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Mayor Vince Gray has tasked an agency director to review the city’s Certified Business Enterprise program, which is designed to give local businesses a leg up in winning city contracts but is frequently decried as a broken system.
Gray sent an undated letter to Department of Small and Local Business Development Director Harold Pettigrew telling him to conduct a “thorough review” of the program and report back to the mayor by early September. (A spokesman for Pettigrew says it was sent on July 3.)
“As you know, my plan to grow and diversify the District of economy and create jobs includes efforts to support and expand our local businesses,” Gray wrote. “One strategy to achieve these goais is to provide contracting preference for iocal businesses applying for contracts with the District government through the well-established Certified Business Enterprise (CBE) program.”
LL has noted on several occasions that the CBE program does not appear to be working toward its intended goals. In January, the Office of the Inspector General raised several questions about the CBE program in its report on the lottery contracting process. Specifically, the IG found that the city improperly decertified one would-be lottery contractor as a CBE, while wrongly certifying the firm of the eventual contract winner, a company whose chief financial officer worked out of an office in Burtonsville, Md.
More recently, federal investigators looking into the lottery contract have paid significant attention to the CBE certification of the companies involved, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
But Gray spokesman Pedro Riberio says the mayor’s request for a review of the CBE program is not tied to the lottery or the IG’s report. “This is an internal audit to see if the CBE program is actually helping District residents and District companies. It’s more in line with [LL’s] other piece about out-of-state companies trying to game the system.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery