A District agency that oversees a program that promotes and gives preferences to local businesses in city contracting would get the authority to enforce violations for non-compliance, under a reform effort that Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced Wednesday.
Citizens and business owners have complained through the years about whether the Certified Business Enterprise program, known as CBE, is effectively monitored as some companies have found ways to manipulate the system and bypass requirements.
Gray said the Department of Small & Local Business Development has not had the resources or the teeth to make sure program participants are following requirements. “The agency is so undermanned,” he said at his biweekly news conference Wednesday. ”There’s no question there have been some bad actors.”
But the mayor and agency director Harold B. Pettigrew Jr. said they did not want the program defined by those scofflaws. The program began with a focus on minority businesses in 1977, morphing into one that focuses on District-based firms. The idea was “investing in our local companies” and ensuring that they were “getting a piece of what’s happening in our government,” Pettigrew said.
“The resources of the program have never matched its ambition,” Pettigrew said.
In July, Gray directed Pettigrew to review the problems in the program and to see how it should be revamped. “The mayor set a lightning pace for us to be here today,” Pettigrew said.
The Gray administration will submit legislation to the D.C. Council by the end of the month that would give the department the authority to revoke the CBE status of a firm that is not in compliance, among other new measures. Currently, a defunct commission has that authority.
Through budgeting, the Gray administration will also look to restore 10 employees to a compliance and enforcement team that was cut in 2010.
According to DSLBD, the agency monitors more than 700 cases in eight compliance programs.
The agency does not need legislation to perform spot checks on businesses to see if they are in compliance and will begin the surprise reviews immediately, Pettigrew said.
The administration used CityCenter DC, a massive downtown development of condominiums, retail space and apartments, as a backdrop for the news conference. Gray described the project as a model of how CBEs and certified joint ventures, which is when two or more businesses come together, can work effectively.
Norman H. Jones, president and chief executive of the Capitol Energy Group, said his firm has successfully partnered with a larger firm to install the windows at CityCenter. “I’ve been approached by many companies who really just wanted to make me a pass-through,” he said. “That’s not how I wanted to grow my business.”