Anti-8(a) Sentiment Grows in Washington D.C.; Program Reformed
Program reforms are designed to increase transparency in the bidding process and better track how corporate profits are used to help its shareholders.
A new development in Washington D.C. may affect Alaska natives and the state's business community. For decades Alaska Native corporations have had its geographic isolation tempered by a special preference for government contracts.
Thursday, after years of complaints about special treatment, the Small Business Administration made changes to the program and local native officials say the reforms are a step in the right direction.
"We support having meaningful reforms that don't dismantle important federal Indian policy, like the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act," said Tara Sweeney, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation Vice President of External Affairs.
Those reforms are designed to increase the transparency in the bidding process and better track how the profits for those multi-billion dollar corporations are used to help its native people.
And while the reforms are enough for Alaska Native corporations, some politicians in D.C. want to take it a step further and eliminate the 8(a) preference all together, which some Alaska lawmakers say could end up freezing up federal dollars.
Wednesday, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson proposed to eliminate the preferences for Alaska Native corporations in the program; Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill has a companion bill in the senate.
Proponents of the 8(a) program say if the program is eliminated, it would be a big economic blow to the state's rural residents.
"We feel like Congressman Thompson is overreaching and overstepping his bounds is what it is,” said Meredith Kenny, Communications Director for Alaska Rep. Don Young.
“This is a program that works and this is a program that helps our people and if he has issues with this program then he should come and talk to us before he decides to introduce legislation on something he doesn't possibly fully understand."
Even before the changes made to the program can fully take effect, some continue the effort to end it all together, something Sweeney claims native corporations won't allow to happen.
“Not only as Alaska natives, but as Alaskans we all need to be concerned about the attempts to gut Alaska Native corporations from the 8(a) program because we are a major economic driver in the state of Alaska and we employ thousands of Alaskans,” said Sweeney.
Since its inception, the 8(a) program has been designed to give the state's first people a leg up in succeeding in the business community.
But the fight over whether they deserve it will likely continue for some time affecting not just the halls of Washington D.C. but also isolated villages in Alaska.