Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced the FY16 CBE Opportunity Guide this morning at her weekly press conference but local mechanical contractor Andre’ Marr complains that, “I know my trade but I don’t know the Pass Word! Inclusion has not been a part of my experience”.
The Mayor expressed her frustration at DSLBD’s historic role of investing a disproportionate amount of resources in certifying businesses as disadvantaged, and promised to encourage DSLBD Director Ana Harvey to “do a better job and double down efforts to match people with opportunities”.
The Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) is the agency charged with ensuring compliance with the District’s CBE law and providing certification and business assistance services to promote economic opportunity and greater access to the estimated $2.17 Billion budgeted by DC agency in Fiscal Year 2016 which began October first.
Chief of Staff Rashad Young said, ”We are really thinking outside the box and working with agency heads to trap these dollars at our borders and keep them here”.
However, the majority of comments from the CBE community reflected years of frustration in getting the District to comply with their own laws and get CBR firms access to contracting opportunities.
Maria Patricia Corrales of Capital Construction Enterprises, a participant in the CEO of expressed years of frustration of having been awarded only one small CBE contract for $250,000 in 2012 after having been certified for nearly a decade.
“My experience since 2008 when I became a CBE has been very poor. I have been a subcontractor on $15 and $20 million dollar projects. And I had a GC from Ohio trusted me with $2 million worth of contracts at Highland Terrace. That’s odd but that has been my reality, said Mrs. Corrales.
George Banks, a security company executive with over 17 years of experience and four years in as a CBE. “I want to caution the administration to focus on transparency of payments because I have been a victim and there was no one to fight for the CBEs. Let’s do a better job on getting CBEs paid”, said Mr. Banks.
The City Administrator Rashad Young fired back, “On that point, we have a Quick Pay Act requirement and this administration has heard that this is a major problem and we have asked our agencies to do a better job in getting contractors paid.
However, the highlight of the press conference came with a comment by Andre Marr, CEO of A & E Heating & Air Conditioning.
“Inclusion has not been a part of my experience, exclusion has. I know people, I’ve performed, but I don’t know what the pass word is” said Mr. Marr to a chorus of amends in the room packed with local black and Hispanic contractors.
The Mayor indicated from the comments, that a better understanding the acquisition planning process for the year, “Is the first start. This is also part of Ana’s portfolio. What I have been frustrated with the agency in years past has been certification has been their main focus.
I want to know how we match people with opportunities. We need to put people in match making programs and we want to double down. We are ten months in scratching the surface and we were up to mid night trying to understand each agency’s ‘Spend’. Understanding where the money is going is 90% of the job”.
A limited number of FY16 CBE OPPORTUNITY GUIDES were handed out that were designed to address the new “60/30 Rule” that At Large Councilmember and Chair of the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs articulated at a July 10, 2015 hearing when the Inspector General reported on the abuses and rampant under-spending that took place in the administration of former Mayor Vincent Gray.
Councilman Orange challenged the Bowser administration nearly a quarter before the end of FY 2014 to have every agency submit their Spending Plans to DSLBD 60 days prior to the start of the new fiscal year and have those plans reviewed and officially published 30 days before the October first start of the new fiscal year.
That didn’t’ happen – in fact the profiles of each agency’s ‘CBE Spending Goal’ had a clear water mark labeled “PRELIMINARY” across ever page of the estimated 80 plus independent agencies and departments that make up the $2.17 Billion budget of the District of Columbia.
“What we want to do with the next iteration of the Guide is to look at the smaller spending categories so that when agency heads say there are no CBEs that are available, that amount gets smaller and smaller each year. This has been a very good exercise, and the next time it will not take nearly as long, said the Mayor as she wrapped up a press conference that for the first time elevated the issue of local government contracting to a top administration priority.
However, at least one veteran information technology vendor with several decades of experience as a DC government contractor who asked to remain anonymous because of concerns of retaliation was not that optimistic. “I’ve seen this rodeo before. Let’s wait and see if they can truly deliver!”