Public Works: A Primer

Nearly every construction contractor reading this column has more than a passing familiarity with the terms public works and prevailing wages. The two go hand in hand and it has been that way since the federal government instituted its Davis Bacon Act and, later, the Davis Bacon & Related Acts, in the late 1930s. In fact, the more seasoned contractors call California’s prevailing wage laws Baby Davis Bacon or Little Davis Bacon.

As seems typical of efforts mangled with the imprimatur of “the government,” public works contracting can be as simple an endeavor as “pushing a car uphill with a rope” (to paraphrase late comedienne Moms Mabley opining on another subject).

Indeed, Lloyd Aubry, Jr., then director of the state’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), wrote in 1992, “California’s prevailing wage laws represent a complicated system for ensuring that the ability to obtain a public works contract is not based on paying lower wage rates than a competitor. Under the law, all bidders are expected to use the same wage rates. However, implementation and enforcement of these laws is complex...”

From the perspective of a contractor, and I have been one, the very thought of executing an aleatory contract is painful beyond imagining. Many contractors, particularly the small and micro contractors, “just seek a day’s wages for a day’s work,” as my dad, Raymond Cooks Sr., often put it.

Raymond Cooks Sr. (1931 - 2000)

Dad, who left his beloved Marine Corps in Oceanside, Calif. to settle in Oakland, worked for the venerable, Berkeley-based Malott & Peterson Roofing Company. A collective bargaining agreement with wage rates that mirrored – or, more likely, the reverse – the state’s prevailing wage determination for his craft, set dad’s wage rate.

Fixed wage rates settled one of the uncertainties attendant to construction bidding. With the wages essentially predetermined for all bidders, the successful bidders became those with sharper pencils, more modest profit requirements, creative deployment strategies, or superior process efficiencies in place – or some combination thereof.

Of course, some bidders became successful by skirting prevailing wage requirements, effectively breaking the law. These errant contractors enjoyed an unfair business advantage over the compliant contractors. The evidence argues that compliant contractors number in the majority, most certainly. That brings us to one of the purposes of this column.

Over the coming weeks, we expect to demystify, as much as that is possible, the prevailing wage statutes influencing most publicly funded construction contracts in the state. We shall commence by vetting the functional definition of a public work in its most practical terms, that is, how it applies to contractors.

We expect to profile some of the “go to” labor standards enforcement folks statewide, within the enforcement agencies, awarding bodies, trades, and trusts.

With the growth of electronic certified payroll report collection and validation, new problems and conventions developed. DIR is discussing the effect presently. That will inform our discussions, too.

Many school districts and special districts, e.g., transit and water districts, maintain formal labor compliance programs as a funding requirement (tied to bonds, usually). There are many surprises for contractors within and we will spend time with them.

Consider this: an awarding body operating under an approved labor compliance program “shall withhold contract payments when payroll records are delinquent or inadequate.” Ref. Labor Code §1771.5(b)(5). It does not mean that the awarding body may withhold a portion of a progress payment it means the awarding body shall withhold the entire progress payment. Brrrrrr.

Our endeavor is to cover as much public works ground as we can, as systematically as we can. If questions emerge along the way, drop us a line. Legal advice in these matters comes from attorneys, either yours or those employed by the state. I am not an attorney but an investigator, thus I offer no legal advice (no, I won’t even guess). Likewise, this column proffers no such conceit.

What we will do is research and cite the code, refer questions to those at DIR whose duty it is to respond, and wax profoundly on industry practices versus lexical promises. And we will keep you abreast of developments that may affect the construction of your bids. After all, the bottom line is the thing.

My dad believed that knowledge is the basis of power. One of my historical influences, Dr. Huey P. Newton, defined power as “the ability to define phenomena and make it act in a desired manner.”

By understanding the mechanics of public works better, opportunities to manipulate it legally to your advantage increase.

© 2008 Peter Mack Media

The Initialisms of Competitive Advantage

The business tactic of honing and maintaining a competitive edge is as important to those companies doing business with government agencies as it is in the private sector. In many ways, it is even more critical now , particularly as the overall economy continues its slump and dollars tighten across the board.

