By Stacy M. Brown
WASHINGTON, D.C.— Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced that she will introduce a bill to require all federal agencies to include in their annual budget requests to Congress the amount they spent in the most recent fiscal year on advertising contracts with newspapers and media companies owned by minorities and women.
Norton’s bill would also require the agencies to produce projections of their spending for the upcoming fiscal year.
“The federal government is the largest advertiser in the United States, and it has an obligation to ensure fair access to its contracts for minority and women-owned newspapers and media companies,” Norton said on Thursday, Sept. 20.
The congresswoman, who has served in the House of Representatives since 1991, said she will also send letters to all 12 appropriations subcommittees during the next appropriations cycle requesting that they require each agency under their jurisdiction to include this advertising data in their budget requests.
“My bill would provide the transparency to ensure federal agencies are striving to reach minorities, who often get their daily news from smaller media outlets who serve communities of color,” Norton said.
Two years ago, Norton led a group of Congressional members in requesting a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the federal advertising contract obligations to small disadvantaged businesses (SDBs) and those owned by minorities and women.
During a news conference on Capitol Hill alongside numerous African American and Latino newspaper publishers and owners from the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and the National Alliance of Hispanic Publications, Norton demanded accountability.
She drafted a letter that eventually contained signatures of dozens of her colleagues on the Hill as well as senators and others in asking for a report from the GAO.
In July, the GAO released a report that revealed that in fiscal year 2017, only 16 percent of the federal government’s advertising contract obligations went to SDBs and those owned by minorities and women.
Further, the report concluded that, of the $5 billion spent on advertising by federal agencies over the past decade, just $50 million went to Black-owned businesses.
After the report’s release in July, the NNPA called on Congressman Cedric Richmond, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to “forcefully raise their voices of discontent and reaffirmation of the demands for equity, for justice, for fairness and end to this kind of systemic refusal to treat African American-owned and Latino-owned businesses along with others in a just, fair and equitable manner.”
“It’s time for all of us to respond and to act. There should be legislation introduced in Congress immediately to rectify this gross systemic inequity,” said NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
NNPA National Chairman Dorothy Leavell called the results of the report, shameful.
She said she too would call for legislation and, in the meantime, would try and set up a meeting with members of Congress to further explore the matter.
On Thursday, Chavis said the NNPA wishes to “profoundly thank Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton for her continued leadership on this crucial economic and racial justice issue.”
“The U.S. Government by law should advertise equitably with Black-owned newspapers and media companies,” Chavis said.
“Congresswoman Norton’s timely legislative initiative is about ensuring equal justice, inclusivity and diversity, as well as a much-demanded end to the glaring pattern of racial exclusion and discrimination by the U.S. Government toward the Black Press with respect to annual advertising spending,” he said.
This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle.