COLUMBUS — Hundreds of Ohio small businesses received an undeserved advantage in landing state contracts due to a state agency's failure to properly administer its program to help disadvantaged companies, according to the state watchdog.

The Ohio Department of Administrative Services failed for years to follow state regulations controlling the Economic, Diversity, Growth and Equity (EDGE) program that grants qualified businesses preference in receiving state contracts, the office of Inspector General Randall J. Meyer found.

An investigative report released Tuesday cited the long-troubled agency for committing "wrongful acts" that kept unqualified businesses, including some that made too much money, in line for part of $299 million in EDGE contracts awarded last year.

The agency improperly kept more than 500 businesses EDGE-certified when they had exceeded the 10-year limit on participating in the program, the report said.

The inspector general's report focused on CTL Engineering, a Columbus-based consulting firm with offices elsewhere in Ohio and in Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia and India, as an example of a business that no longer qualified for the EDGE program, but which the state had allowed to participate since 2003.

CTL Engineering has received about $14.6 million in state work since 2011, largely from the Department of Transportation, amid the state's goal to route 5 percent of certain contracts to EDGE businesses.

The net worth of the owners of "economically and socially disadvantaged businesses" cannot exceed $200,000 when they apply for EDGE certification and they must be removed if their worth tops $750,000. DAS officials did not demand required federal tax returns that would have led to the ouster of CTL Engineering, the report said. Investigators also found required documents missing from the company's state file.

CTL's annual revenue of $35.5 million in 2017 was more than double the standard at which companies no longer are considered a small business and must be removed from the program, the report found.

Company officials did not respond to a message seeking comment on Tuesday. The company's website reports C.K. Satyapriya is its chief executive officer and president. The Dublin man contributed $10,000 on Nov. 26, 2018 to the Ohio Republican Party state candidate fund.

The report focused on the operation of the Department of Administrative Services on the watch of its former director, Robert Blair, an appointee of former two-term Gov. John Kasich.

New Gov. Mike DeWine's director, Matt Damschroder, has pledged to continue to clean up the agency after The Dispatch and inspector general uncovered a series of over-priced unbid contracts routed to certain consultants.

The inspector general recommended that the state correct its handling of the EDGE program and submitted his report to the office of Ohio Auditor Keith Faber for review.