Is FDOT the MBE’s Economic Enemy?
The Gantt Report
Is FDOT the MBE’s Economic Enemy?
By Lucius Gantt
When Jennifer Carroll was Florida’s Lieutenant Governor she arranged for me to meet with Florida Department of Transportation engineers to talk about lighting.
I had just gotten into the LED lighting business and wanted to sell FDOT LED street lights to improve lighting on the Florida Turnpike and on other state roads.
My lights meet every FDOT LED standard including luminosity, color temperature, price and warranty. I even told FDOT engineers to compare my product with Sylvania, Cree, Westinghouse, General Electric and other lighting biggies.
After that meeting, you know what happened to Carroll. She quit and the FDOT split! I never heard a single word from FDOT since.
Today, many of Florida’s minority owned business owners are up in arms about the way FDOT is using “government magic” to keep qualified Black and other minority businesses from participating in purchasing contracts at the huge state agency with a budget of more than $9 billion.
What is FDOT doing about this entrepreneurial unrest? Well, FDOT doesn’t have much money to spend with Blacks but they have a ton of dollars to spend setting up a series of “listening sessions” across the state so business people can tell FDOT what DOT already knows…..it is difficult or impossible to get a business contract from FDOT.
In the two month statewide series of listening sessions, every other week for two months, FDOT will hold public meetings to “gauge the success and concerns from small business owners” throughout Florida in 5 different locations across the State.
FDOT buys all kinds of stuff like other agencies but they want you to think they only contract with road builders and bridge builders. Whatever they buy, there are some Black businesses that can sell it to them.
If you have something you can sell to FDOT, I encourage you to go to a session. You won’t get any business because FDPT will probably never send someone there that can immediately write a check or sign a purchase order. However, you will be able to voice your opinion and the Black press will be in some cities to report on what you said.
Over 150 professionals attended a recent “listening session” in the Tampa FDOT District 7. African-American business owners at the meeting provided comments on their FDOT interaction including disappointment with both the processes and the opportunities. Two prominent African-American organizations provided detailed comments of the experiences of African Americans dealing with FDOT.
Paul Curtis, past Public Relation Chair for Southeast, Region 3 of the National Society of Black Engineers and current member of the Transportation Research Board appointee (TRB), Disadvantage Business Enterprise DBE Committee and Joe Robinson, of the Tampa NAACP provided extensive and captivating comments.
Paul Curtis said, “The Agency’s failure to conduct an ethnic, race and gender Disparity Study for more than a decade, has injured African-American businesses and unjustly enriched other groups.”
Curtis also warned that a preliminary review demonstrates that the Agency may arbitrarily alter contractor’s selection criteria in FDOT projects from project-to-project and from district-to-district.
“This affects the outcome of the vendor selections. This allows some firms to get repeat no-bid contracts back-to-back, this is the exact opposite of what the federal law dealing with disadvantaged and minority businesses intended. I view this as the same thing as steering a certain contract to a certain firm. What FDOT is doing is the cousin of “bid-rigging”, Curtis said.
“The Agency has long known American (white) women are being over-utilized, perhaps at the expense of African-Americans and a proper remedy is long past due,” according to NAACP representative and attorney Joe Robinson. “NAACP legal teams are working on this matter and an appropriate legal action is forthcoming. Robinson produced documentation in support of his complaints, including a recent Georgia Disparity Study and procurement reports from the FDOT.”
Robinson’s documents reportedly demonstrated the dearth of African American utilization and Federal Rules from the Federal Highway Administration that demonstrate that Florida has the ability to solve specific under-utilization problems without Federal approval.
Now, even if you say you can compete with any company, FDOT, to get you to not bid on jobs, will tell you since you’re Black, you have to register as a DBE and become certified. They will guarantee you have to register but if you register they’ll give you no guarantee that you’ll get a contract.
I could go on and on about FDOT, MBEs and DBEs and the highly paid directors of state MBE offices but I won’t.
I encourage you to contact the FDOT and ask when the “listening session” is coming to a city near you. I know “sessions” will be coming up in Orlando, Jacksonville, Miami and in Tallahassee so contact FDOT to get more information.
Is the FDOT the MBEs economic enemy? Time will tell! (Buy Gantt’s latest book “Beast Too: Dead Man Writing” online or at a major bookstore. Contact Lucius at www.allworldconsultants.net).