A recent study showing minority- and women- owned businesses have not been awarded their fair share of highway construction contracts from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is another reason metro Atlantans should think long and hard before supporting the regional transportation referendum.
As the state’s manager of highway and road initiatives, GDOT will be the contracting agent for many of the 150 projects slated to be funded with the $8.5 billion the Tax Investment Act (TIA) is expected to generate over the next 10 years.
That’s a lot of money for GDOT to oversee since the agency has historically done such a poor job of ensuring that minority, women-owned and disadvantaged businesses receive a fair share of the work.
A 2012 disparity study conducted for the GDOT by BBC Research & Consulting, analyzed the participation of MBE, WBE and DBEs in GDOT construction and engineering contracts from 2009 through June 2011. Of the $2 billion GDOT awarded during that period, MBEs and WBEs received a paltry 10 percent of the contracts, even though those businesses had the capacity to do 22 percent of the work. At the same time, DBEs received only 10 percent of contracts, while the GDOT’s goal was 12 percent.
That 12 percent goal, by the way, is only 2 percent higher than it was 31 years ago when I was first elected to serve on the GDOT board, and the agency isn’t even meeting that.
Why is there a discrepancy between goals, capacity and actual contracts awarded? I said it then and I will say it again: Discrimination. But don’t take my word for it; the facts speak for themselves.
The disparity study found “qualitative evidence of discrimination” against minority-and women-owned businesses and advised the GDOT to remove the barriers that are preventing them from bidding on and being awarded contracts. The study also found that if discriminatory barriers are removed, the availability of MBEs, WBEs and DBEs to do the work ranged from 21 percent to 31 percent.
Before Georgia’s 10 most populous counties receive the largest pot of money they have had in recent history to fund their transportation initiatives, I implore the GDOT to set the tone for fair and equitable contracting by setting its own goal at 30 percent. By adopting a goal to give qualified, minority, women- owned and disadvantaged businesses 30 percent of the contracts GDOT awards will address past wrongs and set the tone for making things right in the future.
Georgia is the capitol of the South. We can’t go on doing business as usual with a good old boy system that benefits some and not others. If GDOT does the right thing, local and regional agencies will follow.
It is not enough for GDOT to say it will contract with minorities, women and disadvantaged firms “whenever possible.” I say put a policy in writing clearly stating that 30 percent is the goal, and then meet it.
If the GDOT will not provide that leadership I, for one, will vote against the tax referendum and I urge others to do the same.
Former chairman of the GDOT Board of Directors Represented the 4th, 5th and 11th Congressional Districts from 1981-2005