Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Howard County Contracts, Favoritism, and Blowback

Amanda Yeager with the Howard County Times wrote about the Transition Team Report submitted to County Executive Kittleman last week, which may be found online here.  At one point I thought I knew most of the people on the Transition Team, but considering the article cites 133 members, I was likely mistaken on that count.  Either way, I know most of the Transition Team leadership and appreciate the comments included in the Times piece.

While I have not yet had an opportunity to fully review and digest the entire report, one recommendation stuck out at me and has me concerned:
The present way in which County funds are spent on contracts within the Office of Purchasing should be re-evaluated. Currently, there is a 10% set aside requirement for the Equal Business Opportunity Program (for women, minority and disabled-owned businesses). It is recommended that this percentage be increased to 25% over three years, and that veteran-owned businesses be added. It is further recommended that the percentage of contracts that go to County businesses be increased. Currently, only 119 of 649 contracts go to Howard County based businesses.
I have no doubt that this recommendation was well thought-through and will be refined in application (should the County Executive accept it), but wanted to raise an issue of caution.  Government contracting, at all levels, is a difficult business.  It is very competitive and often cut-throat.  Even more concerning is the overlap between instances of government corruption and the distribution of municipal contracts.  You rarely see one without the other.

But even putting all that aside, little of which is implicated by the recommendation, we need to remember that our county contractors work across the state in other jurisdictions that likely prize their home-base contractors over those from other counties.  We can expect any favoritism for local contractors to be reciprocated in neighboring counties, most of which have a higher volume of work than Howard County.  If Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Montgomery, or Prince George's started putting up barriers to entry or preference for local contractors in excess of what may already be in existence, local contractors will suffer.

I admittedly make this comment from a position of ignorance.  I don't know what favoritism is being dished out in those counties.  But I do know that the Columbia Association considered a similar policy three years ago and we were advised by local contractors that the long-term outcome would not be favorable for them.

That's all for today.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!