1399419480000-TURLEYBelow is my column in USA Today on the use of set aside categories based on race, gender, or other criteria for government contracts. While the set aside issue arose in the recent controversy over Braulio Castillo, there are legitimate questions that should be discussed over the efficiencies and equities of the system. There is also the question of self-identification on these issues. Veteran’s status is easier to confirm, though in the Castillo case we saw the definition can be wildly out of whack. However, we have seen controversies involving people who self-identify as having minority status based on questionable basis such as the controversy over Senator Elizabeth Warren who listed herself as a minority due to Native American blood. There is presumably some criteria for such claims when made in government contracts but I am not sure who where that line is drawn. The real question is whether it would not be better for Congress to directly fund programs to help minority groups rather than require special treatment in government contracting. Hopefully, we can have such a debate without rancor and personal recriminations. There are good-faith reasons to debate whether government contracting should be based solely on the best price and product determination in my view. It is not questioning the purpose of this policy but the means used to achieve it.

Braulio Castillo seemed exactly what the government was looking for. He was CEO of a Virginia company who was listed as a service-disabled veteran. That status allowed Castillo to secure $500 million in government contracts under special rules. Castillo described his terrible disability as just one of the “crosses that I bear due to my service to our great country.” Others now describe it as a shameless scam.

Castillo, 43, was a U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School student when he hurt himself playing football. Decades later, he filed for service-disabled veteran status with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Bizarrely, the VA granted it, even though Castillo went on to play football for the University of San Diego and never served in a military unit. With this status, he was awarded a half-a-billion dollars in contracts despite little experience.

Castillo is certainly not the sole measure of the programs that give preferential treatment in government contracting based on race, sex, geography, business size and disabled status. However, his case shines a light on the system’s darker side.

For years, contractors have complained that companies game the system by adding front owners with the right status. Such was the case of the Virginia company GTSI, which won contracts for IT and integration services in part because one of its partners was considered a “small business.” One e-mail, cited as from a GTSI vice president, revealed that the subcontractor was “very open to the concept of GTSI doing ALL the work” and just taking the money as a front.

The main reason for concern is not fraud, however. It is efficiency. The set-asides downgrade competence, performance and price in government contracts to focus competition for public money on the special status of corporate owners. In writing the laws governing government contracts, Congress simply threw in elements unconnected to the merit of government contracts while demanding reports on the percentage of contracts benefiting these groups.

For example, in 1994, Congress mandated that at least 5% of contracts go to businesses majority-owned by women. Today, roughly 3% of contracts are set aside based on the gender of the owner. Similar set-asides and preferences are accorded by race and service-related injuries. At times, the world of government contracting preferences has become so bizarre that set-aside groups have fought about preferences within preferences. In one case, 25% of the set-aside for small businesses were further set aside for minority-owned or women-owned businesses, but minority businesses objected that woman end up getting too much of the contracting pie.

Good intentions

There is no question about the laudable goals of these programs in expanding minority and women-owned business. Rather, it is the means used to achieve those goals that is the problem. Like special deals in the tax code, it is easy to create such preferences for particular groups without the need to appropriate any money directly to benefit a group. Laws and regulations stretching across dozens of federal departments and agencies have the special set-asides or preferences for “veteran-owned small business, HUBZone small business, or women-owned small business.” Agencies further mandate special treatment for “African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, (American Indians, Eskimos, Aleuts, or Native Hawaiians); Asian Pacific Americans (persons with origins from Japan, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Samoa, Guam, U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Laos, Cambodia, or Taiwan, Asian Indian Americans; and members of other groups designated from time to time.”

Few are prepared to question the wisdom of such an approach out of fear of being called misogynistic, anti-veteran or anti-Samoan. Agencies are left dealing with a tangle of detailed rules while the public expects them to be quickly and efficiently carrying out government business. It is a recipe for inefficient government, a frustrated public and little accountability.

As for Castillo, his contracting days are over. Not because of any reform, mind you. Last month, police charged him in the death of his wife in his Northern Virginia mansion. Despite his classification as 30% disabled, police say he was able to use the other 70% to beat his wife to death and then hoist her to the ceiling to fake a suicide.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.
May 7, 2014


  1. Libertarians are gaming the race card by focusing on de minimus contract fraud, while swallowing the big fraud picture?

