In 2005, the City Council passed and Mayor Bloomberg signed a law committing most city agencies to goals for the share of contracts they would award to businesses owned by blacks, Hispanics and Asians of both genders and white women. A three-part investigation we posted yesterday found that, in author Adam Wisnieski's words, "In the last five fiscal years, the agencies under control of the mayor have fallen short of every goal established by the law for prime contracts."
A host of reasons explain the shortcomings. The law itself exempts many important city entities, and until a 2013 amendment excluded contracts above $1 million. Only recently did the city impose a sound system for tracking subcontracts—a potentially rich source of work for MWBE firms, which tend to be smaller than others. Also problematic was a lack of accountability for the program's results: overseeing it fell to a deputy mayor already supervising a vast array of other initiatives and with limited tools to set agencies straight.
But another factor was the set of procurement rules the city has to operate under, which—for very good reasons—means agencies have to be guided by contractors' prices and experience and can't simply pick whatever firm they want. So, as Wisnieski writes, the city "has to create an environment where disadvantaged businesses can bid competitively." The Bloomberg administration has tried to do that, with programs meant to give MWBE contractors a leg up. But firms still say they are disadvantaged by a lack of bonding, capital, insurance and union affiliation.
Are there steps the city can take (and, if need be, money it can spend) to address those obstacles?
Do the procurement rules themselves need a rethink?
Tell us what you think here.