Regulatory reforms should open up contracting opportunities for minorities and women at federal regulatory agencies and at the financial institutions they regulate, according the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Representatives from the FHFA and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. participated in a Friday teleconference organized by the National Association of Women REO Brokerages about Section 342 of the Dodd-Frank Act. Section 342 established the creation of offices of minority and women inclusion, or OMWI, at all federal regulatory agencies that oversee the financial industry. That includes establishing diversity procurement procedures at the agencies. But Section 342, born in the wake of the nation's financial crisis, goes beyond that, allowing the regulatory agencies to assess the diversity practices at the institutions they regulate, said Lee Bowman, associate director of minority and women inclusion for the FHFA. "These offices are designed to create a ripple effect throughout the industry to be responsible not only for our own agencies but to have some influence over what the agencies we regulate are doing in this area as well." The FHFA, for example, last month received preliminary reports from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the federal home loan banks that it regulates on their current diversity and procurement practices. During September and October, it will meet with each entity to discuss current practices and proposals for minority and women inclusion for 2012. Thereafter, the agencies will be reviewed on their plans annually, Bowman said. Mickey Collins, director of minority and women inclusion at the FDIC, said the Dodd-Frank Act doesn't give contract set-asides to women and minorities. Instead, it is meant to level the playing field to give women-owned and minority-owned businesses equal access to go after federal and financial institution contracts. While some federal agencies have had supplier diversity functions prior to recent financial industry reforms, they often operated in a silo, he said. "Dodd-Frank should cause all agencies to work better together in their efforts to attract women and minorities to federal contracting work," Collins said. "For the agencies that had not had programs in place, (Dodd-Frank) will give them some ammunition to really go out and put some things in place that will raise their profile and raise their commitment and their involvement with minority and women-owned businesses." Creation of the OMWI offices should make it easier for small businesses to know who is performing what function at the different agencies, Bowman and Collins said. FDIC was one of the first federal agencies to notify the public about the formation of its OMWI department — in part because the agency already had an office set up to handle equal opportunity issues prior to Dodd-Frank's enactment. The agency has averaged, since the 2008 financial crisis to the present, nearly 12% of its contracts going to women-owned entities, he said. That equates to about 14% of the funding — $231 million over over three and a half years, Collins said. "It's gone up and down over those years. When the financial crisis kicked off at the end of 2008, we knew that the next couple years would be pretty hot and heavy." When minorities are added in, nearly 30% of contracting dollars went to women and minorities during that time span, he said. The FHFA, meanwhile, recently put out a request for information on how to dispose of vast inventories of REO properties going forward. This may provide ample opportunities for women and minority-owned businesses to get involved, Bowman said. REO brokerages, especially, may have ideas on how to more effectively move the logjam of properties, Bowman said. Write to Kerry Curry. Follow her on Twitter @communicatorKLC.