Government itself offers a number of implements to assist those of us who do business with the public sector. Along with the more typical outreach devices as vendor fairs and news releases, there are creative approaches by agencies utilizing town hall meetings and presentations at contractor associations to announce contracting opportunities.
For the small and disadvantaged business communities, knowing about these outlets can represent a lifeline in times of economic uncertainty. Many of the other tools at hand read as an alphabet soup: DBE, MBE, WBE, SBE, LBE, DVBE, OBE, etc. Each of them confers a specific competitive advantage to the holder. Additionally, each of them has distinctive characteristics one should consider prior to applying.

We will consider a few of them in this article. This discussion is not intended to be exhaustive.
DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise), for example, bears its primary utility from federal agencies and those public entities that use federal dollars in executing contracts. Transit properties are federal grantees typically – Stockton, California-based San Joaquin Regional Transit District, for example.

As such, they use federal dollars (in the form of grants) for much of their construction, supply and professional services contract awards. It is worth noting, too, that a number of state agencies require DBE participation in their contracting processes absent a specific federal funding mandate.

Qualifying as a DBE can be an onerous prospect. Fortunately, many states have an effective unified certification process that streamlines greatly the application process. The unified certification process nearly guarantees reciprocity, which provides access to a broad canvas of opportunities.

In times past, getting certified with one agency was no assurance that a neighboring agency would recognize that certification. Some vendors and contractors, desiring access to multiple contracting opportunities, were required to engage the rather involved DBE application procedure with each certifying agency independently.

To be valid and accepted by the federal government for funding purposes, DBE programs must prove disparate utilization of economically or socially disadvantaged firms. The evaluative mechanism, called a disparity or predicate study, seeks to establish quantitatively the underutilization of qualified and available DBEs within a contracting community.

Though distantly related, this methodology is distinct from the more sterile size standards imposed on Small Business Administration (SBA) 8-A program participants. Some argue that the SBA 8-A size standards are more objective, definable, defensible and race & gender neutral than the best DBE program constructions. That discussion is beyond the scope and intent of this article.

In the absence of an approved DBE program, one operating within the authority of an accepted predicate study, i.e., agencies may encourage DBE utilization but may not set mandatory goals. Some agencies skirt this reality by setting voluntary goals and buttressing the effort by asking contractors and vendors to assist the agency in “growing and grooming” small, disadvantaged firms.

MBEs (Minority Business Enterprises) and WBEs (Women-owned Business Enterprises) are much less prominent in many states (and almost completely dismantled in California with the passage of the anti-affirmative action prohibitions attendant to Proposition 209). Just the same, some agencies still manage a highly modified and carefully constructed iteration of this leveling-the-playing-field arrangement. A typical MBE or WBE program encourages prime contractors and vendors to utilize MBE/WBE firms without setting or, often, even mentioning goals.

Another creative entry is the LBE (Local Business Enterprise). This arrangement varies greatly by agency but can be a real advantage to companies based in jurisdictions that have an LBE in place (the City and County of San Francisco, Calif. offers a widely heralded and expansive LBE, e.g.).

The federal government tends to frown on LBE initiatives so one is not likely to find an LBE program within an agency that depends on federal funds. The typical LBE boasts impressive justifications. In contrast to its absence, an effective LBE encourages a higher level of participation for small, developing businesses and encourages “revolving economics,” a circular model of financial reinvestment within a locality.

LBEs may also improve the tax base by requiring local hiring practices, for example, which assists the employment sector and girders community economic health, as well.

SBE (Small Business Enterprise) programs developed with some strength and urgency during heated discussions in the U.S. Congress during the 1990s that threatened to dissolve federal DBE programs. The SBE programs were designed to mimic the SBA 8-A model, thus ensuring SBE program defensibility.

The SBE’s key features included race-neutral qualifying criteria in the form of size standards and objective, clearly measurable vetting of personal net worth data. The SBA has the only federal SBE-type program all other SBE programs are locally or regionally administered and funded. In California, its Department of General Services administers the state’s SBE program. Other SBE programs exist within the state at regional levels, however. This fact can complicate rather than simplify SBE conformity.

Part of the problem is that firms certifying with a regional network remain ineligible to claim reciprocity with the state’s SBE program and, thus, unable to participate as an SBE on state procurements unless they certify with the state independently. Many SBE firms regionally or locally certified may be unaware of the distinction.

Firms that desire appending one or more of the many initialisms discussed above stand to benefit in considerable measure provided the program fits the organization. A cottage industry of consultants exists whose stock in trade consists of their familiarity with the various programs and facility in working through hiccoughs in the widely discordant processes.

