A federal judge recently affirmed that Caltrans’ Disadvantaged Business Enterprises program was “clearly constitutional,” denying a complaint filed in federal court in 2009 by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of the Associated General Contractors of San Diego.

Judge John A. Mendez, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California, found that since 2007 the department made the necessary changes to its DBE program to satisfy legal concerns about the program’s constitutional requirements.

Caltrans implements a DBE Program as a condition of receiving $3 billion in federal transportation funding annually. The program ensures a level playing field for disadvantaged and small businesses competing for public contracts, says Caltrans.

In 2005, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals provided new guidance to states on implementation of DBE programs (Western States Paving vs. Washington State Department of Transportation). In response, Caltrans conducted a study to identify the existence and scope of discrimination, if any, in the highway transportation contracting industry in California, according to Caltrans.

The department says the study was completed in 2007 and identified significant disparities in contract dollars awarded to African-American, Asian Pacific-American, Native American and women-owned firms. To address those disparities, Caltrans says it proposed the use of both race-neutral and race-conscious means in its contracting programs. In 2009, the Federal Highway Administration approved the proposal, which includes an overall goal of 13.5% DBE involvement.