The federal government has no shortage of programs and initiatives for Hispanic outreach. Year after year, these programs show incremental progress in helping Hispanics gain access to jobs, contracting opportunities, and business financing
But unfortunately, federal agencies don't collect much data by ethnicity. They provide the numbers required by law, such as those on the 8(a) business development program, and the Hispanic hiring initiatives at the Office of Personnel Management, but generalized government-wide statistics offer little clue about obstacles to parity.
The latest numbers indicate uneven progress toward full parity. Despite increased spending in nearly every federal agency, Hispanics continue to lag in procurement. As a result, public policy discussions on Hispanics and procurement suffer from an information blind spot, relying on anecdotal evidence or analysis of specific programs.
|NEW DEFENSE CONTRACTORS BY ETHNICITY|
|Ethnic group||Number of contractors||% of new contractors|
|Asian & Pacific Islander||647||6.99%|
|Source: Federal Data Procurement Data System|
The one major exception to the rule is the behemoth Department of Defense (DOD), which collects procurement data by ethnicity because of Section 1207 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1987. That act established a goal of awarding 5 percent of contracts and subcontracts to small disadvantaged businesses with program performance tracking that included the collection of procurement data related to ethnicity. For FY2002, the DOD reported that 6.87 percent of its new contractors were Hispanic.
But the DOD, like all other federal agencies, collects only the contracting information required by law. At most agencies, the ethnicity of contracting firms is not "statutory information."
And even within programs designed to increase supplier diversity, those charged with implementing the policy take a broad view.
"My job is to provide opportunities for everyone [under our criteria], not for specific groups," says Tracy Pinson, director of the Army's Office of Small Disadvantaged Business Utilization. "It's good for us to have access to that information and data [by ethnicity], but it's not something that I specifically focus on."
Meanwhile, even at those agencies that do track such data, like the DOD, problems remain.
A recent report by the congressional General Accounting Office (GAO) found that while the Defense Department has achieved or exceeded its 5 percent goal of awarding contracts and subcontracts to small disadvantaged businesses every year since 1992, the mentor-protégé program's contributions cannot be fully determined. "DOD has not been able to attribute this success to the program," the report states.