The best of the government agencies go one better by providing consultant-grade assistance within it, offering one-stop shopping to enterprising vendors and contractors. It is advisable to begin with the regional certifying agency of your choice in seeking answers to questions regarding certification. Knowing the correct questions to ask assists handily in garnering useful answers.

© 2008 Peter Mack Media

In Memoriam: William James

As 2008 closed, the equal opportunity and contract compliance communities lost one of their staunchest advocates - and I lost a long-time friend.

William James (1938 - 2008)

William James, the former Compton, Calif. contract compliance officer responsible for crafting that city’s minority business enterprise program in the 1980s, died December 4, 2008. William suffered a massive stroke in his Compton home on December 3rd, went into a coma, and succumbed the next day without waking. William was 70.

On the morning of December 8, 2008, my phone rang. I saw William’s name pop up, thanks to my caller ID. I consulted with William the week before on a bid he was preparing for the city of El Monte, Calif. We did this often so the call caused me no undue concern.

I answered with, “Hey, William.” He did not answer. A female voice spoke haltingly. “Hi, Käto. This isn’t William. I have some bad news." And so it went. Typing it, even now, is difficult. Awkward. But I want you who did not get to meet him as he lived to know something of my friend William. Your friend William. William was a friend to all small and emerging businesses and to anyone who would accept his hand.

In a note to me from one of William’s nine children, Jennene Pugh, she shared the more commonplace elements of obituaries: William was born in Corsicana, Tex., on August 17, 1938, to William Boyd James and Georgia James, the third of eight children. William was reared in Compton, a “local boy” who graduated from Compton’s Centennial High School in 1957. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Phoenix.

William worked in the insurance industry for 40 years, building an impressive client base and reputation. His success in insurance left him with time that he devoted to his other professional interests: construction and public sector contract compliance. Let me address those professional interests first.

I met William in 1990. We were investigators with the City of Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), impassioned with our mission and committed to our work. William and I worked as a team initially and developed a bond that extended past our employment there.

William arrived at CRA with solid credentials under his belt. William worked as a developer before joining the City of Compton as its contract compliance officer. He worked for the City of Compton from 1985 to 1991. During that period, William had responsibility for enforcing the city’s affirmative action ordinance, managed its public works compliance program, and established its minority enterprise program. Over time, William’s hours were reduced in that job title. He added the CRA to his résumé to ensure a full day’s work.

A reduction in force (lay-offs, i.e.) impacted Compton in 1991 and William was not spared. His work ethic and genuine utility left the city with no choice but to rehire William as a part-time consultant. William’s new tasks included his old ones, broadening his work in affirmative action compliance and labor standards enforcement.

William filled out his days working both jobs through 1992. Shortly after both positions ended, William went to work for the firm of King and Wright Consulting. King and Wright had picked up a lucrative contract with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and needed William to manage its labor compliance staff of five. William, as with everything he engaged, excelled.

Three years later, in 1996, the King and Wright contract with Metro ended its period of performance and was rebid. King and Wright did not prevail in the bidding so William called me. I was the acting director for the El Monte, Calif. office of the Center for Contract Compliance (CCC).

The CCC was a laborers’ union-funded public works monitoring organization with a staff of 21 covering 12 counties. “Selling” William to the CCC board of directors was the easiest task I had ever undertaken. He went to work there and remained until he retired in 2004.

Following “retirement,” William kept busy as a consultant. William and I collaborated on his work with the Southern California Painting and Drywall Finishers Apprenticeship Trust, monitoring public works projects for forensic fraud, prevailing wage and apprenticeship violations throughout Southern California. William was never still and that’s why he and I spoke about errors and omissions insurance in late November 2008, a week before his death, four years after his retirement, when he was 70 years of age.

But William’s life was rich with those things that matter most to many of us. Among William’s avocations were woodworking, painting, drawing, videography, and photography. William volunteered his time designing and building custom cabinetry. He was adept at smaller creations, too.

As I write this I can see the one-piece, three-dimensional sculpture he made for me in 1996 that forms the letters of my first name. He surprised me with it one day, presenting it to me at a small pool party, thrown for no particular event, at my home. It was painted green, he said, because it would keep me prosperous. William was that way. He wanted us all to do well in our endeavors.

William plied his hobbies of photography and videography to excellent effect. He enjoyed 27 grandchildren and doted on them collectively and individually. William lived to see his first great-grandchild born nine months before his passing. I was not there but can just see William with camera gear bags slung over his shoulder, electronic SLR camera and camcorder poised at the ready. He was the best kind of shutterbug.

Eileena was William’s soul mate. He called Eileena his wife but always saw her as his everything. His soul, said he, was one with hers. John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” puts me in mind of my conversations with William about his marriage, his family, his life. Eileena and William met in 1977 at the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company in Philadelphia, Penn. Two years later they married and “enjoyed raising a union of nine children,” announced William’s obituary.

William was preceded in death by his father, William Boyd James his sister, Olivia D. Smith and his son, Chauncey A. James. In addition to his wife, Eileena James, William James is survived by his children Gerald M. James (Jackie), Trent B. James, Shaunda J. Terry (Tom), Charlotte V. Bard (Cortland), Troy D. Fennell (Felipa), Jennene A. Pugh (Nathan), Cory D. James, and Brittany K. James twenty-seven grandchildren one great grandchild his mother, Georgia James.

William is also survived by six siblings: Gloria D. Redd (William), David M. James (Flory), Floyd A. James (Constance), Lorita Venable (Harry), Joshua James, and Aleatha F. James-Tipton and a host of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, in-laws, extended family and many special friends.

Interment for William James took place on the afternoon of December 11, 2008, in Inglewood, Calif. The skies wept knowing how much he would be missed among us. William James and Käto Cooks served on the board of directors for the Equal Opportunity Compliance Officers Association of Southern California, Inc. with Cooks as its president and James as its treasurer.

© 2009 Peter Mack Media


Fulvio Cajina, CalTrain/SamTrans

This is to introduce to you Fulvio Cajina, acting labor compliance officer for the San Mateo County Transit District. Fulvio came to the attention of the Small Business Exchange ( when he was introduced at a September 2008 Bay Area Contract Compliance Officers Association meeting in San Carlos, Calif. Fulvio was impressive immediately and in casual conversation struck me as a key resource for small businesses owing to his background and predilections.
This is the first of an occasional series highlighting significant resources in service to small business enterprises.


My name is Fulvio Cajina I am originally from Managua , Nicaragua and I moved to the United States with my wife and children in the 1980s. Since graduating from Nicaragua ’s Central American University with a BS degree in Electromechanical Engineering, I have worked on large scale construction projects for about 30 years. My professional background includes design, construction, project management and contract management for both public and private projects.


I worked for fourteen years in Caltrans’ construction department - seven of them in the Labor Compliance unit and in the Procurement and Facilities unit. This experience led me to join the San Mateo County Transit District Labor Compliance unit in February 2008. As a Labor Compliance Specialist, I am in charge of administering and enforcing labor compliance contract provisions for all construction public works contracts in the District. Also, I assist and advise the District Contract and Procurement Department by evaluating what project is a covered public work and editing the labor compliance language for the RFP and pre-bid documents.


State and federal law requires contractors working on public works contracts to pay prevailing wages to their employees. Prevailing wages are predetermined hourly rates for each craft that are set by both the California Department of Industrial Relations and the United States Department of Labor. My Department works by first providing an understanding of labor compliance requirements to contractors given that prevention of violations is preferable to conducting belated investigations and implementing formal enforcement actions against an offending contractor.

Not surprisingly, in my opinion, a pre-construction conference is the most important contact made between labor compliance departments and a contractor it is the best opportunity for labor compliance officers to introduce and explain in detail the labor compliance requirements of the project to both the District construction and contractor staff, and for any questions regarding state or federal labor law to be clarified. We summarize the labor compliance requirements in a checklist, which must be signed by the contractor, indicating that he received a list of all of the labor compliance requirements.

Secondly, we also engage in surveillance and enforcement by visiting construction sites and conducting on-site surveys to ensure that contractors are complying with labor compliance regulations. To this end, field employee interviews and inspector or assistant resident engineers’ diaries provide valuable information regarding project compliance. From these two sources we can verify the accuracy of certified payrolls by crosschecking employee names, classifications, prevailing wage rates and paid hours reported in such payrolls with the actual work hours reported in the diaries.


