Monday, June 04, 2007

"Fixing" Disparate Outcomes?

The Tennessean reports that a new study shows that contractors owned by women and minorities receive a disproportionately small percentage of Metro Nashville business. Rodney Strong, an attorney with the consultant that performed the study, alleges that such businesses face "extraordinary, if not discriminatory barriers," according to the report.

One can hope that the study elaborates on that serious charge. If so, the news account does not report it. The story does mention a criticism that the procurement board is permitted to consider "subjective criteria" such as "relevant experience," but one would think that relevant experience is a rather important concern when awarding contracts, though it can also be acknowledged that such a criterion could provide an outlet for someone wishing to award a contract to a favored bidder.

Nonetheless, as a result of the lack of elaboration, at this point it is unknown whether the disparate outcomes result from any real discrimination or whether they result from a fair competitive bidding process that awards contracts to the best bids. Different outcomes alone do not prove discrimination.

Thus, it is disconcerting to see various persons interviewed for the story providing knee-jerk assurances that the process must be changed. Metro councilman Brenda Gilmore is quoted as saying, ""I don't know how many studies can be done before somebody in leadership, somebody at the top, says this has to be fixed."

The term "fixed" is problematic, as it has more than one meaning. Perhaps, Ms. Gilmore has more knowledge of what the barriers are and is suggesting they be remedied. Or, perhaps she has something else in mind. One recalls that the 1919 World Series was fixed, too.

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