City to monitor funding to minority and women-owned firms

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Legislation intended to better track the local-government dollars flowing to small minority- and women-owned firms -- and punish contractors that don't abide by promises to use such firms -- received a preliminary nod Wednesday from Pittsburgh City Council.

A new Department of Equal Opportunity would coordinate contracting opportunities provided by the city and its authorities. The department would standardize requests for bids and proposals and vet companies' responses to ensure they meet the city's goals for participation by minority- and women-owned enterprises. Vendors may be summoned to meetings to explain their plans and answer questions.

The department, headed by a director who would report directly to the mayor, would track the flow of money to minority and women-owned firms, which often function as subcontractors rather than contractors on city and authority projects. If contractors do not follow through with promises to involve the firms, the city may suspend payments or terminate contracts.

Council will take a final vote Tuesday.

"This is truly, truly a critical piece of legislation," said Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who co-sponsored the measure with Councilman Ricky Burgess. The two represent the only council districts with majority black populations.

The bill grew out of concerns with the city's Equal Opportunity Review Commission, which tracks projected participation by minority- and women-owned businesses in local-government projects but doesn't follow up to see whether the firms actually did the work and got paid for it.

Mr. Burgess and city Controller Michael Lamb, who released an audit on minority contracting in August, criticized the lack of follow-through. Mr. Lamb said it's unclear now whether the city's goals -- at least 18 percent participation by minority-owned firms and 7 percent participation by female-owned firms in large projects -- are being met.

"The legislation approved by council is a step in the right direction to ensure that minority- and women-owned businesses within the city of Pittsburgh are given fair contracting opportunities," Mr. Lamb said, pledging to assist council and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl with implementing it.

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