The purpose of compliance is three-fold. First, it ensures enforcement consistency throughout the District of federal and state labor laws. Second (and most importantly), compliance ensures that employees working on District projects are paid contract specified prevailing wages and work in an equal employment opportunity environment, free of any harassment and discrimination. Third, labor compliance is there to protect the District by ensuring that District projects do not violate any federal, state, or local funding agency regulation, which could jeopardize the financing of the project.


No. Although some contractors may see labor compliance as a regulatory burden, it is really a safety net in place to ensure that they do not run afoul of the law, often in a very informal atmosphere. Moreover, compliance not only safeguards employees, it also safeguards public agencies, which rely on state and federal funding. Consequently, employees, private enterprise, and the public benefit from labor compliance.


An important benefit of labor compliance programs is that they give contractor opportunities to take corrective action and quickly to resolve any error, discrepancy or labor requirement violation identified by the labor compliance program in an informal setting. However, if a contractor knowingly violates the labor law and/or refuses to correct the violation in order comply with the labor provisions governing the contract, the contractor can be deemed to have willfully committed a labor compliance violation. Such a willful violation requires a full investigation and could, in some instances, lead to criminal action if, for instance, the contractor falsifies documents or intends to commit fraud. Moreover, offending contractors must be reported to the Contract and Procurement Department in order to avoid their participation in future contracts bid.


Based on my experience, I have learned that minority contractors are not participating in the public work market proportionally to their size in the community. Also, I have noticed that minority employees are not taking advantage of the different apprenticeship programs available throughout the DAS or any state approved institution. These two concerns are very important for me and I am currently in the process of setting up a third party management firm to not only assist private enterprise and public agencies to take advantage of labor compliance, but also to assist minority contractors to enter into the market and minority employees to participate in an apprenticeship programs.


Any company enforcing a labor compliance program must pay special attention to the inspector or assistant resident engineer’s daily record. The efficiency of a labor compliance program highly depends on an accurate and complete daily record. Since an inspector or an assistant resident engineer compiles the daily record for every activity happening on the project, this diary is the most important source for a labor compliance officer to crosscheck the weekly certified payroll information submitted by contractors. Fulvio Cajina is available at and at (650) 508-6424.

© 2008 Peter Mack Media


Nate Holt, Pomona Unified School District

Over the last quarter of a century, the Small Business Exchange (SBE) has established itself as the premier nexus between small and emerging businesses and the government contracting/purchasing community. SBE continues that thrust with this second in a regular series of interviews with procurement and compliance professionals with whom you should be or become acquainted.

Nate Holt was the Director of Purchasing for the Pomona Unified School District in Los Angeles County. He was responsible for all aspects of the purchasing, warehouse, mailroom and document center services, including construction contracts. Mr. Holt has presented numerous workshops over the past 10 years in the areas of purchasing and facilities contracting for the Los Angeles County Office of Education Business Academy, National Contract Management Association, and California Association of School Business Officials (CASBO).

Mr. Holt received his bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Phoenix, master’s degree in business administration from the University of Redlands, Chief Business Official certificate from the University of Southern California, and is Chief Business Official certified by CASBO. Mr. Holt is an active member of California Coalition of Adequate School Housing (C.A.S.H.), co-chair of the Purchasing R & D Committee for the Southern Section of CASBO, and is past president of the San Gabriel Valley Purchasing Association.

1. Tell us about you

My name is Nathaniel C. Holt (prefer to be called Nate) I am a native of Philadelphia, Penn., but also lived in New Jersey. I moved to San Dimas, California in 1975 following my father’s being transferred. I’m married with three kids: one daughter, 13 two sons, 20 and 6 years of age. I’ve worked in education for over 20 years - Higher Education and K-12. With a master’s degree in business, my skills are in the areas of business management, project management, contract management, and strategic planning. My certification in school business gives me a well-rounded knowledge in school business management. Prior to working in education, I worked for an aerospace firm in the City of Industry.

2. What is it you do for the District?

I’ve worked for the Pomona Unified School District as the director of purchasing for nine years. As the director of purchasing I have a number of responsibilities. My first and foremost goal is to assist the district’s overall educational process at all times. This means understanding all conditions and to ensure a constant supply of goods and services necessary to support all school sites and departments to give prime consideration to the district’s best interest, while maintaining ethical relationships with all our external and internal customers. Secondly, I have responsibility for all bids, equipment, supplies and construction-related contracts - this means all the legal documents and requirements that form the basis of a construction project.

3. How do you do it?

As a department, my first goal is to assure that our customers, of which includes our students, teachers, staff, board and community, are priority. This means setting a foundation for the purchasing department and providing tools and information for the purchasing team and our customers. From a purchasing team perspective, we provide training in customer service, team building, and written purchasing procedures. From the customer’s perspective, we provide a “How to” manual as it relates to purchasing, warehouse, mailroom, and document center. I’ve also created a tri-fold “Vendor’s Guide” brochure on how to do business with purchasing as well as a defined web-page with all pertinent information on each department I oversee. The brochure includes “Frequently Asked Questions” for each area, which I believe are the foundation pieces for clear and concise communication about our operations.

As the Director of Purchasing, I’m also responsible for understanding all related civil, government, labor, health and safety, professional business practices codes, Assembly and Senate Bills, as well as Federal requirements that have to do with purchasing and other related departments. I’m also the District’s labor compliance officer as it relates to public works.

4. What is the organizational or functional objective of the District’s purchasing department?

The basic objective of the Purchasing Department is to operate in a growing, diversified environment in the best interest of our students, teachers, Board and District administrative staff. In order for the purchasing department to meet its objective, it must maintain a position of leadership in education. It is imperative that the purchasing department continually strive to provide the best costs, delivery, and quality in every area of our business operation. When you look at the purchasing department’s primary responsibility, it is to provide customer service for the purchase of materials, supplies, and services, with the objective that they will be available at the time, place, quantity, quality, and price consistent with the needs of the District. This balancing of several factors is critical to the competitive success of the District.

5. What are the organizational benefits?

When you look at purchasing as a whole, its function, as I see it, is to identify and recognize the real needs for goods and services in all parts of the District. This means the purchasing department at Pomona Unified School District must provide assurance of satisfaction of those needs at the lowest possible cost with the highest quality possible. So in the purchasing department, it is vital that the responsibility for buying materials and services are assigned to a group of individuals skilled in negotiating, value analysis, and other purchasing techniques.

6. Are there benefits conferred to vendors and contractors?

If you recall, some years ago K-12, like other public entities, were required to implement or be a part of outreach programs such as the DVBE (Disable Veterans Business Enterprise), MBE (Minority Business Enterprise) and WBE (Women Business Enterprise), which gave some preference to those certification holders. I understand in most cases that local, state and federal agencies still use some type of certification program. Currently, the only requirement for certification in K-12 is DVBE, which is part of the Leroy Greene Act as it relates to public works. All public works projects that meet or exceed $15, 000.00 must have their prime contractor solicit DVBE certified sub-contractors. What must be understood of this process, though the prime contractor must certify and provide sub-contractors that are DVBE (only if subs are warranted), the award of a public work contract that meets or exceeds the bid limit threshold must be awarded to the lowest, most responsive bid.

As for the supplies, material, equipment and services there are avenues or opportunities for vendors to gain or have access to District business. Since the introduction of Public Contract Code section 20118, otherwise known as the “piggy back” code, allows districts to use other public agencies’ legally advertised bid(s) with out having to go out to bid themselves. The advantage for the public agency is they do not have to go out to bid this saves the District time and money. The second advantage goes to the vendor. This provides the vendor possible access to hundreds of districts in need of same or like supplies, materials, equipment and services.

7. What have you learned?

Through my experience in working in this environment, what I have learned over the years working in the purchasing department in a school setting is your knowledge base has to be broad. It is not just about pens, pencils, and paper. It’s a lot more complex then it seems. You have to have a true understanding of issues outside of your profession. A case in point lies in not only understanding your construction contract, but also understanding the construction project. Know that everything that happens outside of purchasing becomes your new knowledge base once it’s received in the purchasing department. Another area I found to be important is to have a foundation for my department. With all the technical and other related issues I address each and everyday, it’s important to have clear and concise communication on those non-technical concerns. It was important to establish procedures, guidelines, uniformity, compliance and control of all related activities for each of the departments I oversee.

8. What tips do you offer vendors and contractors, particularly small business owners?

It is important that any vendor or contractor get to know a District’s personnel in the purchasing department. By doing so, the vendor or contractor will get a better understanding of the District’s current and future needs. From that point forward, they are building a relationship and in most if not all relationships, there has to be some time to get to know each other. As a public agency, knowing a District’s overall needs as it relates to procurement is crucial.

