The city’s business community—or at least its main lobbying groups, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, the D.C. Building Industry Association, the local chapter of the Associated Builders & Contractors, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Hotel Association of Washington—is asking Mayor Vince Gray to veto new legislation aimed at tightening up regulations of the chronically broken Certified Business Enterprise program.

“The bill will, in our view, do little to assist the development of small business in the District. Instead, it will merely further entrench a program model of mandates and penalties and make even more complex an already cumbersome, unwieldy regulatory regime that needs comprehensive reform,” the letter says. “Just increasing requirements and enforcement with harsher penalties is not likely to change the direction of the CBE program.”

The D.C. Council passed the bill late last year after rejecting an amendment that would have limited how much benefit a certified company could receive if fewer than half of its employees were District residents.

Some of the specific complaints from the business community include the requirement that set-asides on construction projects go from 35 percent to 50 percent, that the required “detailed reporting” of CBE data to the Council would “invite legislative program micro-management,” and that having companies pay penalties and fines into a special fund controlled by the Department of Small and Local Business Development, which would also levy the fines, raises “troubling questions of agency incentives.”

At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange was the main author of the bill. But the business groups are complaining about some of the provisions Gray proposed as part of his effort to reform the CBE program. The business community ends its letter by asking the mayor to try again.

“There have been three legislative attempts to ‘reform’ the CBE program over the past seven years, but in no case has the attempt apparently included a basic re-think of program assumptions. Instead, the standard “fix” has been to turn to tightened compliance through more rigorous regulation as the solution to disappointing program results. We submit, however, that the time has come for a more thorough review, where the first step would be a veto of Bill 19-1046, followed by a properly constituted working group to seek new common ground for a more productive CBE future.”

The Council hasn’t transmitted the bill to the mayor yet. When it does, Gray will have 10 days to decide what to do with it.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery