Efforts to reorganize the office of Minority Business Enterprises (OMBE; ran into bitter criticism from minority business leaders yesterday.
Black and Spanish business association officials accused the Department of Commerce of leaving them out of the reorganization efforts.
"The white folks don't want to listen to us," complained Dr. Berkley G. Burrell, president of the National Business League.
Commerce officials countered that preliminary studies of OMBE were being leaked in an effort to sabotage the reorganization.
Under Secretary of Commerce Sidney Harmon and Randy Blackwell, director of OMBE, met with representatives of several minority business groups to calm the criticism.
OMBE provides technical and management assistance to minority business, it has a staff of about 200 and a budget of $50 million a year.
The agency has been widely criticized for failing to spur creation of viable black enterprises, for concentrating on "mom and pop" businesses with little growth potential, and spending more money on its bureaucracy than on business developments.
Disputes between rival racial blocs and rival candidates for government financial aid have also plagued the agency.
On Capitol Hill and among minority business it is "difficulty to find anybody who has a good word for "OMBE," said Harmon, who is overseeing studies of what to do with the department.
He called the criticism, "a fire-storm as a consequence of some one's mischief." He said persons "not always motivated by concern for minority community development" were meddling with the reorganization effort by leaking OMBE studies.Much of the criticism, he complained, is based on a preliminary study that has already been revised twice.
One of the proposals under consideration is to consolidate some 200 OMBE business development centers in 56 offices. Another is to stop giving direct OMBE funding to mionrity business associations, instead contracting with them for specific projects.
Burrell objected to both suggestions, contending OMBE needs 200 offices to reach minority businesses scattered throughout the country.
Only $2 million of OMBE's $50 million budget goes o business associations, said Burrell, whose Naitonal Business League is among the associations bankrolled by the federal agency. Many of the other black and Spanish groups attacking the reorganization are also financed by OMBE.
Commerce officials contend the associations' routine operaions ought to be paid for by their members not the taxpayers and that federal aid should go for specific projects that benefit minority businessmen.
Burrell called for a moratorium on changes in OMBE programs and demanded a voice for black business development groups in any organization. He said a coalination of 17 minority business groups would present its own suggestions for change in OMBE.