BOWIE – Closing loopholes that keep small and minority-owned businesses from securing government contracts needs to be a priority as billions of dollars are spent on the base realignment process, Maryland’s minority affairs secretary said Tuesday.
Luwanda W. Jenkins, special secretary for the Maryland Office of Minority Affairs, told Gov. Martin O’Malley’s base realignment sub-cabinet that efforts are already underway to ensure small businesses are not left out as base realignment construction and services are planned.
“This is where we really need to make sure that small and minority businesses have a place at the table,” Jenkins said. “We need to be making sure these things happen, and that loopholes that prevent it are closed.”
The comments came at a sub-cabinet meeting held at Bowie State University, and followed a hearing held on federal contracts at the university a day earlier by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.
In that hearing, Cardin said he and other members of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship were considering legislation that would open doors for small business to benefit from base realignment, according to his prepared statement.
Cardin and Jenkins both focused on “contract bundling,” a practice that allows smaller contracts, which small businesses could compete for, to be combined and awarded to larger corporations.
Jenkins said several programs are already in place to help in Maryland, which has the most minority-owned businesses per capita in the country. Maryland’s Minority Business Enterprise law, for example, calls for 25 percent of all state contracts to go to small and minority-owned businesses.
But Jenkins said the state has no control over federal contracts, which are awarded through the federal Small Business Administration.
Cardin said base realignment in Maryland is an excellent opportunity for the federal government to change the way it does business with small businesses.
“Our region is uniquely poised to benefit from the billions of dollars that will be deposited here in the form of construction, service and product procurement contracts that will fuel BRAC’s expansion,” he said. “This reality will provide an excellent opportunity for the Defense Department and the military services to reach out and work with the various chambers within Maryland and the region.”
Immediate reaction to Jenkins’ comments was mostly muted Tuesday.
Jim Estepp, president of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable, said he would like to see base realignment near Andrew Air Force Base result in more small businesses from Maryland getting work, rather than contractors from Northern Virginia.
“When you have a secure base, you shouldn’t have contractors who are two and three hours away being called on to fix things when you need good response times,” he said. “That’s a paradigm we’d like to see shifted.”
The sub-cabinet meeting coincided with the release of a 74-page report by Prince George’s County assessing its readiness for base realignment. It said the county will be able to accept the 15,000 new public and private jobs expected mostly around Andrews Air Force Base by 2020 if public transportation and highways are improved. -30- CNS-10