Letter of Transmittal

Pennsylvania Advisory Committee to
the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Members of the Commission
Mary Frances Berry, Chairperson
Cruz Reynoso, Vice Chairperson
Jennifer C. Braceras
Christopher Edley, Jr.
Peter N. Kirsanow
Elsie Meeks
Abigail Thernstrom

Les Jin, Staff Director

The Pennsylvania Advisory Committee submits this report, Barriers Facing Minority- and Women-Owned Businesses in Pennsylvania, as part of its responsibility to advise the Commission on civil rights issues in the commonwealth. The Committee approved this report in a vote of 10 to 0, with no abstentions.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Croson and Adarand decisions resulted in the dismantling—either voluntarily or by court order—of state and local government-sponsored minority and women business enterprise programs. Many viewed these programs that used race and gender as factors in awarding contracts as ways to ensure a fair distribution of business opportunities to minority- and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs). Against this changing landscape, the Advisory Committee received allegations that M/WBEs continue to encounter practices in Pennsylvania that impede their ability to compete for and carry out contracts successfully. The Committee became concerned that commitments by public leaders for an increased share of business opportunities for M/WBEs would weaken, and that in the absence of remedial or substitute efforts, discriminatory practices would continue.

To address these concerns, the Committee held a one-day forum in January 1999 in Philadelphia with M/WBE owners, government officials, community leaders, and representatives from large prime contractors. To supplement the forum, the Committee reviewed data on M/WBE participation rates in state and local contracting, literature on barriers M/WBEs encounter, and the structure and operation of state and local monitoring agencies. It also held meetings with Philadelphia agency representatives to follow-up on the city’s progress in revising its M/WBE program. Staff also closely monitored allegations of fraud and mismanagement in large-scale projects in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for their adverse impact on M/WBE utilization. This report is based on information gathered from the forum and these subsequent follow-up efforts.

Extending the Advisory Committee’s longstanding interest in fair employment and equal economic opportunity, this report assesses barriers M/WBE owners face and comes to the following conclusions:

The overall tenor, as well as some specific findings in this report, is corroborated by a recently released audit by the Pennsylvania auditor general and a policy report by Philadelphia Councilman Angel Ortiz.

The Committee believes this report will help the general public better understand the barriers M/WBEs face and how established bureaucratic structures could be improved to remedy these barriers. The Committee also hopes its identification and analysis of barriers and ameliorative recommendations will be of value to state and local officials as well as trade and community organizations in their work to enhance M/WBE opportunities, and thereby improve the overall economic vitality within their respective jurisdictions.


Mrs. Sieglinde A. Shapiro, Chairperson
Pennsylvania Advisory Committee