It’s been three years since New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed off on an executive order that virtually guaranteed that minority and women-owned business enterprises would get a fair share of city contracts. To date, the initiative has failed to achieve that goal.

In late 2005, Local Law 129 went into effect requiring all city agencies to establish a goal-based MWBE procurement program. Among other requirements, the law called on all city agencies to  provide detailed statistical data regarding the number of certified MWBEs they used on city projects and services. The Department of Small Business Services was designated to administer and monitor the procurement and contract-letting process.

However, a series of reports about the agency in the Village Voice newspaper at the beginning of June, followed a few days later by a blistering editorial in the Daily News and a week or so after that by an equally unflattering story about the agency in The New York Amsterdam News, revealed severe flaws and major inaccuracies in record keeping and, most notably, the paltry number of MWBEs actually being awarded contracts with the city. The triple-play negative press, at least in part, prompted SBS to quickly hold a procurement fair at the end of June.

“After last year’s procurement fair, minority and women-owned firms that attended were awarded $13 million in city contracts,” SBS Commissioner Robert Walsh announced. “In this fiscal year to date, we’ve seen city-certified firms win over $234 million in contracts.”  The fiscal year ended on June 30 without a single African-American company being awarded a city contract. Asian, Hispanic and Latino firms received a small share of the contracts.

Larry Scott Blackmon, deputy commissioner and chief of staff for the SBS, dismisses the  criticism of the agency’s performance with respect to MWBEs. Instead, he touts the agency’s job-training services for MWBEs. “The SBS has made great strides in providing job training (services) for New Yorkers and placing them in jobs. We are always looking for ways to improve our efforts,” he said in a recent interview.

In the past, Blackmon was viewed by many as a vocal advocate for minority entrepreneurs. A TNJ “40 Under Forty” honoree, he is one of the highest-ranking African-Americans at the SBS.

New York Consumer Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum last year slammed the SBS for its snail’s-pace handling of facilitating and awarding city contracts to MWBEs. A July 30, 2007, report released by her office noted that while the city had more than 600,000 women and minority businesses in 2002, as of April 2007, only 1,114 of these businesses — less than 0.2 percent  — were certified by the city. Some say very little has changed since Gotbaum’s report.

“Minority-owned businesses are more likely to certify with New York State’s MWBE program,” Gotbaum said last July. “New York City’s MWBE program is ineffective.”

In July this year, New York Gov. David Paterson signed off on the Procurement Stewardship Act, which, among other provisions, requires state agencies to publish information about winning bidders on state contracts. In addition, the Office of General Services is to make public the specific reasons for the selection of a particular vendor.

“Ensuring that our small businesses have the resources to be competitive with larger companies is a major step in the overall economic development of the state,” Paterson said.

Procurement opportunities with the state of New York may be found at  www.newyorklovesbiz.com.

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