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Open Letter to President Obama


Dear President Obama:

African Americans and minorities across the nation are generally very supportive of your proposed programs to re-shape America and help balance the economic and social justice scales that have excluded so many of us from legitimate opportunities.

On March 11th the Black Economic Council (BEC), a national organization dedicated to Dr. King’s principles of civil rights through economic rights, launched a reception in D.C. attended by 250 leaders.  Our reception was dedicated to economic justice and we honored minority Congressional women.  Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis spoke as did Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee.  During that week we also met with your Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner and Chairman Ben Bernanke to discuss economic justice in the context of TARP funds.

We would like to propose that before your first one-hundred days in office you issue a Presidential Executive Order relating to the more than $650 billion dollars annually in federal contracts.  Only 1% of this $650 billion is awarded to African American-owned businesses.  Similar small numbers exist for Asian American and Latino-owned businesses.  For example, of the $334 billion in Defense Department contracts awarded in 2007, just eight-tenths of one percent (0.8%) of the contracts was awarded to African American-owned businesses, and just 1.1% to Latino-owned businesses.  No reliable data is available from the primary federal contractors, such as Lockheed and Boeing, as to whether they provide any contracts to minority-owned businesses.

We propose that your first Presidential Order require every federal agency to, on an annual basis in the most transparent fashion possible, report its data on race, ethnicity and gender.  Similarly, your Presidential Order should urge each agency to set internal voluntary goals of 5% of contracts to African American-owned businesses and similar percentages to Asian American and Latino-owned businesses.  The impact on two million African American-owned businesses, for example, would be an approximate $25 billion a year in additional contracts.  Similarly, if your Presidential Order required each government agency to acquire similar goals, not quotas, for major federal contractors, billions of dollars in additional contracts would be awarded to minority-owned businesses.  At a minimum, should include all beneficiaries of TARP funds.

Your Executive Order could also cover management diversity.  The Obama cabinet is the most diverse cabinet in American history.   Why shouldn’t the federal government, at a minimum, request of all its major federal contractors that they provide information on the diversity of their board of directors and top management and urge them (not require them) to consider the values of diversity and reflecting the diverse demographics of America?

I have spoken to the leadership of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber and many Asian American business groups.  They share the African American concern.

A number of African American business leaders who joined me at our D.C. conference and at our meeting with Geithner and Bernanke, look forward to discussing this matter with your closest advisors including David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett and Rahm Emmanuel before your first hundred days are over.

Thank you again for raising and legitimizing our high expectations of what government should do for all Americans.

Len Canty
Chairman, Black Economic Council