News Column

Corner Office: Minority Enterprises Need to Know Score

November 2002, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Jesús Chavarría, Editor & Publisher

The Commerce Department’s annual MED Week, or Minority Enterprise Development Week, brought together minority businesses and highlighted our common issues during September 24 to 27 (see "A Minority Role in the Homeland" in this issue). Along with the National Minority Supplier Development Council Conference, held October 27–30 in Los Angeles, MED Week is one of the largest and most effective platforms for focusing attention on minority business development issues as they relate to government policy.

As editor of Hispanic Business®, I attended MED Week to make this recommendation: Given that the Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) has the mandate of advocating on behalf of minority companies within the halls of government, one event during future MED Weeks should include a "State of Minority Business Enterprise" report presentation. Research in the report would address how well federal agencies have performed in hiring and purchasing from minority constituencies during the prior budget year.

Such a report would provide an invaluable service, telling how well or how poorly federal agencies comply with hiring and procurement goals. My suspicions are that the government is not doing nearly as well as the private sector in embracing the positive values of diversity. That seems to be the case especially for procurement. Left to their own devices, federal officers are not motivated or given incentives to strive for goals assigned by the Small Business Administration or Congress when it comes to buying from small minority businesses.

By getting the numbers in the open, the report will stimulate a broad-based national discussion, followed by the articulation of strategies, on how we can develop a larger pipeline of demand for minority businesses that meet the needs of federal entities. The economic slowdown and military build-up add weight to this issue, as small businesses look to the government to sustain them and the Pentagon expands its spending. With 2002 GDP growth forecast at only 1.3 percent, small minority enterprises and the government need to help each other.

Under the current system, it’s too easy for federal agencies to claim they are "making efforts," since no one outside government can verify their performance. I hope the MBDA will take this recommendation seriously and form an inter-agency task force for the purpose of setting up wide-ranging reporting systems to quantify efforts for promoting minority federal procurement. After all, if we demand accountability in the classroom and the workplace, shouldn’t the logic extend to the HR and purchasing offices of the national government? Don’t minority enterprises deserve to know the score?


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