Marion Barry pushes for limits on D.C. contractors

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Photo - Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry (Examiner file photo)
Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

Ward 8 D.C. Councilman Marion Barry wants to bar the District -- for now -- from hiring companies that aren't based in Washington from doing construction on city-owned buildings.

Under Barry's proposal, the District wouldn't be allowed to enter into contracts for construction or remodeling with companies that aren't "certified business enterprises," or CBEs, while a task force reviews how and why the District chooses its contractors.

"Larger construction firms are being awarded not only the large construction [projects,] but also small projects," Barry wrote in a memorandum to his colleagues. "In these hard economic times where small businesses are scrounging for every piece of work they can get, the awarding of small projects to large firms is severely hurting our small businesses."

A company cannot become a CBE unless it is headquartered in the District, but large corporations based in other jurisdictions have often partnered with smaller D.C. companies to take advantage of the city's practice of awarding preference points to bids from CBEs.

Barry, who was mayor when the CBE program got its start in 1977, argued in his letter that this practice often stifles local businesses.

"This partnership assists small businesses in developing their own portfolios and their capacity to perform larger projects on their own," Barry wrote. "However, over 90 percent of these contracts are still consistently awarded to majority firms through the competitive process, even for small projects that small businesses are capable and qualified to perform."

A spokesman for Mayor Vincent Gray declined to comment on Barry's legislation.

Max Farrow, a spokesman for the DC Chamber of Commerce, said the organization had not reviewed the proposal, but he said the group would have concerns about limiting the District's potential business partners.

"Forcing the District government to do business only with CBEs would essentially bring the work of government to a standstill," Farrow said. "While we of course support the District's small businesses and the certification program, there are some goods and services that CBEs simply cannot provide."

The D.C. Council is expected to take up Barry's emergency legislation at its meeting on Tuesday.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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