The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission has committed itself to an affirmative acion policy that will give minority business owners first shot at many of the agency's $16- to 20- million annual purchasing contracts.
Under the program, approved at a WSSC meeting last week, purchasing agents and managers will attempt to award minority businesses 33 percent of the procurement business in contracting areas where minority bidders are available.
Currently, however, minority businesses are listed on only 95 to 100 of the 620 bidding lists for various areas of procurement, said Cortez White, director of the WSSC's bureau of supply and resource control.
Consequently, of the $1.4 million in purchasing contracts the WSSC awarded during the first three months of fiscal 1979, only $200,000 worth a month could have been placed with minority firms, White said.
The WSSC has been working since last December to increase the number of minority firms on bidding lists. White believes the amount of purchasing business available to minorities should steadily increase as the WSSC policy becomes known.
There are now 18 minority firms approved for purchasing contracts with the WSSC. Before the minority firm recruitment program began last December, only 35 were listed, White said.
The new policy does not apply to WSSC's construction contracting or to its engineering and architectural contracts. It covers, however, every other procurement the WSSC makes - including those for automobiles, pipe, office supplies, fire hydrants, building maintenance and other items.
In the first two months of this fiscal year, minority firms received about $7,500 a month in WSSC procurement contracts. If the new program is successful, that amount would increase to at least $70,000 a month.
When contracts are awarded in areas where minority firms are available, White said, WSSC managers will attempt to have only minority firms bid on the contract. In cases where only one minority firm is available, WSSC will attempt to negotiate a contract with the firm at a "reasonably competitive" price, White said.
White said that some contracts would be signed for as much as 10 percent over the lowest possible bid in order to contract with a minority business.
"Obviously, this is not a normal type of policy," said WSSC commissioner Marvin L. Gay during discussion of the new policy last week. "But it is not a normal situation. That is what affirmative action is all about: to equalize the situation." The commission approved the new policy unanimously.
White said the new program was designed to avoid problems Maryland purchasing officials have had with similar programs. A state program to award purchasing contracts under $5,000 to minorities failed because of a lack of response by minority firms.
The WSSC program is different, White said, because the commission has already spent almost a year recruiting minority bidders and has set its goals only in areas where minority firms are known to be available.
"It takes work to try and find these firms," White said. "Our biggest problem has been to get minority firms to realize that we are serious and that if they come forward to us, we are going to work with them."