NEW ORLEANS – The Landrieu administration is responding to a recent charter change and critics' complaints by making changes in its program promoting city work for woman- and minority-owned small businesses.
The Louisiana Weekly reported this week that the city was reviewing its Office of Supplier Diversity and preparing to roll out changes in its Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, or DBE, program in the first quarter of 2016.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu has made DBE participation in city contracts a priority since taking office in 2010. Landrieu expanded the Office of Supplier Diversity, which certifies qualified companies as DBEs and monitors the use of those DBEs in conducting city work, from one employee to six, helping double the rate of DBE participation from 16 percent under Ray Nagin to 34 percent at the end of 2014.
The city's goal has been to have at least 35 percent of city work performed by DBEs, either as prime contractors or as joint-venture partners or subcontractors. But that did not become law until voters approved a charter change last fall calling on the city to establish and maintain an official DBE program.
Since Landrieu became mayor, DBE firms have been awarded $400 million in contract work with the city, the New Orleans Aviation Board, the Sewerage and Water Board and the Regional Transit Authority.
But those companies have had to go through different certification processes for each government entity, as well as for Harrah's Casino, which has an agreement with the city to also meet the 35-percent goal.
Mayoral spokesman Brad Howard told WWL-TV that the city is working to streamline the process for approving woman- and minority-owned businesses as DBEs.
"In an effort to streamline DBE certification, the Office of Supplier Diversity is reviewing its current procedures and planning to roll out an improved process in 2016," he said.
While overall DBE participation has improved greatly, individual contracts have often fallen short. WWL-TV has reported on cases where DBE's said they were passed over for city work in favor of larger, out-of-state companies or not given the share that prime contractors offered when they promised to meet a contract-specific DBE goal.
The Office of Supplier Diversity, led by Arkebia Matthews, is working on stricter enforcement by three compliance officers that monitor if prime contractors are doing all they can to meet the goal set when they won the contract. Contracts give the city the right to impose penalties, collect liquidated damages, terminate the contract, or even suspend or debar contractors if they fail to comply with DBE requirements, but the city says none of those powers have ever been invoked.