Rule Breakers Beware
Rep. Ed Towns, who chairs the House oversight and government reform committee, says he’s “concerned and really disappointed” by what he considers the inadequate level of minority business participation in the stimulus process, as well as the fact that large corporations continue to use minority businesses as subcontractors to win awards and then don’t put them to work. His committee is investigating the sham minority business tactic and working with other lawmakers to figure out ways to increase minority participation in recovery act contracts.
“We have to get serious about that because there seems to be no serious recordkeeping on those who violate,” says Towns. “We need them to know that it’s not business as usual and we’re going to do this differently. If they don’t abide by the rules and allow everyone to participate on a level playing field, they’ll be penalized.” Towns plans to appeal to those companies directly, but has not ruled out the possibility of holding hearings on the matter.
Use Your Representative
It’s also widely believed that keeping Capitol Hill lawmakers informed could be advantageous, particularly if your member is actively involved.
Leon Richardson is CEO of ChemicoMays, which is in the unique position of not only being one of few companies in the world that specializes in chemical management, but it is the only minority one to do so. Close to 60% of the work his company does is for the automotive industry, which is one of the economy’s most visible victims. As chairman of the National Association of Black Automotive Suppliers, he’s learning the value of communicating with lawmakers and other government officials.
“It’s very helpful to make them aware of what’s happening with automotive suppliers as a whole and minority suppliers specifically,” says Richardson. “I think the industry and the government were first concerned about the larger suppliers where they could get a bigger bang for most of the employment dollars. They’re now starting to focus on small and minority suppliers who were missed at the very beginning.”
“It helps to have a proactive member working hand in hand with the small businesses to make sure they participate in the recovery act,” says Rep. William “Lacy” Clay, Jr. (D-Mo.), who begins tracking projects in his state as they are announced. He’s asked his regional SBA office to provide a breakdown of minority contracts and has also requested a federal waiver to increase the minority contracting participation for the construction of a new Mississippi River bridge that is being jointly managed by the Missouri and Illinois state transportation departments.
Both Fattah and Towns urge business owners to contact the oversight committee or Biden’s office with any problems they encounter, or feel like “games are being played,” says Towns.