© 2009 Peter Mack Media


Estela Tarano, President, Bay Area Contract Compliance Officers Association, Inc.
Chair, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) Regional Small Firm Advisory Committee

We take a look this issue at collaborating entities in California's San Francisco Bay area.

Ms. Estela Tarano began recently her second term as president of the Bay Area Contract Compliance Officers Association (BACCOA). In her over two decades of service with BACCOA, she has functioned in nearly every capacity and on every committee. Additionally, Ms. Tarano, a San Jose resident, is the chair of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Regional Small Firm Advisory Committee. Ms. Tarano is invested in the Bay Area and in the country’s economic engines powered by small and emerging businesses.

As the following interview makes clear, much of what Ms. Tarano does in one capacity is interrelated with her other activities. These relationships are at the heart of Ms. Tarano’s drive to make more inclusive all mechanisms of commerce in the Bay Area and across the nation. And at its core is BACCOA.

1. What, on a functional level, is BACCOA?

Since its inception in 1975, the primary function of the Bay Area Contract Compliance Officers Association has been to be an organization that serves as a bridge between contract compliance officers from private and public agencies and the small business community of the communities we serve. If you visit our website (, you will notice that our logo is a bridge, definitely intended to serve the economic interests of the surrounding small and local business communities that thrive in the San Francisco Bay area.

One of our goals is to partner with the community we serve to achieve measurable economic development and financial success for the small and local business community in the State of California. A second goal of BACCOA is to address labor compliance by ensuring that local projects enforce equality of opportunity in employment and apprenticeship programs to the community where construction projects, consultant agreements and procurement contracts are being awarded.

BACCOA is an opportunity to bring professional contract compliance officers from the private and public sector together to address the needs of the local and small business community they serve. BACCOA is an opportunity for agencies where our contract compliance officers are employed because these agencies are expected to engage and thrive in promoting initiatives that further our goals of equality of opportunity in contracting, employment, diversity and inclusion. BACCOA allows their staff to be well informed about legal and process updates in the contract and labor compliance fields.

The challenge BACCOA poses to its members and its participating agencies is to show a measurable impact to the economic development of the areas that are served.

2. What elements in your background and experience brought you to BACCOA?

I joined BACCOA about 20 years ago, when I was a Contract Compliance Officer for the City of San Jose, and continued my relationship as an active member when I joined the County of Santa Clara and managed the County’s Community Business Enterprise Program. Through my connections with BACCOA, I learned about the excellent training institute that the American Contract Compliance Association offers annually and in 1995 I completed their four-year certificate to become an MCA (Master Compliance Administrator). In 1999, I obtained a certificate as Construction Project Manager from San Jose State University to better understand construction contracting from the inside out.

I have been an avid advocate for equality of opportunity in contracting within public agencies since 1985. It is a passion I intend to pursue for as long as I live. My formal education has been in public administration and political economy I have master’s degrees in those areas. My work experience has been in the equal opportunity and employee development areas since 1985. The combination of my academic preparation and my work experience, plus the exposure to community activism, have provided me with formidable tools that I want to use toward enhancing the economic development opportunities for small and local businesses of the Bay Area.

I am currently the elected chair of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Small Firm Regional Advisory Committee – Water System Improvements Program. My commitment when I accepted this appointment was to ensure the participation of certified small and local businesses in a multi-year, multi-billion dollar project to improve San Francisco’s water system. I intend to do that through aggressive outreach initiatives, which BACCOA enables me to do.

3. You are in your second term as BACCOA president what are your plans for the organization during this term in office?

At this time, my short-term goals are to strengthen the Association’s infrastructure. We need to build up our membership ranks and our treasury. We need to create better outreach links by using the latest technological advances the industry offers. We need to meet regularly and offer programs to the membership that will hone their professional and personal development competencies.

I want to see BACCOA having a place at the table as a strategic partner to the State and Federal government, as well as to large corporations. We need to reaffirm our relationships with the private sector and remind our partners of the mutual benefits that we can all derive from our association. My long-term goal is to achieve sustainable growth, change and development for the individual members, groups associated with BACCOA, and the organization as a whole. I want us to be the “go to” premier organization regarding contract compliance issues and upcoming legislation.

