During former Mayor Marion Barry’s term in office, Barry instituted a program known as The Certified Small Business Program. Born out of the city’s old minority set-asides, the program sought to help black-owned businesses enter into city contracting and the construction business, long dominated by white firms. Now more than two decades after it was instituted District council officials are calling for reform of the program, citing the preferential treatment the program gives to small businesses.
The program gives preference to the small fraction of D.C.-based companies that sign up to be CBEs when bidding on city contracts. Companies can accrue points depending on where they are located in the city. The city also requires that publicly assisted construction projects employ a certain percentage of subcontractors who are registered as CBEs
Councilmember At-Large Vincent Orange introduced legislation early in 2012 that would expand opportunities for small and local businesses to grow within the District by adding clarity to the District’s small business laws. In the fall his bill passed.
His bill clarified the original intent of the law, which aimed at giving bid preferences to certified small business enterprises; and if there are no adequate certified small business enterprises then the preference shall go to a certified business enterprise. This measure gives the mayor the power to suspend and debar contractors and developers who are consistently in violation of this law.