The White House announced yesterday that President Reagan supports federal programs to aid companies owned by minorities and women, as the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights prepares to take up a report today calling for suspending such programs.
"The administration's position is that we support the minority set-aside program," said presidential spokesman Larry Speakes, adding that the commission is an independent "advisory" group.
Members of the group have been divided between Reagan appointees who share many of the president's views on civil rights and others who have been critical of Reagan.
A draft report scheduled to be taken up today by the panel calls for a one-year funding moratorium on existing set-aside programs for minorities. The draft suggests that all government procurement be "awarded on an equal-opportunity basis -- without regard for the race, religion, sex or ethnic origin of the bidding firms' owners."
Such programs generally set aside a portion of federal contracts for businesses owned by minorities or women.
The draft contends that the minority set-aside programs have not proven effective. The report claims that the programs have been marked by "rampant corruption" and fraud, and primarily benefited wealthier black and Hispanic employers.
The draft also contends that the set-asides have increased the cost of government procurement and led to bankrupty for many businesses owned by whites.
The document further questioned whether set-asides had accomplished their purpose of encouraging the creation of more minority-owned firms or triggered an economic "ripple effect" leading to increased minority employment.
If the one-year moratorium were adopted, the report suggests that the government seek other ways to assist blacks, Hispanics and women in business.
Democrats criticized the draft report, which could be voted on by the commission today.
"The attack on minority set-aside programs is merely another attempt by the Reagan administration to turn back the clock on the advancements made by women and minorities in their struggle to overcome discrimination," Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.) told a news conference, according to United Press International.
"I suppose we no longer should be surprised to learn that the Reagan administration wants to gut another minority assistance program," said Rep. Esteban E. Torres (D-Calif.).