A Maryland pilot program to give minority businessmen first bidding rights on state purchasing contracts of less than $5,000 will expire this week without significantly increasing minority involvement in state business, according to General Services department officials.
The 60-day pilot policy was initiated Aug. 10 by J. Max Millstone, secretary of General Services. It called for all procurement contracts of less than $5,000 - ranging from uniforms and work clothes for hospital personnel to rubber bands for offices - to be offered first to minority businesses registered with the state.
The policy was intended to help the General Services department - which annually awards $90 million in procurement contracts covering 5,000 items - comply with a new state law. The law requires the department to "attempt to achieve" a minimum of a 10 percent share of state contracts for minorities.
Millstone said yesterday, however, that the policy had increased the share of state contracts awarded to minorities only slightly. "We aren't going to make the 10 percent goal," Millstone said. "It soon became abundantly clear to us that we weren't able to get much competition on anything we purchased."
Millstone said the department has had trouble finding minority businesses for the contracts, partly because many minority firms are not registered with the state for contracting.
To receive a state contract, a firm must file a form listing its management and the services it is willing to perform. Six thousand companies are now registered with the state, but only 415 currently qualify as minority operated.
And since the new policy was announced, only six to eight minority firms have filed new registrations with the state, according to Jerome W. Klasmeier, the deputy secretary of General Services.
In addition, Klasmeier, said, figures compiled from the first three weeks of the pilot program show that many registered minority firms did not respond to state inquires about bids for contracts.
Klasmeier said that all procurement contracts of less than $5,000 have been sent first to qualified minority firms for bidding. In many cases, however, the state has not received enough competition on the contracts, Klasmeier said, and has been forced to readvertise the contracts for both small businesses and minorities.
Whne the pilot program ends Friday. Klasmeier said, he probably will recommend that the state alter the policy and advertise small procurement contracts to minority businessmen and state-registered small businesses simultaneously. With that change, he said, the state will not have to send out its contracts twice if adequate bids from minority firms are not received.
The department also will initiate a series of seminars around the state to explain contract procedure to minority businessmen and to attempt to persuade more qualified firms to register with the state.
"The hypothesis is that if we can get more minority businesses working with us, we will naturally have more competition from them on the contracts will be able to achieve our goals that way," Klasmeier said.
Klasmeier said he also has ordered a survey of minority businesses who have not been responding to the state's offer of contracts. "We want to find out why they haven't been bidding," he said. "It's been very bothersome."