On May 31, 2022, BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) and the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA) issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the Non-Exclusive Right to Redevelop, Renovate, Lease & Manage the Retail, Restaurant & Commercial Services at BWI Marshall Airport. During the RFP process, amendments were made to address mandatory team qualifications, and another addressed joint venture arrangements. This is a 20-year, lucrative state contract. In November, BWI/MAA recommended New Market Development, a Maryland based minority-owned business for the award. Earlier this month, MAA halted moving forward with the vote to award the contract and a lawsuit has been filed against MAA concerning the RFP process and its amendments.
There are SO many questions around these issues yet to be answered.
Is this really about the RFP process or is a “new standard” being challenged? Are the multi-national corporations blindsided by a new standard that has unleveled their playing field and created an opportunity for full access for all businesses, including minority owned businesses to now be prime contractors? Has the cream risen to the top because there are no longer barriers for equal access to this local lucrative airport concession industry? Minority businesses know all too well about ‘unleveled’ playing fields!
The question is, was the RFP amended to ensure that the standard can truly be one standard by which all businesses could truly participate. Or was it leveled to “hurt” conglomerates, who currently have easy access? A “standard” foundation for any RFP is built upon equal access for all businesses whether they choose to participate or not. Did the RFP in its original form allow for equal access for US- and Maryland based, minority and local businesses? Or did it just allow for the conglomerates that continue to dominate this industry with relative ease? Or is it that the RFP just does not “work” now in its amended form for those corporations “that it has always worked for in the past?” Did the new standard offer an opportunity, for the first time in Maryland history or perhaps American history, for minority-owned businesses to serve as potential primes to a lucrative state contract? Is there something wrong with the standard when it only benefits a certain category of people, or in this case, certain businesses? Is there something wrong with the standard when entities cannot compete equally under the RFP? Yes!
Or is it the case of a healthy competitive environment being challenged? Can the issue be that collectively the parts make a whole that now makes for a whole healthy competitive marketplace? A “collective part” that can effectively compete and win a contract that has historically been awarded to the whole, namely multi-national conglomerates with similar history and experience. Does healthy competition somehow constitute a grave injustice towards a conglomerate, multi-national corporation? Does this really constitute a sound case?
Or should minority-owned businesses be content with simply participating in such RFPs as only an MBE? That, I am sure, would satisfy the “current business environment.” I do understand that MBE programs have their merits; however, the “spirit” and construction of MBE programs are to ensure that minority-owned businesses are positioned to be sub-contractors only. These programs are subject to quotas, with no regulatory oversight and enforcement, and are not intended to produce a prime contractor or generate wealth for MBEs.
Where is the outcry for justice for minority and women-owned businesses that have never had an opportunity to bid on such a lucrative state RFP because it was prepared to only allow entry by a select group of businesses, namely multi-national conglomerates oftentimes headquartered in other countries? Is it because “that is the way it has always been?” Or is it because minority-owned businesses simply accept “what has always been?” Does “the what and the who have been awarded in the past” get to dictate “to whom and how the RFP is amended and how the award will be managed?” And, further, how business will be conducted within the State of Maryland? And we thought that Black lives mattered!
Inequality ranks among the top offenders of injustices in America, along with discrimination, violence, racism, and poverty. It serves to undermine us as a nation. Lack of diversity has cost America $16 trillion dollars over the course of 20 years (according to a study published by Citibank in 2020) because of discrimination and a lack of diversity. Maryland, how much will we save over the next 20 years?
We must work towards deep structural change if we are to realize the ideals of this country and the great State of Maryland. Yes, the appointment of diversity, equity, and inclusion representatives (DEI) is a start, but it is just that, a start. Change comes when we take a hard look at “what has always been” and make laws, and yes, amendments to see “more of what we can imagine our nation and state to be—equality for all under the law.” Is this not how we create long-term change and sustainability in our communities, the State of Maryland and in America?
Can the State of Maryland become the model for charting new “standards” of equality in various industries, including the American aviation industry? Can it be a state that ensures equitable participation in our state economy for all businesses? Can the State of Maryland create a “new standard” that “leaves no business behind?” Or do we have to wait another 20 years for the advances of equality and justice?
Paris M. Brown is associate publisher of The Baltimore Times.