State Tries to Boost Minority Contracts 3% Rate Last Year Prompts Efforts

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Of the $3.6 billion the state spent on medium to large contracts last year, just 3 percent went to companies owned by members of racial minorities. "That's absolutely dismal," said Gloria Bromell-Tinubu, an economics professor at Spelman College. "Clearly that model does not work."

Bromell-Tinubu, a member of the Georgia Board of Education and a former member of the Atlanta City Council, has focused much of her career on minority government contracting. That 3 percent should be closer to 30 percent in order to reflect the minority share of the state's population.

Officials with the Department of Administrative Services say they think the percentage of minority participation is probably higher because their computers don't accurately count the race of every transaction and because purchases under $2,500 aren't figured. Most of the sales by minority business are for smaller amounts, according to the department.

Nearly everyone wants to see that percentage increase and Gov. Roy Barnes' administration has stepped up several efforts to get the word out to minority vendors that the state is willing to do business with them. State law prohibits favoring vendors on the basis of their race or size, but last week he launched a pilot program to pair executives from 10 large companies with 20 counterparts in minority businesses to help them learn to navigate the government procurement maze.

At the same time, the state is working toward a system to transact business online -- bidding, ordering and billing. So far, the state has begun posting opportunities on the Internet for companies to supply government needs.

The level of minority contracting varies from one agency to another. The Department of Education, for example, gets only 4 percent of its bids from minority contractors but spends 14 percent of its money with those firms. On the other hand, out of 631 opportunities to bid at the Georgia Ports Authority, only 2 percent of the bids were from minority vendors and 1 percent of spending went their way. Nine agencies reported no minority contracting.

"I just emphasize to everyone who does purchasing for the department . . . that the state law says we have to give minorities a chance," said Becky Rutledge, procurement officer for the Education Department. And at times her staff has coaxed minority businesses into registering with the state as vendors.

Duplicating Rutledge's message to the state's more than 150 purchasing agents in other agencies is a lot of what Les Hollingsworth has been doing the first two months on the job. …