New Rules Would Tighten Affirmative Action

Article excerpt

President Bill Clinton's administration is preparing rules for all federal departments that would put limits on race-based government contracting and require proof of bias before such contracts could be awarded.

The rules, which the White House expects to finalize within days, were outlined in a draft memorandum to general counsels in the government.

Designed to begin implementing Clinton's pledge to "mend, not end" affirmative action programs, they would disallow all strict set-aside rules that designate specific numbers of minority contracts. For programs that give minorities explicit preferences, such as extra points for minority ownership in contract bidding standards, the rules would impose a broad new set of limits.

Under the limits, such "race-conscious" procurement would be allowed only after a "disparity study" finds credible evidence of discrimination, including the percentage of minority participation in a specific industry, within a specific region, that might have been expected absent that bias.

That percentage would then become a "ceiling" for that region and industry, and race-conscious government procurement decisions would be allowed until the ceiling was reached. As one official explained the process, if the government determined, for example, that without discrimination, 30 percent of all computer installation in a region probably would be done by minority companies, such companies could be given preferences until they had received 30 percent of the industry's government business.

In addition, the government would establish for the first time a certification process to ensure that businesses seeking government contracts as minority-owned companies actually are minority-owned and qualified for the business. Currently, most government departments and agencies require only self-certification, with a signed form asserting minority ownership. …