Press Release for Tuesday, July 10, 2007

UNF Becomes National Think Tank for Procurement Set-Asides

Contact: Joanna Norris, Assistant Director
Department of Media Relations and Events
(904) 620-2102

The Florida Center for Public and International Policy at the University of North Florida has joined forces with the Fairness in Procurement Alliance to conduct academic research and create a clearinghouse for procurement set- asides.

Congress created the set aside program specifically to give economically-underserved groups contracting opportunities commensurate with their contributions to society, their economic status and their share of public contracts. “The program was never based on race or ethnic elements, but on economic data,” said Raul Espinosa, founder of FPA, which represents the procurement interests of all groups for whom Congress created the Set-Aside Program. “Unfortunately, the data-set originally used is currently out of date and off-synch with the way new technology can present the information.”

Espinosa recently partnered with The Florida Center for Public and International Policy at UNF in order to conduct academic research and to create a clearinghouse for procurement set-asides data as well as host public forums in order to support the procurement set-aside program’s goals as Congress intended.

“Through academic research, the FPA Think Tank will attempt to organize the economic data about the various small and minority groups to support the Congressional mandate of the Set-Aside Program, which involves neither race nor ethnic origin. This will confound anti-affirmative action attorneys representing the lobbying interests of large businesses, developers and labor groups. Those efforts seek to use race as the unconstitutional straw man of set-aside procurement policy,” said Dr. Henry Thomas, head of the FPA Think Tank and professor/director of The Florida Center for Public and International Policy at UNF. “Given the current Supreme Court viewpoint, all affirmative action advocates will appreciate our efforts to avoid references to race and ethnic elements. Once a public program is linked to race, they become easy target for unfair attacks.”

The purpose of the research at UNF is to address the perception that set-asides are based on race and/or quotas and will hopefully demonstrate through empirical data that these communities and groups are economically underserved as well as abused in public procurement circles. Once the research is completed, a public forum will be held to highlight the results and to assist government and public officials in taking advantage of the resources and strategies available to protect set-aside programs at all levels.

In several states, including Florida, and in municipalities such as Jacksonville and Miami, procurement set-aside programs were challenged in court and forced to be abandoned by government officials—as a settlement—for fear of not being able to properly defend the suits due to the difficulty of accessing data and successfully making the relationship that these programs were not race-based.

“The federal procurement arena is full of disarray and the problems are detailed on the House Oversight Committee June 2007 report, “More Dollars, Less Sense.” The FPA Think Tank research will have lasting effects in public procurement at all levels, including state and local governments,” said Roger Campos, president and CEO of the Minority Business Round Table and a member of the SBA National Advisory Committee.

The Small Business Act had specifically set-aside 23 percent of all Federal contracts for small and minority businesses, but this ceiling has not been met in the last several years. In April 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation (H.R. 1873), increasing the set-aside ceiling to 30 percent.

The FPA believes that the set-aside exemptions threaten to nullify the effects of this increase. According to Espinosa, the Senate is expected to support this ceiling increase, although their companion legislation is not expected to be introduced until this fall.