheless, Federal regulations provide you with a guide on exactly how to achieve MBE/DBE status. All you need to do is follow it. What follows is the key provision from the regs, 49 C.F.R. 26.69:
(a) In determining whether the socially and economically disadvantaged participants in a firm own the firm, you must consider all the facts in the record, viewed as a whole.
(b) To be an eligible DBE, a firm must be at least 51 percent owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
(1) In the case of a corporation, such individuals must own at least 51 percent of the each class of voting stock outstanding and 51 percent of the aggregate of all stock outstanding.
(2) In the case of a partnership, 51 percent of each class of partnership interest must be owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. Such ownership must be reflected in the firm’s partnership agreement.
(3) In the case of a limited liability company, at least 51 percent of each class of member interest must be owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
(c) The firm’s ownership by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals must be real, substantial, and continuing, going beyond pro forma ownership of the firm as reflected in ownership documents. The disadvantaged owners must enjoy the customary incidents of ownership, and share in the risks and profits commensurate with their ownership interests, as demonstrated by the substance, not merely the form, of arrangements.
(d) All securities that constitute ownership of a firm shall be held directly by disadvantaged persons. Except as provided in this paragraph (d), no securities or assets held in trust, or by any guardian for a minor, are considered as held by disadvantaged persons in determining the ownership of a firm. However, securities or assets held in trust are regarded as held by a disadvantaged individual for purposes of determining ownership of the firm, if—
(1) The beneficial owner of securities or assets held in trust is a disadvantaged individual, and the trustee is the same or another such individual; or
(2) The beneficial owner of a trust is a disadvantaged individual who, rather than the trustee, exercises effective control over the management, policy-making, and daily operational activities of the firm. Assets held in a revocable living trust may be counted only in the situation where the same disadvantaged individual is the sole grantor, beneficiary, and trustee.
(e) The contributions of capital or expertise by the socially and economically disadvantaged owners to acquire their ownership interests must be real and substantial. Examples of insufficient contributions include a promise to contribute capital, an unsecured note payable to the firm or an owner who is not a disadvantaged individual, or mere participation in a firm’s activities as an employee. Debt instruments from financial institutions or other organizations that lend funds in the normal course of their business do not render a firm ineligible, even if the debtor’s ownership interest is security for the loan.
(f) The following requirements apply to situations in which expertise is relied upon as part of a disadvantaged owner’s contribution to acquire ownership:
(1) The owner’s expertise must be—
(i) In a specialized field;
(ii) Of outstanding quality;
(iii) In areas critical to the firm’s operations;
(iv) Indispensable to the firm’s potential success;
(v) Specific to the type of work the firm performs; and
(vi) Documented in the records of the firm. These records must clearly show the contribution of expertise and its value to the firm.
(2) The individual whose expertise is relied upon must have a significant financial investment in the firm.
(g) You must always deem as held by a socially and economically disadvantaged individual, for purposes of determining ownership, all interests in a business or other assets obtained by the individual—
(1) As the result of a final property settlement or court order in a divorce or legal separation, provided that no term or condition of the agreement or divorce decree is inconsistent with this section; or
(2) Through inheritance, or otherwise because of the death of the former owner.
(h) (1) You must presume as not being held by a socially and economically disadvantaged individual, for purposes of determining ownership, all interests in a business or other assets obtained by the individual as the result of a gift, or transfer without adequate consideration, from any non-disadvantaged individual or non-DBE firm who is—
(i) Involved in the same firm for which the individual is seeking certification, or an affiliate of that firm;
(ii) Involved in the same or a similar line of business; or
(iii) Engaged in an ongoing business relationship with the firm, or an affiliate of the firm, for which the individual is seeking certification.
(2) To overcome this presumption and permit the interests or assets to be counted, the disadvantaged individual must demonstrate to you, by clear and convincing evidence, that—
(i) The gift or transfer to the disadvantaged individual was made for reasons other than obtaining certification as a DBE; and
(ii) The disadvantaged individual actually controls the management, policy, and operations of the firm, notwithstanding the continuing participation of a non-disadvantaged individual who provided the gift or transfer.
(i) You must apply the following rules in situations in which marital assets form a basis for ownership of a firm:
(1) When marital assets (other than the assets of the business in question), held jointly or as community property by both spouses, are used to acquire the ownership interest asserted by one spouse, you must deem the ownership interest in the firm to have been acquired by that spouse with his or her own individual resources, provided that the other spouse irrevocably renounces and transfers all rights in the ownership interest in the manner sanctioned by the laws of the state in which either spouse or the firm is domiciled. You do not count a greater portion of joint or community property assets toward ownership than state law would recognize as belonging to the socially and economically disadvantaged owner of the applicant firm.
(2) A copy of the document legally transferring and renouncing the other spouse’s rights in the jointly owned or community assets used to acquire an ownership interest in the firm must be included as part of the firm’s application for DBE certification.
(j) You may consider the following factors in determining the ownership of a firm. However, you must not regard a contribution of capital as failing to be real and substantial, or find a firm ineligible, solely because—
(1) A socially and economically disadvantaged individual acquired his or her ownership interest as the result of a gift, or transfer without adequate consideration, other than the types set forth in paragraph (h) of this section;
(2) There is a provision for the co-signature of a spouse who is not a socially and economically disadvantaged individual on financing agreements, contracts for the purchase or sale of real or personal property, bank signature cards, or other documents; or
(3) Ownership of the firm in question or its assets is transferred for adequate consideration from a spouse who is not a socially and economically disadvantaged individual to a spouse who is such an individual. In this case, you must give particularly close and careful scrutiny to the ownership and control of a firm to ensure that it is owned and controlled, in substance as well as in form, by a socially and economically disadvantaged individual.