The state’s public universities were raked over the coals Tuesday for failing to meet minority recruitment goals in awarding contracts, and state senators are looking for accountability.
Senators on the Special Committee on Supplier Diversity met for the first time in Chicago to review how well Illinois’ public universities were doing in reaching the goal of awarding 20 percent of their contracts to minority-, women- and disabled-owned business.
“I saw that the public universities had fallen woefully short,” said state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago.
A Central Management Services Business Enterprise Program annual report for fiscal 2017 shows the University of Illinois awarding 5.5 percent of eligible contracts to minority- or women-owned businesses. Northern Illinois University had 2.3 percent. Eastern Illinois Universities was as low as 2.1 percent. Southern Illinois University was at 3.8 percent. Illinois State University at 4.4 percent. Western Illinois University was 19.8 percent.
“Some universities were doing a great job and some universities were just doing a … poor job,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval praised Northeasten Illinois University, which exceeded the goal by scoring 21 percent. Northeastern officials said at the end of a more than four-hour hearing they got that way by working in tandem with various minority business associations and trade groups.
Governors State University scored 23.9 percent.
Chicago State University was noncompliant, not filing anything. CSU President Zaldwaynaka ‘Z’ Scott, who’s only been on the job for about a month, said she’s in the process of working with a task force to address the issue, but she doesn’t have any procurement staff.
State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said there are a variety of issues at play from funding to availability, to regional difference, and even entrance.
“There are people who would qualify, or entities that would qualify as vendors underneath this program who have trouble getting into the program and getting onto the list,” Righter said.
“We have one contract that would well put us within that goal, over 50 percent, however it is a contract with a minority business that is not BEP-certified,” Scott said.
She said they’re plan is to work with future contractors to get them certified through the program, which requires the business to be at least 51 percent minority, women, or designated disabled owned.
State Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, said universities will go out and find the most talented minority athletes for their sports teams, but not for contracts.
“It bothers me when it comes to redistribution of the wealth and giving others the opportunity, we find excuses,” Clayborne said.
Other senators decried a large number of caucasian women-owned businesses getting contracts.
“It’s an excuse when we say ‘our BEP program is doing so much better and look how all of our percentages have increases and we’re helping minorities,’ and then when you look at the category it’s all caucasian women,” said Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood. “I think the disparity there is huge. I think the outreach efforts are minimal and I think you’re not doing a good job in identifying African American and Latino business owners.”
Central Management Services’ Ben Jones oversees the Business Enterprise Program meant to facilitate qualified vendors.
“There are things that we can do better and taking more initiative to reduce some of the exemptions is something that I think is really important,” Jones said.
Some of the exemptions include payroll, which can make up 80 percent of a budget. Other exemptions include health benefits, artistic services, most purchases of care contracts, and Lottery payments.
While several lawmakers said there’s not enough accountability, Eastern Illinois University President David Glassman, whose campus had 2.1 percent of its eligible contracts as minority and women-owned, said lawmakers need to intervene.
“If the state wants preference or weight to be given to BEP vendors even when they are not the lowest responsible bidders, then changes need to be made to the procurement code to reflect such a policy preference,” Glassman said.
Senators will meet again on the same topic next month.