As president of a certified 8(a) minority-owned firm, I can clearly say, with regard to the Jan. 11 editorial "Last Chance for Set-Asides," that most of us are very interested in "growing up" and competing effectively in the open market for government contracts. My company has been bidding (with some degree of success) for competitive contracts for as long as it has been in existence. Unfortunately, the marketplace is biased against minority firms. Those who are responsible for reviewing proposals and deciding on the winning contractor tend to regard proposals submitted by minority firms as "out of place." In one case, I was informed that an agency had satisfied its goals in minority procurement for that year, in spite of the fact that the bid in question was competitive. Many regard "competitive" to mean "majority."

Until we deal effectively with the problem of discrimination in the competitive bidding process, minority-owned firms will never be able to become self-sufficient. Very few members of minority groups are placed on screening committees. There is an acute need for minority members to be involved in the contract selection process.

Many of the so-called competitive procurements are in actuality "wired" for specific majority firms in advance. Until the process is made truly competitive (i.e., by assigning a number to each proposal instead of the name of the firm), minority firms will find it very difficult to succeed in open competition.

It is a smoke screen to believe that corruption is found only in the set-aside program. The editorial noted that only 3 percent of government contracts go to minority firms. But even this low figure is highly distorted by the Wedtechs that control a large share of 8(a) contracting. Most of us are very small, lack political clout and are incapable of bribing politicians -- if only because we don't have anything with which to bribe. In addition, any set-aside program is by nature open to some potential government corruption. After all, most of the beneficiaries (majority firms) are closely allied with the administration.

To destroy a program that offers the only hope for minority businessmen because a few influential politicians have used it to their benefit is throwing out the baby with the bath water. It is time for the government to provide more assistance through the set-aside program rather than seek excuses to walk away from a 20-year-old commitment.

ERNEST L. MURPHY

President, Development Assistance Corporation

Washington