A Flawed Study 

Recent report of racial disparity in Oakland contracting has fatal defects.

Full Disclosure already reported that a much-hyped study claiming black contractors were shut out of Oakland city contracts was based on dubious numbers ( "Numbers Game," 5/30). But a closer look reveals that the study is even more flawed than we'd realized. In fact, the $550,000 study, conducted by politically connected black businesswoman Eleanor Ramsey and her firm Mason Tillman Associates, contains an analytical error so egregious as to render its conclusions meaningless.

The firm's report claims a huge disparity between the number of construction and professional services contracts awarded to black businesses by the city of Oakland from 2002 to 2005, and the number of such businesses "willing and able" to do the work. At a public hearing last month, Ramsey claimed that the disparities were so wide they could not have been accidental. For example, she found that 14.7 percent of professional services companies in Oakland are black, yet during those years black companies received just 2 percent of professional services contracts valued at less than $500,000.

Last week, we noted that Ramsey's pool of "willing and able" black contractors included a large number who hadn't previously shown any interest in bidding on city contracts. Now comes this inconvenient fact, buried deep within the two-hundred-plus-page report: Oakland routinely awards more than half of its professional services contracts to out-of-town businesses — 53.3 percent, according to the study.

This is pivotal, because it means black companies do not, in fact, make up 14.7 percent of the professional services companies vying for contracts. So what is the true percentage of black-owned professional services companies? The only way to know that is to look at the ethnicity of all such contractors in the region. The report is silent on the issue because Ramsey's firm did not examine businesses outside Oakland. The study, in other words, cannot say with certainty if there was any racial disparity at all.


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