For at least two years, Travis County, Texas, officials have fallen far short of long-held goals in hiring minority-owned firms for work such as construction, food vending and janitorial services, an American-Statesman analysis of county records shows.
Officials tapped into only a fraction of available services operated by Hispanics, blacks, women and other minorities in 2010 and 2011 -- nearly 20 years after adopting a policy to hire more companies operated by those groups.
Last year, for instance, the county had a goal of hiring construction firms owned by minorities other than women for 13.7 percent of construction work. Instead, it employed them for just 4.3 percent.
Officials also had a goal of hiring companies owned by women for 13.8 percent of construction work, but employed them for only 3.6 percent.
The county over the years has taken far fewer steps than the city of Austin to ensure the success of its minority hiring program. Austin adopted its program more than two decades ago and has since invested millions into the effort. The city has met some of its goals in recent years, although it continues to struggle in certain areas.
The Statesman also found that, unlike their counterparts at the city, county leaders have never sought an outside study into whether minority businesses have experienced historical race or gender discrimination in the county's contracting process.
Such a study, which could cost as much as $1 million, could lead to more minority hires by giving the county more leverage in weeding out large contract bidders who don't hire enough minority subcontractors.
"I'm not disappointed in our staff," Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt said. "I think they have worked their tails off to get what we have gotten. But I am disappointed that we have not reached our goals. In the county, as an organization, we sometimes move slower than we ought to."
Commissioners push for more minority hiring
Despite years of on-again, off-again interest, the issue has begun building momentum among several county officials. Eckhardt in recent weeks has begun working with Commissioner Ron Davis to study what the county can -- and should -- do to attract and hire more minority businesses.
Eckhardt said in an interview last week that she thinks broader use of such firms for government work could help create more successful minority- and women-owned businesses -- and an economy with an equal playing field for all.
This month, Davis and Eckhardt conducted a lengthy, specially called meeting among county officials who presented city and county data about the success and costs of their programs.
The comparisons looked at the number of minority firms the two governments had hired for construction jobs, commodities (such as food and office supply companies), services (such as pest control and lawn care) and professional services (such as engineering and architecture design).
Last year, the county had a goal of hiring minority firms for 13.7 percent of construction work, but did so only 4.3 percent of the time -- an improvement of 2.5 percentage points from 2010.
The county also fell far short of its goal of hiring minority companies for 14.1 percent of services and 15.8 percent for professional services. The county last year hired minority companies for 2.2 percent of professional services contracts and 3.8 percent for other services.
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