    Is this because historical symbolic racism is their lot:

    Murray Rothbard was the student of Ludwig Von Mises and a friend of Ayn Rand. Rothbard was a racist, and believed in the “voluntary” separation of the races. I have argued that his teacher, Mises, was an elitist with fascist tendencies. This part of libertarian history is a part that the libertarians would like to cover up. It slips out at times and has done so with Ron Paul, Rand Paul and others. But we need to take a look at what these guys believed, circa 1990 because that was not so long ago.

    We know that Rothbard spoke kindly of David Duke, the KKK office seeker. One disaffected libertarian was dismayed that Rothbard would seek to align himself with a pure racist just because he believed in limited government. The only reason that Rothbard did not back a separate state for blacks was because he was afraid it would cost too much in “foreign aid”.

    It should be noted that Ron Paul distanced himself from Rothbard’s racism, in stating that racism is a collectivist view. Still, there is a strong racial tension in libertarian thought. Ron Paul’s newletters had racist thoughts in them, although Dr Paul stated they were put in his publications without his knowledge. I have no reason to doubt that. But these were mistakes that are significant.

    But even Rand Paul made a racial gaff right after he won the senate seat, that he regretted, when he said he was for the repeal of the 1964 civil rights act. It would seem that this racial/libertarian theme continues.

    (Business Insider). Minority fraud in contracting is minuscule compared to majority contracting fraud, yet libertarians seem to want to major in the minors.

  2. jonathanturley


    I have again had to delete a series of your comments for violating the civility rule on this blog due to personal attacks. This is not how some of us want to send our afternoon. Very few of our commenters have ever had deletions. Please comply with our rule or move on.
    I didn’t notice any deleted, but thanks anyway for the concern.

    I have done some research on symbolic racism, and I thought you might find it interesting.

    It is a professional, versus a political way to discern modern racism (Symbolic Racism: A Look At The Science – 3). The oldest scientific paper, out of the 85, is from 2003, the newest ones are from 2014.

    It is one of our major failings driven by cultural dynamics:

    “For example, children develop notions about ethnicity and race early in life, oftentimes even before they have interethnic or interracial contact. Children learn about other social categories, such as gender-or age-related groupings, through extensive interpersonal interactions, but young, preschool children often learn about those who are ethnically or racially different in the absence of personal contact.”

    “Our findings suggest that attitudes about Obama’s religious affiliation were significantly influenced by symbolic racism. These findings suggest that the American public dialogue about racial politics has evolved in recent years to include religious denominations.”


  3. Obama kills many people with drones, including at least two US citizens in Yemen. Surely you have heard of his kill list, where he alone gets to decide if certain people of guilty of crimes deserving of the death penalty without benefit of trial or legal representation or appeal.

  4. Paul Shulte states that Pres. Obama is killing people and this included the VA. That is what I’d call an accusation without proof. For crying out loud, Paul, turn off Fox News; it’s obvious it’s eating your insides, including the contents of your skull. Prof. Turley, I apologize in advance for breaking the civility rule but I did in jest, I swear I did!

    1. Els DL – swim upstream and find my links to the VA scandal under Obama. At least 40 dead at the Phoenix VA hospital alone. It appears at least one other hospital used the same system to fend off patients so the wouldn’t have to treat them in a timely manner. The breaking story was from a local tv station and CNN.

  5. Paul,

    What makes you think it was one summer? Did I say that?

    You are correct about the climate zones. But I did not live in Flag. By May, I often wished I lived in Flag.

    Heck, Arizona’s not that big. Maybe it would be fun if you just guessed where I lived.

    1. You said in the summer. Not several summers, etc. How many summers did you live in our beautiful state? Actually, Arizona is pretty big, though most of the land is owned by the feds. Maricopa County is one of the bigger counties in the US. It would be hard to guess where you lived without more clues.

  6. Paul S

    I lived in AZ. In the summer.

    All the people I know would be astounded by your definition.


    1. I have lived in Arizona since 1964. I have lived in all kinds of a/c conditions. You spent one summer, big deal. Hardly makes you an expert. And where in Arizona did you live? That also makes a difference. Arizona is one of the few states that have all the climate zones. Which climate zone did you live in?

  7. Sorry, Nick. Once again, we disappoint.

    You are certainly free to think what you want. Do you think I am Mr. Keebler?

    And if you think Proxmire was a Libertarian, well okay.

