By D. Kevin McNeir | Washington Informer | Word In Black
(WIB) – Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks shared the findings of the County’s Utilization and Availability Study, also known as a Disparity Study.
The results of the Disparity Study, released on Sept. 28, show that there has been a historical disparity in the use of certain Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises (M/WBE) and their availability in the marketplace.
Alsobrooks said while she has heard anecdotes from minority- and women-owned businesses who felt they’d been overlooked or locked out of the procurement process in the County, the study gives the facts and legally allows the council to move forward with legislation that supports businesses seeking opportunities in the County.
“Over the years, as I served as the state’s attorney and then as I ran to be county executive, I heard from numerous minority business owners who expressed concerns with the process to obtain County contracts,” Alsobrooks said. “That’s why when I came into office as county executive, it was a priority of my Administration to take the lead and determine whether the County, in the past, engaged in discriminatory practices in the solicitation and award of contracts to minority and women-owned businesses.”
“I’m proud to say that after completing this study and taking a critical look at historical procurement practices and constraints, we now have the data, tools and ability to work as a government to ensure minority- and women-owned businesses have equal opportunity to provide goods and services to our County.”
This critical, in-depth study will now assist the Administration in determining how best to utilize the County Government’s procurement authority. This study has also laid the foundation to allow the County to work with the County Council to create legislation that will allow the County to set regulations requiring businesses seeking opportunities with County government to subcontract a percentage of the contract to specific sub-groups that have been historically underutilized, like Black, Latino and Asian businesses.
Council member Mel Franklin, who has already drafted legislation to address this important issue, said it feels great to make such significant progress.
“Now we have the ability to put in place a stronger minority business program with higher goals and for the first time, to address disparities particularly experienced by African American, Asian and Latino business owners,” Franklin said. “We will be able to get at the racial and ethnic concerns and we now have a legal framework with which we can move forward.”
Jonathan Butler, director, Office of Central Services, agreed with Franklin, pointing to the significance of the disparity study’s completion and its results.
“This study began with County Executive Alsobrooks and when I came on board, I was pulled into numerous conversations with small and minority-owned businesses who said they simply were not getting fair consideration for procurement possibilities,” Butler said. “They said they were available and ready to work but had not been given the opportunity to do so in the past.”
“We needed a data source – a framework of credible data to remedy that situation. This study will provide the legal framework we need to close the disparities between availability and utilization,” he said.
It’s one thing to suspect there’s a problem – it’s another to solve it. With this study, we have the tools to solve a concern and problem that have been with us for a long time.
Spearheaded by the Office of Central Services in December 2019, the study was conducted to analyze contracting opportunities in various procurement categories and identify whether a statistical disparity exists between availability and use of specific business ownership classifications, like small, minority, woman owned and large businesses.
The Disparity Study covered a period from July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2018 (FY2010 – FY2018), and serves as a mechanism, based on sound data, to support any new, relevant law or policy.
Under current County law, the Office of Central Services operates a procurement program that is race-and gender-neutral, targeting local and/or small businesses, with the goal of a 30% Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) participation, which prohibits the government from setting sub-goals to be inclusive to ethnic groups ensuring an equitable distribution of opportunity. The study remained essential because if a disparity did exist in the past, the County would need concrete data to support any new policy or changes to current law.
Alsobrooks said this disparity study counts as a critical first step and the County looks forward to working to ensure small and Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises, the backbone of the County’s local economy, have equal opportunity to participate in obtaining County contracts. The collective goal she noted will be to create a solid foundation and strong opportunities for small and minority businesses to grow, thrive and build generational wealth in Prince George’s County.
Alsobrooks emphasized that while her administration did not break the procurement process, they now have the opportunity to repair it.
“Many people assume that we have the ability to set up parameters and minimums but you cannot do any of that without a legal framework,” she said. “We had no doubt that there was a problem. However, it’s one thing to suspect there’s a problem – it’s another to solve it. With this study, we have the tools to solve a concern and problem that have been with us for a long time.”
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