Blind Justice for Minority Firms? Entrepreneurs Await Justice Department Findings on Affirmative Action

Article excerpt

Next month, the Department of Justice is expected to issue final rules to "mend" affirmative action efforts in federal procurement. But while members of the minority business community and the Congressional Black Caucus applaud the Clinton administration's efforts, they fear the results may actually end hard-won contracting opportunities for a host of minority entrepreneurs.

The new rules are expected to comply with the Supreme Court's 1995 decision on the Adarand Construction v. Pena case, which sharply curtailed federal affirmative action efforts for minority contractors. First the Department of Commerce will do an industry-by-industry probe to compare the availability of minority firms with their actual use in contracting. Benchmarks for each industry, which will be reviewed on an annual basis, will be created to determine whether affirmative action efforts should be continued, scaled back or eliminated.

The danger to minority businesses would occur if, after periodic checks, it appears minorities are winning contracts equal to or in excess of their availability and capacity to do the work in a particular industry. In this case, preferences would be eliminated altogether, explains a Justice Department official.

"We also have to figure out whether affirmative action is responsible for what appears to be their ability to compete, so it's not just a mechanical look at the numbers," the Justice official adds.

But CBC member Albert Wynn (D-Maryland) says that retrenchment of affirmative action would only further damage black-owned businesses' ability to compete in the marketplace.

"The benchmark is only achieved as a result of affirmative action programs, so if they are terminated within a short period of time, there will be a major drop-off of minorities in that industry," he warns. …