Ohio seeks adjusted contract rules for minority companies

CLEVELAND (AP) — Ohio transportation officials are asking the federal government to adjust rules used to award highway design and construction contracts in hopes that it will give more work to minority-owned companies.

The state Department of Transportation’s request follows a study done by the department that found that while the state successfully awarded work to some groups of minority-owned companies, there were disparities among work awarded to companies owned by black, Hispanic and Asian-Pacific people, Cleveland.com reported (http://bit.ly/1Sucsms ).

“In programs like this you can oftentimes check the box so that you’re in compliance, but had you really gotten the results that were the intention of the program,” said Jerry Wray, the state’s transportation director. “We’re going to continue to be very proactive and aggressive to try to get better results.”

The state is seeking permission to use criteria similar to what was followed for awarding work for the Opportunity Corridor Project in Cleveland. The project had a goal of 20 percent participation in the work by minority business enterprises and followed Cleveland hiring rules that require 20 percent of the work be done by city residents.

It wants to tailor the scoring system for federally funded projects to reward contractors who can target work to minority subcontractors. Federal guidelines don’t currently allow dividing work based on specific minority categories.

Ohio already meets the federal minority guidelines for its highway work. Adjusting the rules would allow the state to better target minority groups in the state.

It has several outreach programs geared toward getting companies that qualify as disadvantaged enterprises preapproved for work. That allows them to bid immediately when jobs become available.

The state submitted a similar waiver request in 2014 that went unanswered. It’s hoping that the results of the disparity study will help pave the way for the new request.