Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Buy Indian Act of ... 1910?!

I picked on Timothy Taylor’s blog post on driving vs. walking yesterday. I visited his site again today, and this time, I can do nothing but shake my head in bemused agreement with his latest post, “103 Years to Implement: The Buy Indian Act”:

Here's a write-your-own punchline fact: The Buy Indian Act was signed into law by President William Howard Taft on June 24, 1910. The regulations that allow the law to be implemented and enforced were just completed on July 8, 2013, only 103 years later.

Um ...  better late than never? According to the Minneapolis Fed article that Taylor links to, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has informally encouraged procurement from American Indian businesses since 1965. However, formal rule-writing to implement the 1910 law didn’t begin until 1983, and then proceeded “in fits and starts over the next 30 years.” 

No particular reason for the 103-year delay is given; it was just one of those things that happens, apparently.

Taylor comments further:

I confess that I'm not a big fan of rules that require the government to purchase goods and services from firms run by people of a particular ethnicity or gender. When government is buying goods and services, it should seek to get the best possible deal for taxpayers. Set-asides always come with the need for a bunch of well-meant rules.

And boy, are those rules a mess. I wrote an article about set-aside programs in 2011. Basically, what you have is an arms race in which companies try to game the system while officials try to craft rules specific enough to stop them. The result is a mountain of paperwork and a bureaucratic maze so byzantine that many companies eligible for set-asides just don’t bother. “The process is overwhelming,” one chamber of commerce official told me.

I don't know what kind of help native Americans were looking for from the federal government in 1910, but I'm guessing it was something better than, "Your great-grandchildren will have a leg up in selling us stuff, provided they have the right kind of business (or are creative enough to make it look that way) and are extremely proficient in filling out forms."

P.S.: For a taste of just how hair-splitting the federal government's set-aside rules can be, feel free to enjoy the Department of the Interior's 13-page summary of comments on its proposed rulemaking for the Buy Indian Act and its adjudications thereof. 

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