    And I appreciate that you have taken the time to explain about Libertarians. Just send your bill to my office.

  8. Another tutorial. I’m going to have to start billing Feynman/keebler. There is the Libertarian party and small ‘l’ libertarians. I am a small ‘l’ libertarian, as are several people here, including our host. There was a time when there were both Dem libertarians and Rep libertarians. The Dem libertarians have been purged. There have not been any “pure” libertarian elected pols in modern history. There are left libertarians ala Jonathan and right libertarians ala myself. I have a hard time differentiating if you understand this basic stuff and are playing games, or if you’re really very ill informed.

  9. Paul S

    Notice the ‘improvements’ installed by Uncle Joe – stun fences and watch towers. Remind you of other notorious camps?

    And thanks for acknowledging that the tents are not air conditioned. It is always a pleasure to meet someone who can admit they were wrong.

    Beats me why the feds won’t close it down. Maybe it’s sorta like Gitmo and we Americans like our inmates in hellholes.

    Seems un-Christian of us though.

    1. a/c is any kind of cooling system here. We started with sleeping porches where people would wrap themselves in wet sheets and the breeze would cool them off. The tents have coolers, if you read the article I sent, they also have heating for the winter.

  10. Paul Schulte

    Sheriff Joe’s Tent City has a/c.
    a / c = anti / constitution

    We need 8th Amendment Stamps for those in Maricopa County who visit my blog almost daily.

    Maricopa holds first place in how many times a post is read and the reader says “huh?”

    After all these years I wish they would move on to another post. Do they know blogs have more than one page?

    Tells me I need to stay on this track … “steady as she goes.”

  11. Paul S

    You are very misinformed.

    The BUILDINGS have a/c. Not the tents. You know….where inmates live.

    According to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, it was 137 degrees inside one of the tents that house Tent City’s inmates Thursday. The temperature probably will climb over the next couple of days.

    Last August, readings ranged between 155 and 165 degrees inside the tents.

    All of the tents are equipped with fans, and inmates are allowed access to air-conditioned buildings.

    The above excerpt was from 2013.

    Yep. AZ is a wonderful state. Please come and visit the Grand Canyon but save some time for a short visit to an entire ‘city’ that turns into a torture camp come May.

    1. If it was torture don’t you think the feds would have shut it down a long time ago. Joe’s claim, which has yet to be overcome, is “If the tents are good enough for our troops, they are good enough for the prisoners.”

      Location: (Map It)
      2939 W. Durango Street
      Phoenix, AZ 85009

      (602) 876-5551
      The Tents Jail was begun in 1993 when Sheriff Joe Arpaio was able to obtain some surplus military tents. These tents were set up in an area adjacent to one of the existing Maricopa County Jails in Phoenix, Arizona. Sheriff Arpaio had previously decided that he would not release any inmates due to jail overcrowding, and housing sentenced inmates in the tents seemed a good solution. Funding for the project was minimal, and included the cost for cement necessary for base pads, secure fencing, and electric costs for heating, cooling and lights.
      The Tents Jail can currently hold up to 2,126 inmates.
      Sheriff Arpaio has added a few improvements at the Tents Jail, including four Sky Watch Towers for security, stun fences around the perimeter, and facial recognition computer software for inmate identification. K-9 units and patrol deputies have been added for additional security. The Classification Unit conducts background checks on inmates before they are housed in the tents, so that dangerous or predatory individuals are not placed there.
      Scheduling tours: Group tours of the internationally famous Tents Jail can be scheduled in advance by calling: (602) 876-5551. Adults only (ages 18 and over. Please provide full names and dates of birth when calling to schedule the tour)
      Tours will be conducted by Tents jail staff
      Group size: up to 5 adults, no tour buses
      Time and date availability to be determined by Tents Jail Administration
      Dress standards apply. (Business casual is appropriate.)
      Other guidelines/requirements may be established by Tents Jail Administration.
      Groups wishing to purchase Sheriffs’ related items at Enforcement Support please contact (602) 876-1000 ask for a transfer to Enforcement Support to get prior approval.

  12. rebeccalynn412

    Dredd, I noticed that too. Why do conservatives want to call themselves libertarians? They seem very closey aligned with the most conservative Republicans out there. They can call themselves libertarian but they certainly don’t resemble libertarians of 20 years ago.
    It is a better “success” story than the witness protection program or Saint Ronnie …

Comments are closed.