A white woman PhD is protesting that her research company was unfairly dropped from a Small Business Administration program designed to steer federal dollars to firms run by the socially and economically disadvantaged.
She argues that she fits in the disadvantaged category because she is a woman is a field traditionally dominated by men. Her case, which illustrates the intricate problems that arise when the government seeks to give preferential treatment to some groups over others in competition for scarce dollars, is to be taken up by a House Small Business subcommitte today.
Marilyn Andrulis owns 51 per cent of Andrulis Research Corp. in Bethesda. Her husband, Peter, owns the remaining 49 per cent. On June 13, the company was certified eligible for the SBA's 8(a) program.
Since Richard Nixon's "black capitalism" pronouncement of 1968, the 8(a) program has been the government's primary vehicle for directing federal procurement dollars ($66 billion last year) to minority firms.
Under the program, the SBA acts as a prime contractor on federal contracts, and subcontracts the work to eligible firms it considers able to perform it.
Neither Marilyn nor Peter Andrulis is a member of any of the established minority groups. Both are white, both are PhD's, both have worked as comsultants to other high-technology firms.
But despite their education and expertise, the Andrulises were unable to secure any major federal contracts for their firm in the first five years after its founding in 1971.
In Marilyn Andrulis' mind, there is no question about why. Her firm does technically complex research of the kind used by the Defense Department, and, she said, women are a rarity in the field.
"Certification in the 8(a) program was applied for and rendered not because Dr. Andrulis is a woman, and not because defense R&D [research and development] is a very difficult business per se, but because Dr. Andrulis is a woman in that kind of business," reads a statement she prepared for Senate committee.
"If six years of documented, patronizing treatment and stereotyped reactions and resistance to a woman marketing scientific expertise in the fraternal, male environment of defense contracting does not constitute a prima facie case of social disadvantagement, then what does?"
The Washington district office of SBA agreed with Andrulis when it permitted her to enter the 8(a) program.
Within three months, Andrulis obtained two DOD contracts through 8(a), with a value of about $500,000.
But just as the date for signing the contracts approached, the SBA notified Andrulis that she had been dropped from the program.
The notification came during a review of all the 8(a) companies, sparked by hearings earlier this year that uncovered alleged abuses of the program.
SBA Director A. Vernon Weaver said the reason for Andrulis' being dropped is that "you find little about Mrs. Andrulis to suggest that she is more disadvantaged than other women."
Weaver said the 8(a) selection process is "a subjective decision. Somebody's got to decide if this is really a firm that is owned and operated by someone who is disadvantaged . . . There's not a right or wrong here. It's a matter of opinion, unfortunately."
The Andrulises, and some of their supporters on Capitol Hill, think an unspoken consideration motivated the SBA.
"SBA seems to be really frightened and intimidated by the specter of women in this program," she said. She added that a number of SBA officials had expressed to her worries about "opening the floodgates to women" if she is allowed to stay in 8(a).
In fiscal year 1976, about $370 million went to minorities under the 8(a) program, a figure that represents about 80 per cent of all the federal government's purchases from minorities.
"That's where your dilemma is. There's the problem," said on Capitol Hill source. "The entire government effort for minorities is tied up in thehe 8(a) program. Women are probably eligible for it technically, but there's nothing else available [for minorities]."