It was disappointing to read Mike Salsgiver's recent opinion piece in the Daily Journal of Commerce and see Oregon's executive director of the Associated General Contractors take such a narrow view of the inclusion of minority-owned, women-owned and emerging small businesses in public construction projects. As a leading regional voice in our industry, Mr. Salsgiver has an important role to play in stimulating DBE participation on these projects. I'd like to see him do a better job.
When Mr. Salsgiver says that "creating a strong, fair and effective program remains a challenge for all involved, mostly due to underperformance," it is unclear if he's referring to the underperformance of the regulatory programs now in place – or to the work of the DBE firms themselves. If it's the latter, there are a number of successful DBE firms that have been in business for more than ten years. I can provide him with a list. How can we explain that these firms are still doing business if they are “underperforming?” By federal definition, DBE firms are historically underutilized. Failure to utilize high-performing minority and women contractors is the problem.
When Mr. Salsgiver says that "reality doesn't reflect theory" about the "availability of DBEs ... to participate on ODOT’s federally-funded contracts” and asks "what contractors are supposed to do when there is a lack of available DBE-certified firms," he fails to recognize that it is the mission of organizations that do disparity studies to be neutral and that their conclusions are based on data and facts – not theory. Mr. Salzgiver's assumptions about minority and women contractors would seem to be the only thing based on theory. There is not a lack of DBE certified firms in Oregon. Proving this is why we pay professionals to perform disparity studies. It is the failure of contractor’s to hire DBE firms that make disparity and historic under-utilization a fact.
However, the most disappointing statement in Mr. Salsgiver's piece is when he claims that "cultural differences and lack of skills and technical education dampen (the) success" of DBE participation.
That is not accurate and it borders on being offensive. A journeyman is a journeyman and we all pass the same tests. There are no "cultural" skills that apply to one race and not to another.
When Mr. Salsgiver suggests that "a follow-up goal should be to remove the distinction between contractors and DBEs," he fails to acknowledge that the goals exist because there are those who believe that women and minority firms don’t exist.
Citing imagined “lack of availability" and "cultural differences” is unacceptable. I believe that it would be a better world if we didn't need inclusion goals, but I also believe that it would be a better world if we didn't have racism, sexism, discrimination and bigotry.
I strongly encourage all community stakeholders who care about inclusion and equity to read Mr. Salsgiver's disappointing DJC opinion piece and respond appropriately in the comments section.