We want to be a presence, a strategic partner, in the actions that politicians and business entrepreneurs want to propose regarding small business development and provision of equal access to them.

4. What are the immediate challenges to small, minority, women, and emerging businesses, in your view?

One of the most immediate challenges is the lack of regulations with regards to equality of opportunity for the small business community, including emerging businesses and enterprises owned by women and minorities. Once Proposition 209 became the law of the land in California, prime contractors, big corporations and government agencies no longer felt the need to give back to their local economies by contracting with small, emerging business enterprises.

There is no sense of voluntary compliance based on diversity and equal opportunity initiatives because there is no vision that it makes good business sense to contract with small businesses. The reality is that it is the small businesses who know how to best market a service or a product to their own communities, ethnic or otherwise. It is the small business enterprises who can best shape some of the marketing strategies that big corporations need to follow.

The current state of the economy at the local, state and national levels is definitely a determining factor that is impacting small businesses in an adverse manner. However, since this nation has been founded on the ability of the small business community to provide for needed services and products, perhaps this is also an opportunity for organizations like BACCOA to assist them with their business plans.

5. What is BACCOA’s response to these challenges?

This is our opportunity to offer assistance to the small business community, by helping them re-define their vision and their mission direct them to seek financial planning and review of their business plans ensure their company’s goals are SMART (specific measurable attainable relevant and the deliverables are timely) and ensure that their marketing strategies and knowledge of the competition are current. We need to identify the internal resources of our member agencies that can provide this kind of technical assistance from within the organization.

6. What are BACCOA’s membership benefits to contractors and vendors?

To the small business contractor and vendor: we provide the means to link internally with our organizations and the opportunity to learn how these bureaucracies can work to their advantage. As contract compliance officers, diversity managers, and other related job titles we may hold within our organizations, we know how best to approach our procurement and construction project representatives. We provide information relative to upcoming consultant agreements construction projects and procurement contracts. We provide knowledge and insight into our internal processes and procedures within the ethical and business parameters set forth by internal policies.

We also enforce labor compliance, and provide a bridge to inform the small business owner of current union practices. We provide positive networking between the small and the large business enterprise. That means building solid relationships between them, such as legitimate joint ventures, which yield positive results to both the agency in need of reliable contractors and vendors and to the emerging business that can provide these services at reasonable costs and within given timelines.

7. What are BACCOA’s membership benefits to government organizations?

The member agencies and corporations benefit through the linkage we provide to the small business community. We provide access to certified and qualified businesses. We provide the private and public sectors the opportunity to benchmark for best practices, and exchange real time information based on our experiences at work and our interaction with the communities we serve. We provide legislative updates about what is current and important in the contract and labor compliance arenas.

8. What have you learned?

Over the many years that I have been an equal opportunity, diversity, and contract compliance practitioner, I have learned that you need to implement small business outreach programs that have “teeth” in them. You need to be aggressive in your outreach know your business apply sound management practices to every transaction you conduct be professional and observe ethical conduct be passionate and believe in what you are doing and be an honest advocate for the small business entrepreneur.

9. What tips do you offer vendors and contractors, particularly small business owners?

Get to know how different organizations conduct their business with the small business world plan and anticipate your approach for optimal marketing opportunities. Be accountable for your business actions be creative, develop and refine your business goals and objectives share your business growth strategies with other businesses that you can trust.

10. Can you provide a little more information about your participation in the SFPUC’s Regional Small Firm Advisory Committee?

The committee was established under San Francisco Administrative Code 14B.5 in September 2006. All committee members were appointed by SFPUC’s General Manager in June 2007. The committee consists of 5 members representing interests and businesses throughout the Hetch Hetchy water service area.

At this time, we are looking at $2.9 billion dollars in construction projects and a projected completion date of late 2014. That amounts to approximately more than 80 projects that will take place in 7 counties along the way. The Regional Small Firm Advisory Committee’s purpose is to assist SFPUC in its efforts to provide business opportunities to small and local construction firms throughout the water service area in the following:
Inclusion of small firms on WSIP construction projects
Providing technical assistance to contractors
Encouraging mentorship and other training opportunities Our committee’s mission is to ensure that certified small and local businesses participate in this endeavor.
The American Contract Compliance Association web site is

© 2009 Peter Mack Media