By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
AFRO Political Writer,
The deadline for Maryland’s 70 state agencies to submit reports on procurement activity and their progress toward meeting Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) goals is quickly approaching.
Back in February, Governor Wes Moore signed an executive order giving MBE-affiliated agencies 60 days to disclose their progress in meeting Maryland’s MBE procurement goal of 29 percent—a target that has not been hit in over a decade.
“The State’s consistent failure to meet its MBE goal has impacted the success and wealth of Black Marylanders for decades. Gov. Moore demonstrated his commitment to overhauling the MBE program with his executive order earlier this year,” said Chairwoman Jheanelle Wilkins, of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland.
“We’re looking forward to reviewing the forthcoming agency MBE reports and look forward to working with the governor and Black business leaders to ensure that MBE goals are met and exceeded by all state agencies.”
Moore said he knows these reports will not yield a complete plan, but they will determine a baseline for the utilization of the state’s MBE program. He also seeks to make it clear that his administration will hold state agencies accountable when it comes to the state’s procurement goal.
“I’m going into it with an understanding that regardless of what we get back, the plan is not going to be complete,” said Moore. “If the plan was complete, we wouldn’t have the problems that we have.”
Moore said that the executive order signed in February was meant to get new secretaries and all agencies responsible for upholding the state’s MBE goals are on the same page.
“They are going to be held accountable for ensuring that we have a measure of collaboration, coordination and confidence to be able to hit those plans. Part of what we’re identifying here is what are some of the best practices, and what does that look like?”
After examining each agency’s plan, the Moore administration will be able to determine which agencies are currently reaching MBE goals and then use their tactics on a larger scale with other state agencies.
Moore said if his administration cannot determine best practices for MBE procurement in any of the agencies here in the state of Maryland, then he will look to other state’s MBE programs for guidance.
A 2022 report from the Maryland General Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services found that the greatest barrier to participation in the MBE program is that contracts are too large for minority businesses to successfully manage. Because they are not broken up into smaller projects, minority businesses, which tend to have less employees and access to capital, do not have the means to execute them.
In turn, Moore said his administration plans to support minority contractors with capacity building to help them compete for prime contracts.
But, he also said capacity problems do not excuse the agencies that year-after-year request state waivers that void contractor’s MBE obligations.
“Part of the issue that I have with this free waiver process is that the state of Maryland seems to continue to lean on is it allows this idea of a ‘good faith effort’ being enough for contracts to be able to move on without the measure of participatory economics that I think is important,” said Moore.
“We are going to do some capacity building, and we are going to make sure that the folks who are doing the work are actually being lifted up, so people know the options that they can choose from. I also want to get rid of the myth of ‘well, we made a good faith effort,’ and figuring that’s enough for contracts to go forward.”
Megan Sayles and Tashi McQueen are Report For America Corps Members