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Obama Votes For Bailout Bill With Language That Could Harm Firms Owned by Women and Minorities

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No Objection From Obama To Bailout Bill Language That Could Harm Firms Owned By Women and Minorities

Senator Barack Obama has voted for the latest Senate version of the Wall Street bailout bill despite language that could be used by Bush officials to limit contracting opportunities for minority and woman-owned businesses.

Section 107 of the bill will give Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson the power to waive any provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) he chooses. Paragraph 9 (b) of the bill specifically mentions the waiver of "any provision of the Federal Acquisition Regulations pertaining to minority contracting" and wavier of provisions pertaining to "woman-owned businesses."

In summary, the language states that Secretary Paulson may waive existing federal law and provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, establishing specific numerical contracting goals for minority and woman-owned firms and replace it with a completely unenforceable statement of intent to use minority and woman-owned firms "to the maximum extent practicable."

Critics of the bill question why it was necessary to include language in a bill, designed to rescue failing financial institutions, with language that could exclude minority and woman-owned firms from federal contracting opportunities. Section 107 does not have any time limits. It is possible the waivers could continue indefinitely.

Replacing federal law establishing specific contracting goals for minority and women-owned firms with a Bush Administration pledge to use those firms "to the maximum extent practicable" has minority and women business owners concerned.

The Bush Administration opposition to federal programs to assist small businesses, minority and woman-owned firms is well documented. In addition to cutting the Small Business Administration's (SBA) budget and staffing in half, President Bush has refused to implement a seven-year-old federal law establishing a 5 percent set-aside goal for woman-owned firms. (http://www.asbl.com/showmedia.php?id=642) A Bush Administration commission also issued a report that said the federal government should cut back contracting opportunities for minority-owned firms.

As recently as last week, the SBA suspended taking applications for the government's Small Disadvantaged Business contracting program. It was predicted that President Bush would try to dismantle federal programs to assist small business, minority-owned firms and woman-owned firms in the remaining months of his presidency. (http://www.asbl.com/showmedia.php?id=1068)

It is quite possible the unnecessary language in Section 107 was specifically inserted by the Bush Administration to dismantle contracting programs for small businesses, minority-owned and woman-owned firms. A bill that was supposed to bolster the national economy and create jobs may have the opposite effect on firms owned by women and minorities.

Small business advocates are extremely disappointed Senator Obama did not object to Section 107 of the bailout bill. Considering the Bush Administration's well documented track record of opposing federal programs for women and minorities, it seems unwise to trust them with the power to waive the long standing federal law establishing specific contracting goals for women and minorities and replace it with a vague and unenforceable promise to use women and minority-owned firms "to the maximum extent practicable."