Equity in Federal Contracting: Examining the Link between Minority Representation and Federal Procurement Decisions


Craig R. Smith is an assistant professor in the School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Arizona. His research focuses on managing contractual relationships in the public sector, as well as interorganizational collaboration.

Sergio Fernandez is an assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. His research focuses on a variety of issues related to privatization and contracting for services, organizational change and innovation, and leadership.


The federal government increasingly relies on nongovernmental organizations for procuring goods and services. This long-term trend presents a significant challenge for administrators because it risks the egalitarian values of democracy by further distancing administrative action from direct, participative, democratic oversight. The authors put forward a theory of representative bureaucracy as a way to reconcile democracy with the reality of the contemporary policy process in which unelected officials are the principal decision makers. The theory is tested in the domain of federal procurement, specifically within the contract award decisions of 60 federal agencies over three years. The authors argue that increased minority representation in leadership positions results in an increased proportion of federal contracts awarded to small minority-owned firms.