National and local officials here are moving to implement new programs aimed at helping minority businesses to enter America's economic mainstream.
At the same time, there are fears that accomplishments may not match the current rhetoric. In the city, programs to aid minority entrepreneurs have to an extent been caught up in the swirl of mayoralty election politics, with Mayor Walter Washington's opponents charging him with going too slowly on minority business development.
These critics talk of an "economic development renaissance" in the city if they can just get rid of the mayor, and the mayor's supporters in turn say that renaissance is already under way.
Casting a shadow both nationally and locally is concern that setaside quotas designed to channel government business to minorities may comes under cripping attack in the wake of the Bakke case.
On Sept. 12 President Carter announced that his administration will strongly emphasize development of minority business, and he ordered all executive departments to double their purchases from minority firms during the next two fiscal years.
This increase should raise the level of the federal purchases from minority firms to about $1 billion, the President said.
That's a drop in the bucket, according to forces on Capitol Hill pushing for development of minority enterprise. Carter's announcement was praised, but there was a feeling he had not gone far enough.
Rep. Parren Mitchell (D-Md.) and others hope eventually to get 15 per cent of the $70 billion in annual federal procurement channeled to minority firms, according to Mitchell's senior legislative assistant, Clarence Bishop.
Mitchell has introduced a Minority Enterprise Act that goes part way toward this goal - it would give 2 per cent of each federal contract in excess of $1 million, or 5 per cent of all subcontracts under such contracts, to minority firms. The bill is awaiting final committee action in the House.
In another major program, Mitchell was successful in 1976 in amending a one-shot $4 billion public works bill, part of the President's overall economic recovery program, to earmark 10 per cent or $400 million of the funds for minority firms.
These funds have been allocated for 8,592 projects in local jurisdictions across the country, including Washington, according to David Lasky of the Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration, which is administering the program.
Lasky said nearly 800 jurisdictions immediately applied for waivers of the requirement, most saying they couldn't find enough minority firms in their areas to meet it. EDA turned down all but three requests.
Lasky said joint white-minority ventures will be allowed under the program "as long as the minority component is not fraudulent."
A Small Business Administration program to channel federal contracts to minority firms on a non competitive basis was suspended this year whites allegedly set up blacks as "fronts" to reap profits from the program.
The SBA program has channeled only about $1.5 billion to minorities during seven years of existence, said Senate source.
Mitchell's 10 per cent public workds requirement is facing a legal challenge from the white-dominated Associated General Contractors of America.
AGC's assistant executive director, John Ellis, said the 10 per cent requirement "just imposes hellacious burdens on the general contactors. We have no quarrel with reasonable government (programs) and affirmative action programs . . . But quotas are another story, and we see no reason to put up with that. That's discrmination."
Several AGC local chapters have filed suits against the 10 per cent requirement, and Ellis said national headquarters plans to file a suit that would affect the entire nation.
"If the AGC wins, there is no way for minority business to get into the mainstream of American economic life," said Frank Kent of the National Association of Minority Contractors. "This is as threatening to us as the Bakke case."
In the District, city officials took a number of initiatives in the wake of home rule three years ago that appear to be on the verge of bearing fruit.
The city's New Minority Bisiness Opportunity Commission is supervising a new local requirement that city agencies make 25 per cent of their purchases from and give 25 per cent of their contracts to minority firms. Mayoral aide Joe Yeldell estimated that the provision will put $50 million in contracts and $25 million in goods and services purchases into a "sheltered market" during the current fiscal year. By contrast, minority firms landed only 4.6 per cent of the city's $138.9 million in construction contracts during fiscal 1976.
In addition, city officials received EDA permission to boost its minority contracting under the Mitchell bill from 14 to 30 per cent. The city has just received a $30 million grant under the program on top of an earlier $10 million, officials said.
City officials have taken a number of other initiatives.
The Tax Revision Commision is studying possible tax breaks for financial institutions that improve their lending policies to minorities. The city now has a law to deposit as much as one-third of its money, which used to be kept in the U.S. Treasury, in financial institutions with the best minority hiring and lending practices.
This last came under criticism from minority financial people who say the most any minority institution could receive under the law is few million dollars on deposit.
Eventually, there are plans for many city minority business development programs to be coordinated under a new office called the Office of Business and Economic Development.
While a study published by a mayoral economic committee last August outlined how such an office would aid minorities, the mayor has yet to appoint someone, to head the office.