The Inside View Suggests There is More Opportunity for MWBEs
It is time to evolve past traditional impediments and begin to focus on the benefits, merits, growth and possibilities that minority and women businesses offer to New York State.
State government needs are growing and becoming more diverse, the missions of state agencies are being redirected and adjusted in real-time, and partnerships between business and government are more essential than ever. In this environment, government must supplement traditional partnerships to avail itself of the growth, innovation and product offerings of minority and women owned businesses.
One of the traditional impediments for contracting with qualified minority and women owned businesses has been the way the state measures their value in the procurement process. Evaluation criteria in state contracting can be heavily weighted towards government experience, years in the business or previous work within NYS. While there is a relevance to the criteria, applying excessive weight and points in these areas is counter to the rapidly changing service needs of the state and the innovative aspects of “newer” businesses. Likely unwittingly, there appears to be a natural tendency for procurement professionals to favor familiarity and avoid risk.
Development of evaluation standards that recognize the full value of today’s busines market is vitally necessary. For the state to keep pace in an increasingly competitive business and service market, there must be attention and focus given to establish reasonable, realistic and consistent evaluation standards that relate to an expanded business market that targets inclusion.
New York State can and must evolve in a positive way. Criteria that target and capture important and beneficial skills in technology, health, infrastructure and socio-economic advancement must be identified and included in the procurement evaluation process – creating more options and new ideas for government procurement professionals.
New evaluation criteria that could be considered in a meaningful and standard format includes:
Diversity and Social responsibility
Community involvement, understanding, and unique local connections
A value of community progress other than just price
Creative looks at existing and new markets, community building and creative solutions that work
To be clear, the call is not to eliminate traditional evaluation criteria, but to adjust that criteria to more effectively reach the value propositions for NYS citizens, equity, social cohesion, government, and the modern business community we see today. Also, this is not meant to discount attempts to increase minority and women owned business utilization through contractor “Diversity Practices” or bidding credits in the area of construction.
Spending 30 years in state government has afforded me experience in most if not all aspects of the NYS Minority and Women Owned Busines Enterprise (MWBE) programing. Having viewed the program from the inside out through the optic of state funding, budgeting, control, procurement, implementation, negotiation and enforcement, I see its flaws. My experience also has involved sitting face to face with minority and women business owners to hear their perspective and understand the impediments to successful competition, as well as how they view their inclusion and how they assess the evaluations that they receive.
While the interest in creating opportunities clearly exists, the opportunity gap remains. Concerns about evaluation standards are not often presented or discussed at New York State’s key contracting entities. Evaluation review and standards development truly appear to be a blind spot in the implementation of the program.
Evaluation standards, left undeveloped and unchecked by the oversight government agencies within NYS, will result in opportunities missed for business growth and state government improvement. In procurement practice the state has become very comfortable and traditional methods preserve the status quo. Newer, broader views can illuminate unseen opportunity and frankly help avoid disadvantage and risk.
If a silver lining for government is possible, related to the pandemic, it is that it forced creativity in sourcing, purchasing and procurement in order to address needs in a timely way. This required officials to venture into markets outside of their traditional comfort zone. The pandemic forced flexibility where rigidity has dominated in the past. There is reason for optimism that contracting improvements and business partnerships demanded by the pandemic may have a lasting effect as we return to a sense of normalcy. It is time to adopt policies of pro-active inclusion and alternative weighting criteria for contractor selection. I for one will be working to present the value of minority and women owned business for our future.
Brian Matthews joined Brown & Weinraub following more than 30 years of experience in New York State Government throughout which he managed financial transactions and contracting. Most recently, Brian served as Chief Financial Officer for the Office of General Services (OGS) – the primary NYS government procurement and asset management entity. Brian similarly managed budgetary affairs and contracts at the Office of the New York State Comptroller where he was Director of the Bureau of Financial Administration with responsibilities including accounting for Unclaimed Funds. Brian started his career in public service at the NYS Division of Budget and has maintained a special interest in MWBE contracting.