Local Businesses Shortchanged by More than $100 Million

Talib I. Karim | 12/22/2011, 2:26 p.m.

Harold Pettigrew Jr., Mayor Gray's newly confirmed director of the Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD), acknowledged the setbacks to local small business spending under both the Fenty and Gray administrations. Pettigrew, who worked for both Fenty and Gray administrations, explained the recent decline in spending on CSBEs was chiefly due to a spending freeze established at the start of Mayor Gray's term as well as the lack of compliance staff in his office. In years past, CSBE spending compliance was overseen by a team of five. Due to budget cuts, this job is now being performed by a single staffer. Pettigrew points to his move in placing CSBE contracting compliance under his direct supervision and the creation of a new compliance system established jointly by his office and that of D.C. Auditor Branche as the tools needed to help turn around the District's low level of local small businesses contracting.

"With the new system, we have much greater control of the process, and can avoid many of the mistakes made in previous fiscal years," Pettigrew said.

Adrienne Smoot, of AVSmoot LLC, a CSBE specializing in painting and historic restoration, is optimistic about what she hears from Mayor Gray's team. However, Smoot urges that an updated database of qualified small business should be given to each District agency along with the mandate to spend more money with CSBEs, right away. Moreover, Smoot recommends the District make some structural changes to ensure local small businesses can compete with larger contractors.

"It would be nice if D.C. government would find a way to create a bonding program for its CBEs," said Smoot.

In the months ahead, Smoot is hopeful the council and mayor "can establish an environment in which CBEs can get the bonding needed and increased contracts from D.C. agencies, and then we can meet the District's goals of employing the unemployed unskilled worker."