Government
4:34 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

Controller Finds Pittsburgh’s Equal Opportunity Review Commission Failing in its Mission

In the first audit of the agency that “assists Minority Business Enterprise/Women Business Enterprise (MBE/WBE) with prime contracting opportunities,” city Controller Michael Lamb found it is not living up its mission. The Equal Opportunity Review Commission (EORC) is required by law to produce an annual report and three quarterly reports.

“What they are reporting out isn’t so much what we would think they should be reporting out,” said Lamb, “what they should be reporting out is what is the actual participation of minority business enterprises and women business enterprises. In fact what they are reporting out is a statement of the contracts they have reviewed.”

That’s a problem because, Lamb said, while contacts get approved, they don’t always perform the way they were awarded. For example, the city or authority can award a contract for a specific amount of money, with a portion promised to a minority or women owned business. That’s what they report.

“But what you find when the contract is actually performed, is that while the contract was not to exceed $2 million maybe the actual performance was for a million dollars. Maybe that million dollars was spent and none of it went to a women or minority-owned business. We’re not measuring that, nor are we enforcing the policy objective in those contract situations,” said Lamb.

Another issue found by the audit is the EORC not conducting a disparity study since 2004, though one is required every five years to set contract goals for minority and women-owned businesses.

The 11 member group is appointed by the Mayor, its charge is to review professional service contracts over $25,000 and construction and development contracts over $200,000 for minority business participation.

“The EORC has agreed with our findings and they’re going to do what they can to correct this,” he said, “the fact of the matter is these kind of failures come from a failure of leadership at the top. When there is not a commitment to these kind of programs, you’re not going to get the result that the stated policy objective is intending.”

Lamb said that leadership needs to come from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. He said he has talked to City Councilman Ricky Burgess, who has convened a committee to look at the ordinance that governs the commission and beef it up where necessary.

“But also push for greater enforcement for these contracts and a greater commitment to these policies. That group has already met and I intend to attend their next meeting. So there are changes that are about to take place, which is a very good thing,” he said.

Lamb said if this continues, contracts could be awarded and then never followed through on for minority and women-owned businesses, and the reporting will continue to be lacking. But, he said, through more transparency of the contracts, the problems will likely start to fix themselves.

The mayor’s office responded by saying the controller is trying to use his reports to help his political career. 

“He’s waiting until he thinks he can get the best news headlines to release these audits,” said mayoral spokesperson Joanna Doven.  “That’s very unfortunate that he is using his taxpayer paid position to benefit politically.”  Lamb has been widely rumored to be planning another run for the Mayors office.

Doven said when the mayor’s office learned about the reports and possible inaccuracies three weeks ago he directed it to be fixed.  Legislation has been sent to city council to tighten the language on the reporting rules and other changes have already been made.

“Unfortunately Lamb is missing the boat when it comes to the major issue and that is diversity.  Is the city more diverse today than it was six years ago… The answer is yes,” said Doven.

Doven thinks Controller Lamb should be pointing his finger at himself.  She notes that checks to contractors are issued by the controller’s office and the commission gets its numbers from the controller’s office.  Doven said the auditors in that office should be the ones who know where the funds are going. 

“In talking to the EORC manager, the controllers office is not accurate in giving them information.  Oftentimes information has been delayed or inaccurate,” said Doven.