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Oklahoma’s infrastructure hit by costly federal mandates

As commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, I have a front-row seat to how our state’s infrastructure is maintained. We have witnessed gross losses several times in our current system. It has to stop.

Federal mandates unnecessarily cost taxpayers millions. The federal government imposes a certain percentage allocated to disadvantaged businesses for each highway contract. A DBE is usually a startup, a smaller, newer contractor that is owned by women or minorities.

Unfortunately, 11 times in the last 18 months, the lowest bids fell short of the DBE target, resulting in the bid being rejected and higher bids being selected, cumulatively costing over $7.6 million more.

Oklahoma is singled out and forced to accept a roughly 20 percent DBE mandate, double that of other states, because of a landmark complaint filed when Biden was vice president alleging under-hiring of minority subcontractors by ODOT.

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The $7.6 million is just the starting point. The mandate creates significant obstacles. There are not enough DBEs in Oklahoma, leading to delays and higher costs as contractors struggle to meet quotas.

Finding available and reasonably priced DBEs is time-consuming and expensive, with the contractor spending an average of about $2,500 per bid. With bids open twice a week, these costs add up quickly and ultimately fall on taxpayers.

The direct and indirect costs of such mandates are a heavy burden on taxpayers.

I support providing opportunities for underrepresented groups. However, we have to balance this against the overall costs and whether this achieves its objective.

Editor’s Note: TW Shannon represented Oklahoma House District 62 from 2007 to 2015. He was Oklahoma’s first speaker of the Black House in 2013-2014.

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