Houston Affirmative Action Program Goal Questioned

Thursday, 19 Apr 2012 11:58 AM

By Robert Engler

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A new report on the impact of Houston’s affirmative action contracting program suggests it may be doing more harm than good for the women- and minority-owned businesses it is intended to help, says a city attorney.
The 300-page report on the program, which has been in place for 28 years, examined its results over a five-year period from 2005 to 2010, the Houston Chronicle reported on Wednesday.

City Attorney David Feldman said the report indicates the regulations may be hurting businesses owned by blacks, Asians, and women.

“These firms have received fewer city contracting dollars than would be expected if our commercial markets operated in a purely race-neutral manner,” Feldman told the City Council during a discussion of the report’s findings.

According to the Chronicle, the program is intended to steer 22 percent of the Houston construction budget to target businesses and requires prime contractors to hire minority-owned subcontractors to reach that quota. Prime contractors that fall short of the hiring goals can be disqualified from future city business.

The report found target businesses that have trouble getting start-up loans or money to expand may be one reason why they are not getting more city contracts.

It also contained anecdotal complaints from subcontractors about harassment on the job, doubts about their competence, and exclusion from industry networks.

“I think a lot of it is a comfort level with particular departments in the city working with people who have just traditionally worked for them. I don’t think there’s any racial animus behind it,” said Councilman Larry Green, who heads a nonprofit organization that does job training and placement.

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