When the Bush administration eliminated the White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach in January, the women's business community had reason to be concerned. Was this what they should expect from the new White House? A year into the Bush administration, the answer still isn't clear.
"I got a [newsletter] dated August 10 from the Women's Information Network [in the] White House Office of Public Liaison," says Melissa Wahl, executive director of the National Association of Female Executives (NAFE). "[So] evidently, an effort is being made to reach out to women's organizations."
Besides the newsletter, the administration has also held a series of "get acquainted" meetings with women's organizations. And according to Terry Neese, owner of GrassRoots Impact Inc., an Oklahoma City firm connecting corporations with minority- and women-owned businesses, there are a number of people in the administration who could advocate for women entrepreneurs.
"We need someone at the table who will say, 'Let's step back and see how women would view this issue.'"
"Karen Hughes is one of [Bush's] political advisors, and she has a lot of input," says Neese. "Mary Matalin [counselor to Vice President Cheney and assistant to Bush] I know to be very pro-woman, particularly concerning women entrepreneurs."
Neese also sees the presence of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and economic security advisor Condoleeza Rice in the cabinet as indications of Bush's concern for women's issues.
But Sheila Brooks, vice president for public policy with the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), hasn't seen anything concrete happen yet. "I don't know if the reason is that it takes time when you make the transition from one administration to another." One hold-up she does know of was the absence of an SBA administrator to articulate and direct a White House small-business strategy. But that changed at the end of July with the approval of Los Angeles entrepreneur Hector Barreto Jr. to fill the slot. Since then, Barreto has confirmed Wilma Goldstein as head of the SBA's Office of Women's Business Ownership (OWBO).
One of Goldstein's projects is helping women grow their companies. She says this could include getting them more involved in international trade and improving access to capital and procurement.
"Procurement is the thorn in everybody's side," says Goldstein. Despite the creation of the Office of Federal Contract Assistance for Women Business Owners, which works to increase federal contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses, and four years of effort on OWBO's part, women are no closer to obtaining their federally mandated 5 percent of government contracts. In fact, the percentage going to women dropped from 2.5 percent in 1999 to 2.3 percent in 2000.
Among the other issues not addressed at press time was appointments to the National Women's Business Council (NWBC) and the Interagency Committee on Women's Business Enterprise. NWBC is a bipartisan, private-sector organization that advises the president, Congress and the Interagency Committee, its public-sector counterpart. The president appoints these positions in consultation with the SBA administrator, says Goldstein.
"We need someone at the table who will say, 'Let's step back and see how women would view this issue,'" says Neese.
Despite the Bush administration's slowness in addressing their concerns, women business leaders approve of the appointment of Barreto, applaud the tax cuts and are taking a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to moving from talk to action.