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Administration draws fire for blocking set-asides.

Advocates for women and minority-owned businesses attacked the Bush administration's decisions to reject set-asides for small disadvantaged businesses and to delay a set-aside program for women-owned firms.

At a roundtable session of the Senate Small Business Committee June 19, one participant asked Angela Styles, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, whether the administration opposes set-aside programs.

"There is not an administration policy against set-asides," she replied.

Barbara Kasoff, vice president of Women Impacting Public Policy, said. "Eighty percent of our constituents are not only passionately angry about this, but also are in despair."

In prepared testimony, she added, "We believe the SBA is stonewalling the implementation of the Women's Procurement Program for unexplainable reasons."

SBA said this spring that it will re-do a congressionally mandated study of federal contracting with women-owned businesses, because the first study failed to prove that women have been victims of discrimination. SBA concluded that the set-aside program would be vulnerable to legal challenge under the Supreme Court's 1995 Adarand decision limiting affirmative action programs.

"We found a disparity" between the number of women-owned businesses and the proportion of federal contracts they receive, said Fred Armendariz, SBA associate deputy administrator for government contracting and business development, in an interview. "We just weren't able to tie that disparity conclusively to a gender issue."

Kasoff called the explanation "poppycock."

She also said SBA has so far refused to release the original study and has given no timetable for completing the new study.

Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) declared. "The administration's delay in implementing...the women's business procurement program has played a key role in keeping women out of the federal marketplace."

Congress in 2000 established a set-aside program for women-owned firms in industries where those firms are "underrepresented" or "substantially underrepresented" in federal contracting. The SBA study was intended to identify the industries that would be eligible.

SBA Administrator Hector Barreto also cited the Adarand decision last month when he declared that set-asides for small disadvantaged businesses are "unnecessary. In a letter to Sens. Kerry and Kit Bond (R-MO), he pointed out that contract dollars going to SDBs outside the 8(a) program nearly doubled from 1995 to 2001 and suggested that the courts might strike down SDB set-asides. (SAA, 6/14)

"These people want litigation-proof" programs, said Henry Wilfong Jr., president of the National Association of SDBs. "We're going to have to start thinking about getting our members to start litigating."

"I don't like to sue." he told the Senate roundtable. 'but I don't know what else to do when I'm being denied."

Armendariz said SBA is working to improve the much-criticized certification program for SDBs. "A state-of-the-art, e-capable process should be launched in the next 12 months." he said.

"SDB certification has been a disaster." said John Turner of the Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund.

"I wholeheartedly agree with you. Armendariz said. After joining SBA last summer, he said. "the first task force I set up. the very first one. was to address the application process.
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Title Annotation:Senate Small Business Committee
Comment:Administration draws fire for blocking set-asides.(Senate Small Business Committee)
Publication:Set-Aside Alert
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 28, 2002
Words:505
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