In the year since the Maryland legislature set a goal of awarding at least 10 percent of the state's business to minority-run firms, the state is barely half way toward the mark. As minority contractors have learned over the years, public commitments don't always mean contracts.
Gov. Harry Hughes acknowledged that the state's record "has been less than satisfactory." He promised a minority business leaders' luncheon in Baltimore recently that the state government will do better in the future.
Douglas Sands, director of the state's office of minority enterprise, called the state's performance under the laws "way below what we can do and far below what we ought to do."
In fact, according to figures from state's agencies covered by the law, those agencies awarded only 5.7 percent of $595 million worth of contracts over the past to minority firms.
Of that amount, a substantial share went to companies headed by white women rather than to the black business owners who lobbied for the act, contracting officials indicated.
In 1978, the General Assembly set 10 percent as a minimum goal for minority firms' share of the state's multimillion-dollar contracting business, directing five major agencies to rework contracting policies to encourage awards to minority firms.
None of the five state departments met the 10 percent goal, and two departments reported no minority contracting activity. The Maryland department of education said that it contracted only through another covered agency, and the Interagency Committee on Public School Construction said that it spent the year devising procedures to implement the law.
The Interagency Committee, which awarded approximately $38 million in school construction contracts last year through school jurisdictions, said it hoped to have rules and regulations aimed at increasing minority participation in place this month.
"I think the Interagency Committee had delayed this program an inordinate amount and has caused the loss of substantial amounts of contracts," Maryland Del. John W. Douglass (D-Balt.) charged at a House appropriations committee hearing on the program. "This is clearly not a high priority item" with the interagency committee, Douglass said.
State officials responsible for the minority contracting program called for a central minority business enterprise certification program, a central outreach program and a uniform reporting system to help them achieve those goals.
Members of the appropriations committee focused on the question of whether businesses could fraudulently claim to be minority-owned and operated under the state's programs and whether penalties for false representation were stiff enough.
However, members of the committee appeared generally unsympathetic to claims by black contractors that the program was failing blacks because its broad definition of minorities includes women and the handicapped as well as blacks, Hispanics and native Americans.
"It ain't helping us that much because we're not getting the business," said Robert Clay, chairman of the board of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association, which lobbied for the goal-setting law.
"In 1976, I told the General Assembly that we were getting less than one half of one percent of the state's contracts," said Clay. "I suspect today, if we could get a true and accurate count of black participation, we're still getting less than one half of one percent."
Dashiell and Clay called for a separate set-aside goal for women who had been economically discriminated against, but several appropriations committee members objected to their remarks.