The testimony was one-sided this morning in favor of a bill that would require the troubled Office of Minority and Women Business Enterprises to sanction registered contractors that abuse the rules. House Bill 1674 was heard in the House Technology and Economic Development Committee where numerous contractors said reform is long overdue to crack down on cheaters.
The OMWBE certifies contractors as minority or women owned, which enables them to bid for work usually as subcontractors on public works projects – a large share of them through the Department of Transportation. Federal law requires that historically disadvantaged businesses, or DBEs, get a share of the work.
“People who cheat the DBE program hurt everyone. It’s a domino effect,’’ said Elton Mason, owner of Washington State Trucking in Kirkland, a minority-owned business that is certified.
The bill would create a unit inside OMWBE to look for and investigate fraud – and a fiscal report indicates the cost of the bill could be $570,000 per biennium.
TVW carried the hearing here.
Jim Medina, an Olympia resident who said he helped write the OMWBE statutes and later served as its director for a decade, had mixed feelings about the legislation, although he supports it. He called it a shame that a law was needed to ensure prosecutions or action against those who violate rules to ensure that qualifying firms really are owned by minorities.
KING-5 television aired reports last year noting there was mismanagement of the agency and fraud in the program. Former Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office said late last year the FBI was investigating.
Gregoire also installed a new director who reported last month that his staff was erasing a backlog of certifications.
Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Anacortes, chairs the committee but did not indicate when he might bring the bill to a vote.