The latest chapter of controversy at Hartsfield-Jackson over concessions contracts unfolded earlier this week with an FAA mandate. Back in April, the AJC reported that the FAA was questioning the disadvantaged status of four winners. Since then, the FAA has determined that those companies did not deserve their disadvantaged minority status and called on the GDOT to revoke it. The AJC reported, “The federal agency wants Georgia officials to yank the certificates, arguing that GDOT was “factually incorrect” and misapplied the rules when it granted the certifications.” In the eyes of the FAA, the four companies in question either had owners whose net worth exceeded the maximum limit or did not spend enough time on site to claim that they actually controlled the company. Whether or not these findings will force a reopening of the contract awarding process remains to be seen.
The “disadvantaged minority status” is a big deal when it comes to winning government contracts, because it gives those companies a leg up on the competition. “The airport set — and met — a goal of awarding 36 percent of the contracts by value to disadvantaged firms. In most cases they partnered with other firms, making the overall proposal more attractive because it helped meet the goal,” reported the AJC.
This development raises suspicion over the entire contracting process, especially since all four companies examined by the FAA are very politically connected to Mayor Kasim Reed. Daniel Halpern, for example, is the head of Atlanta Restaurant Partners as well as Mayor Reed’s campaign co-chair. Another “disadvantaged” winner was Mack Wilbourn, a big time contributor to Reed’s campaign and a contract winner in every package he bid on.
Suspicion increased this week when Michael Cooper, the director of the state Department of Transportation’s Equal Opportunity Office, was transferred out of the department. He was the man responsible for signing off on the minority status of businesses vying for the concessions contracts. The FAA informed him that he needed to reverse these designations. He claimed that his office had not acted improperly and was subsequently transferred. An investigation by the FOX 5 I-Team did not shed light on the specifics around Cooper’s transfer, but an uncovered internal email shows he all but intentionally ignored FAA rules when assigning the disadvantaged minority statuses