Is the Obama administration hurting minority businesses?

Filed under OPINION

The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) is a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce.  It was started during the Richard Nixon administration.

President Nixon gave a lot of attention to minority affairs. Along with this, he allowed Arthur A. Fletcher to implement Affirmative Action.  The president was proud of this new agency and adequately funded it.

Reagan cuts funding
That changed under the Reagan administration.  The funding was cut by two-thirds.  The MBDA started downsizing to the point of irrelevancy.  It was during the George Herbert Walker Bush administration that a study was commissioned to find out what changes could be made to reinvigorate the MBDA.

My friend and minority business advocate, Joshua Smith, was appointed president of the commission. The final report was comprehensive and encouraged the government to transfer the 8 (a) minority business program from the Small Business Administration to the MBDA.  Joshua felt there would be better service if the MBDA could manage the program and receive their ample funding.

We all awaited the president’s response and looked forward to the upcoming changes.  It never came. President Bush refused to read it. However, the SBA read it and became enraged.  They sought revenge.

Joshua Smith’s main company was in the 8 (a) program. The SBA kicked his company out of the program overnight and caused severe financial harm to this thriving Black-owned firm. This was a very disgusting moment in Black business history.

The 8 (a) program stayed with the SBA and has been withering on the vine ever since.

Hope dies under Clinton
A new chance of hope came when William J. Clinton was inaugurated.  He appointed the great Ron Brown as Secretary of Commerce.  Ron was a legend in political leadership and entrepreneurship.

He knew how to play the game and never forgot his Harlem roots.  He pledged to get the funding back into MBDA and technical support would rise to a new level.

However, our hopes were dashed when he died in that mysterious airplane crash over Europe.

With his unexpected departure went any hope of restoring the program. There would never be another Commerce secretary who would be as committed to making the MBDA effective.

The Clinton administration never increased the budget of MBDA and my hopes during that era would be just to hold on to what we have.  Things didn’t get better at the MBDA, but we did maintain the budget.

Those were rocky times. But not as rocky as it would become under the nation’s first Black president.

Obama devastates program
The Obama administration is the worst in history. The budget has been slashed to the point of being dysfunctional.  The regional offices are being cut in half. The grantees (Minority Business Development Centers) are few and far between, with most of them not targeting Black-owned businesses.

The procurement dollars and financing they report is suspect at best as there is no auditing documentation to support their claims.

The final insult is there will be no more Annual Minority Enterprise Development (MED) Week events.  For 29 years, there was a big networking event of minority firms and the MBDA and the SBA.  There will be no 30th anniversary celebration.

Rather than a week of events in September, they are having a day and a half in December and the SBA will not be attending.  It is just a token of what this large event used to be.

Last year they had 57 sponsors.  This year there will be only 19.  The operation is a mere shadow of the agency once touted by presidents. This is not the change we’ve been waiting for.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder and president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Contact him via www.nationalbcc.org.

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