Calif. Transportation Dept. to Reinstate Race-Conscious Contract Goals

The Coalition for Economic Equity (CEE) on Friday announced that after a nearly three-year hiatus, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is poised to reinstate race-conscious goals for federally funded transportation contracts in California.

CEE is an umbrella coalition of associations serving diverse minority- and women-owned businesses that was first formed in 1982 in response to an almost total exclusion of MBEs and WBEs from San Francisco’s public contracting system. In 1984, the Coalition succeeded in securing enactment of San Francisco’s first contracting equity ordinance introduced by Supervisors Doris M. Ward and Willie B. Kennedy. Since that time, the Coalition has worked to strengthen and defend contracting equity programs throughout the Bay Area, as well as at the state and federal levels.

CEE has confirmed with the Federal Highway Administration that the Caltrans’ Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program needs no further approvals to set goals for improving the awarding of these contracts.

“In these tough economic times, inclusion in these federally funded projects is a critical opportunity for California’s small minority- and women-owned businesses.,” said Aileen Hernandez, Chair of the Coalition for Economic Equity. “We need to see immediate implementation of these contract goals to ensure that California small businesses will not miss out on transportation projects slated to receive millions in ‘stimulus funds’ allocated under the recently-authorized American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”

CEE has been a moving force behind efforts to maintain race-conscious goals for all federal projects. CEE aggressively pursued both the Federal Highway Administration and Caltrans to clear the bureaucratic red-tape that was blocking re-instatement of Caltrans’ Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Goal and Methodology program.

According to Oren Sellstrom, Associate Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and legal counsel for the Coalition, “Without race-conscious contracting goals, minority- and women-owned businesses are often left out of the loop entirely and given no chance to compete. Setting goals helps open opportunities for previously excluded groups, provides employment in communities most often devastated by economic downturns and ultimately means savings for taxpayers as well.”

In the years since Caltrans suspended its DBE program, DBE participation on federal transportation contracts in California has decreased from 10.9 percent in 2005 to 2.2 percent in 2008.

“Reinstatement of the Caltrans DBE program is a must,” Hernandez and Sellstrom agree, “and it is crucial to update the data to ensure that all “significant disparities” groups have access to the program. It is also urgent that government, at all levels, move swiftly and creatively to identify, recruit and support America’s small businesses as a vital part of a healthy domestic and global economy. The Coalition will continue its efforts to eliminate discrimination from the public contracting process for as long as necessary to achieve a fair, efficient and transparent process.”

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