Saint Augustine, FL (PRWEB) July 10, 2007
Rev. Jesse Jackson's comments (1) that "Affirmative action in. . .minority contract set-asides. . . are at risk," as a result of the recent Supreme Court decision involving racial quotas was rebutted today by Raul Espinosa, Founder and spokesperson of the 'Fairness in Procurement Alliance (FPA), which represents the procurement interests of all of the groups for whom Congress created the Set-Aside Program.
"Although FPA supports affirmative action and diversity in Corporate America, the attempts to link 'procurement set-asides' to race and ethnic-based preferences is not only wrong, but it gives the Congressionally created program a negative connotation, which affects how the program is even perceived by government officials and by the procurement community." Espinosa added, "This perception has perpetuated contracting abuse practices against small and minority businesses and is a reason why government regulators are reluctant to deal with them." The SBA Inspector General has claimed that procurement abuses against these groups are "the biggest challenge the SBA has on their plate." (2) The Miami Herald in a story on July 4th, (3) has detailed how large companies, in the past, have abused the system in Florida.
"Congress created the 'set aside program' specifically to give economically underserved groups contracting opportunities, not hand-outs, commensurate with their contributions to society, their economic status and their almost negligible share of public contracts," Espinosa continued, "unfortunately, the economic data-set originally used is currently out-of-date and off-synch with the way new technology can present the information."
The leadership of both Congressional Committees on Small Business, including Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Olympia Snowe, Cong. Nydia Velazquez and Cong. Don Manzullo support academic research to validate the objectives of the Set-Aside Program. They have all said, "Since the passage of the Small Business Act in 1953, it has been the policy of Congress to ensure that small and minority businesses receive a fair portion of Federal contracting dollars as consistent with the maximum practicable utilization of small firms." (4)
FPA has formed a Think Tank at The University of North Florida (UNF) to address these concerns. Professor Henry Thomas, Director of the Florida Center for Public and International Policy serves as the head of the FPA Think Tank. Dr. Thomas said, "The FPA Think Tank will attempt - through academic research - to organize the economic data about the various small and minority groups to support the Congressional mandate of the Set-Aside Program which involves neither race nor ethnic origin."
"This will confound anti-affirmative action attorneys representing the lobbying interests of large businesses, developers and labor groups. Those groups seek to use race as the unconstitutional straw man of set aside procurement policy." Dr. Thomas added, "Given the current Supreme Court viewpoint, all affirmative action advocates will appreciate our efforts to avoid references to race and ethnic elements. Once a public program is linked to race, they become easy target for unfair attacks.," Dr. Thomas concluded saying.
The FPA Think Tank will, among other things, conduct academic research in this subject area; create a Clearinghouse for Procurement Set Asides data and will host Public Forums with which to support the goals of the Congressionally created set-aside program.
FPA's initial research proposal will focus on "Protecting and Enhancing the Set-Aside Program to Advance Entrepreneurship in America." The purpose of the research is to address the perception that 'set-asides' are based on race and/or quotas and demonstrate through empirical data that these communities and groups are economically underserved and abused through contracting practices. The research will be followed by a conference, which would highlight the results and feature leaders and experts on the field with the goal of assisting government and public officials take advantage of the new resources and strategies to protect 'set-aside programs' at all levels.
Congressman Mica, who has supported Espinosa in his advocacy crusade to support small and minority businesses said, "It is important that small businesses have access to federal procurement opportunities and to continue expanding jobs and economic opportunity."
In several States, including Florida, and in municipalities such as Jacksonville and Miami, 'procurement set-aside programs' were challenged in Court and forced to be abandoned by government officials - as a settlement - for fear of not being able to properly defend the suits due to the difficulty of accessing data and successfully making the relationship that these program were not race-based.
"The federal procurement arena is full of disarray and the problems are detailed on the House Oversight Committee June 2007 report, More Dollars, Less Sense (5) ," said Roger Campos, President and CEO of the Minority Business RoundTable (MBRT) and a Member of the SBA National Advisory Committee. "The timing for the FPA academic research could not come at a better time." He added, "The FPA Think Tank research would have lasting effects in public procurement at all levels, including states and local governments."
Public and elected officials, including the last five U.S. Presidents, have publicly admitted that "small businesses are the engine that fuels the American economy " (6) and they have all concurred on the fact that these businesses have not received their fair share of public contracts nor fair access to those opportunities. Little has been done, according to FPA, to rectify those facts.
The Small Business Act had specifically set-aside twenty three (23) percent of all Federal contracts for small and minority businesses, but the ceiling - according to GAO and public reports - has never been met in spite of contrary claims. In April 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation (H.R. 1873) increasing the set-aside ceiling to thirty (30) percent.
"This ceiling could only be met if small and minority businesses were allowed to compete, as Congress had intended, for $64 Billion worth of federal contracts they are currently being excluded in complete disregard of the statutory Congressional mandate," said Espinosa. Both Senators Kerry and Sen. Snowe, have validated the FPA claim when they said, "The unambiguous Congressional intend is that the Act govern all Procurements," and "Executive departments do not have the discretion to interpret the law in a manner inconsistent with its plain language. " (7)
Small and minority businesses - as compared to big businesses with their army of 'K Street' high powered, expensive Washington lobbyists - by their nature - have lacked the resources and the capital to benefit from Congressional representation with which to mount organized efforts to influence public and elected officials. This has been a reason why the interests of small and minority business concerns have been ignored in the past.
FPA was conceived in June 2005 as a loose coalition of 14 minority and small business advocacy groups which came together to support a 'size protest' test case (SIZ-2005-05-09-22) filed against a company which had allegedly misrepresented its affiliation with a large business to secure 'set-aside contracts'. The protest, which resulted in a major test case victory (8) for the small and minority business community, demonstrated that the current 'size protest system' does not deliver justice except for a nod of approval by a judge with no money damages when a small and minority business wins the case. The 'protest system,' in short, needs to be overhauled.
FPA has been credited with conceiving such initiatives as the 'Free Universal Access' (FUA); the 'Contracting Abuse Resolution Board' (CARB) and the 'Small Business Set-Aside Alliance' (SBSAA). Additionally, FPA has released a report detailing 'Contracting Abuse by the Air Force.'
FPA has launched successful educational efforts aimed at creating awareness, within the procurement community, about the abusive practices which a) have excluded small business participation; b) eliminated competition; c) benefited large businesses; d) have hidden award results; e) failed to enforce penalties; f) failed to prosecute abusers and g) denied rights to an award or to fair compensation. These are all endemic procurement practices, which waste taxpayers dollars and negatively affect small and minority businesses.
Lloyd Chapman, President of the American Small Business League (ASBL) said, "racial and ethnic references involving procurement set-asides have had negative consequences for small and minority businesses." He added, "ASBL supports FPA's efforts to conduct academic research to validate the 'procurement set-aside concept' as a vehicle for change as Congress had intended and to prevent zealous attorneys representing the lobbying interests of large businesses and labor groups to continue to abuse the small business community."
(6) Excerpt from the Bush Administration's Small Business Agenda
(7) Excerpts from a letter to Secretary of State Powell, dated Jan. 12th, 2005