University of Pittsburgh
June 13, 2006

Pitt's Center on Race and Social Problems to Study Local Government Contracts With Minority Businesses

National foundations provide $200,000 for researchers to study governments in other large urban areas and compare with local data

Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH-On the heels of their research showing that local minority business enterprises (MBEs) have been squeezed out of the bidding for local government contracts, Pitt researchers Ralph Bangs and Audrey Murrell have received a national grant that will allow them to study the process in cities similar to Pittsburgh, compare figures, and suggest changes in the way projects are awarded.

Through Pitt's Center on Race and Social Problems (CRSP), part of the School of Social Work, Bangs and Murrell have looked closely at every City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County prime contract of more than $25,000 during the first four months of 2004. They determined local MBEs received just three percent of the prime contracts and two percent of the prime contract dollars.

While the MBEs were successful in the contracts they did bid on, they bid on very few, claiming they lacked information on opportunities, lacked contacts, and believed that discriminatory practices made bidding pointless. Many MBE firms said bid specifications were inaccurate, opportunities were announced too late, and calls were not returned.

Now, armed with $200,000 from the Ford Foundation-initiated Fulfilling the Dream Fund, Bangs and Murrell will expand their research to include city and county governments and school districts in two cities similar in demographics to Pittsburgh-possibly Boston and Chicago. Government leaders as well as owners of 40 to 60 minority- and women-owned businesses will be interviewed in both cities, and actions by those cities' governments will be compared to those of this region's.

"We believe discriminatory actions on the part of the local governments prevent these firms from bidding," said Murrell, associate professor of business administration in Pitt's Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. "The bidding is blocked. The under-utilization of the firms is a form of discrimination."

With assistance from strong community and legal partners, Bangs and Murrell hope to work with the government leaders to increase their understanding of discriminatory barriers and to encourage adoption of affirmative action programs.

"Stopping discriminatory practices will enable qualified minority- and women-owned firms to win millions of dollars worth of new contracts in each urban area. This will increase the size and number of these businesses, increase jobs for minority and women workers, and improve economic conditions for inner city families and neighborhoods," said Bangs, associate director of CRSP.

Economic disparities is just one area of research in CRSP, which also looks at educational disparities, interracial group relations, mental health, youth, families, the elderly, and criminal justice.

The Fulfilling the Dream Fund represents a conscious and deliberate effort to dismantle the structures of racial and gender inequality and assist institutions to become more inclusive and democratic.