Lawmakers file discrimination complaint against ODOT

Senators Constance N. Johnson, Judy Eason McIntyre and other members of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus announced at the state Capitol on Wednesday that the group has filed a complaint of discrimination against the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. 

The group’s letter to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation cites substantial evidence of past and continuing discrimination against racial and ethnic minority owned, and socially and economically disadvantaged businesses and contractors. 

Johnson said ODOT has awarded no bids to black contractors in the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program since October, 2007.

“It is incumbent upon the Department of Transportation to remove barriers to minority participation in the contracting process, and the agency has simply failed in this regard,” said Johnson, D-Oklahoma City.  “The agency lacks an effective, enforceable non-discrimination program.  In order to genuinely level the playing field, ODOT must make a firm commitment to utilizing minority businesses.”

Johnson said the lawmakers have requested that all federal funding targeted for public sector projects in Oklahoma be withheld until either a disparity study is completed, or an independent body is appointed to oversee ODOT’s selection and contract awards processes. 

“ODOT’s contracting process has long been dominated by a business-as-usual attitude, which makes it difficult for minority businesses to successfully participate,” Johnson said.  “It’s time for us to establish accountability for what has been a continuing pattern of failure on the part of ODOT to utilize minority contractors.  The agency must ensure fairness in the process by researching and adopting measures to improve minority access in contracting.”

Rep. Shumate said he hoped the lawmakers and ODOT could reach common ground on the issue.

“I am disappointed with the lack of transparency in ODOT’s process for awarding contracts,” said Shumate, D-Tulsa.  “It is my hope that we can find common ground on this issue and ultimately develop a system that meets compliance standards.”