Last summer, the DC Black Business Task Force called for a study to determine whether the government has been meeting its goals regarding awarding contracts to Black-, minority- and women-owned businesses, as well as to identify potential contracting opportunities.
They said the purpose would be to examine whether there are disparities between the contracting dollars the government’s contract awards to Black-, minority- and women-owned businesses and the amount they might be expected to receive based on the number of such businesses available to perform the work among the total pool of eligible contractors.
Further, they noted that previous disparity studies had a factual foundation that the District government could use to help ensure that all of its agencies are using procurement processes that result in fair and equitable outcomes.
In October, officials undertook two studies that were just released this month from the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development — the Disparity Report Framework and Recommendations and the Minority and Women-Owned Business Assessment.
The reports were troublesome on several levels.
For one, officials determined that, throughout the study’s planning and data collection phases, the District of Columbia government’s readiness to undertake a scientifically sound disparity study was “questionable.”
While the completeness, quality and accuracy of the data varied across agencies, the tracking and reporting of procurement and contract data by District agencies, overall, indicated inadequate capacity to meet the quantitative data requirements for a disparity study, as prescribed by industry standards.
Initially, CRP, Inc., which conducted the research and issued the report, requested spend data (an industry best and preferred practice) for fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018.
However, the data received by CRP did not include the National Institute of Government Purchasing (NIGP) codes and demographics, which meant that only contract award data were used for the study.
Spend data captures actual payment data or dollars expended. In contrast, contract award data are funds obligated to be paid or disbursed. The initial data set CRP received only included contracts under the Office of Contract and Procurement (OCP) and was missing vital information such as addresses, demographic data and NIGP codes.
CRP officials said they were informed that OCP does not maintain spend and contract data for independent agencies, and therefore they were missing from the data set.
An additional request was made to obtain contract award data for all DC agencies — under the Mayor’s authority and independent agencies.
However, discussions with staff from the Department of Small and Local Business Development revealed difficulties in obtaining data from all independent agencies.
Thus, CRP recommended obtaining data from at least three independent agencies that have the largest number of construction and professional services related contract awards: Department of General Services (DGS), District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL).
“The findings of these reports are troubling, and I am disheartened — not just by what the data revealed, but also because a thorough study could not even be completed due to a lack of data,” said Councilman Kenyan McDuffie, who chairs of the council’s Committee on Business and Economic Development.
“The reports underscore the necessity of consistent and standardized data collection, and one benefit is that we now have a roadmap to follow to develop a comprehensive study,” McDuffie said. “Despite this, the goals of the CBE program are extremely important for the District of Columbia. I will continue the work I have already begun to improve the CBE program, increasing its transparency and accountability.
“The CBE program exists to support District-based women and minority-owned small businesses because they have historically been prevented from accessing both opportunities and capital,” he said. “I am absolutely committed to making the program work as intended.”
Alfred D. Swailes, owner of A&A Premium Paint Distributor in Northeast, told The Informer in June that a disparity study of the District’s Certified Business Enterprise (CBE) needed to take place.
The CBE program offers preferences in contracting opportunities for firms operating in the District that participate in it.
Swailes said he and other Black business leaders in the District sense that they aren’t getting their fair share of city government contracts but can’t quantify that claim.
“The CBE program is race and gender-neutral, meaning that getting city business cannot be based on race or gender preferences,” Swailes said. “We don’t know how many Black businesses are getting city business, but it isn’t enough. I have talked to a number of Black business owners, and they say they aren’t getting any business from the city, but they can’t prove it because there is no data to back that up. We want to make sure that the CBE process is fair and equitable to Black businesses.”