Following the Mayor’s Press conference At Large Councilman Vincent Orange held a Public Round Table on DSLBD’s implementation of the 2013 Small & Certified Business Enterprise Development and Assistance Act.
More than a dozen representatives from the Certified Business Enterprise (CBE) community signed up to testify, including prepared remarks from a panel from Business Promotions Consultants; the newly formed CBE COALITION headed by the distinguished Dr. E. Faye Williams also of the National Congress of Black Women; attorney Theodora Brown also of the CBE COALITION; and CBE activist Roscoe Grant of R. Grant Enterprises.
Following the dozen or more panelists from the business community was a panel of key public officials, including DSLBD Director Ana Harvey; City Administrator Rashad Young; Deputy Auditor Lawrence Perry and newly appointed Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity Courtney Snowden.
The husband and wife team of Bill and Norma Byrd spoke from decades of experience in the federal sector as an out-sourcing agent of federal procurement requirements and recommended that without the critical involvement of the Office of Contracts & Procurement (OCP), any efforts to reform the District’s dismal track record of fully engaging the CBE community would be a failure.
“OCP is reluctant to disturb the status quo for incumbent contractors who are bidding on the next contract cycle for ongoing projects; particularly when the previous contract cycle did not have CBE subcontract participation”, said Mr. Bill Byrd.
Committee Chairman Orange shared his frustration with the fact that OCP was under the jurisdiction of the Committee of the Whole, chaired by Council Chairman Phil Mendelsohn, who was hosting a parallel committee hearing on another floor at the same time.
His wife Norma reiterated that, “Our business was incorporated in the District in 1981. With the exception of DC Water, our efforts to do business with the District have been unsuccessful. However, with the recent passage of legislation ensuring that contracts under $250,000 be set aside for certified CBEs and that contracts over $250,000 include a 35% CBE subcontracting plan, we once again began pursuing contracts with the District’, said Mrs. Byrd.
However the most impassioned remarks came from Dr. E. Faye Williams, National President of the National Congress of Black Woman and their newly launched CBE COALITION.
“The District, Maryland and Virginia are three of the top 10 fastest growing states in number, employment and revenues of women-owned firms. Yet, African American and Latino business owners appear to be disproportionately excluded or waived out of procurement contracts in direct violation of laws that I helped the late Mayor Marion Barry ”.
An honest assessment of exactly where the District is at this point in the new administration was offered by the person who has been tasked to create greater economic opportunity, newly appointed Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity, Courtney Snowden.
“Since becoming the Deputy Mayor, I have heard from many CBEs. They report that the certification process is complicated and burdensome; contracting and procurement opportunities are difficult to identify; and certification has not lead to new business opportunities.
Our short term strategy for leveraging District procurement opportunities includes a number of activities led by DSLBD and OCP. We are launching CBECONNECT.DC.GOV – a centralized space for CBEs to learn about the District agency goal setting process, search for contracting opportunities, see all the granted waivers, and much more” said Ms. Snowden.
But the burden of meeting the heightened expectations of the CBE community ultimately falls on DSLBD Director Ana Harvey, who outlined an ambitious strategy to “explain the CBE expendable budget goal setting process” as that has obviously been a steep learning curve for both the agency heads who have never run a multimillion dollar budget with mandated benchmarks for including local contractors.
“Between 2011 and 2014, the District failed to reach its CBE spending goals resulting in CBEs missing out on roughly $1 billion in contracting and procurement opportunities” reported Ms. Harvey.
The other sore spot for CBE contractors has been the perverse system of WAIVERS that agencies use to justify not using CBE contractors. “I am required, by law, to substantiate the determination by undertaking a good faith effort that shows there are no registered CBEs available to satisfy the contracting or subcontracting requirement. I have directed my staff to implement double review process to ensure that agencies have conducted a complete search to determine the existence of a CBE with the pertinent code for a given contract”, said Ms. Harvey.
However, a number of veteran CBEs in the audience expressed a cynical view of the process and shared their experience in participating in procurement offerings where evidence of their capacity and past performance was ignored or misrepresented by the agencies through a process of surveying CBEs using a narrow work requirement that is often does not used to measure the prime contractor’s experience and expertise.
But Ms. Harvey promised a number of short and long term strategies and activities and her commitment to work with OCP “to define procedures and streamline the process for CBE waivers”, much to the consternation of the audience of CBEs who need contracts now – not process-driven promises to further complicate the waiver process.
Committee Chairman Orange remained optimistic that the Bowser administration would make good on their mandated goal of spending $317 million of the projected $634 million expendable budgets targeted for the purchase of goods and services with the CBE community as he profiled the FY16 CBE OPPORTUNITY GUIDE that outlined the District’s CBE Spending Goals agency-by-agency.