"The inclusion of minorities and women in our financial services programs is long overdue," Waters said, noting that only one of the 12 firms that the Treasury pre-qualified as fund managers for its Legacy Securities Public-Private Investment Program was minority-owned.
Waters also cited federal data showing that women made up 44.2% of the federal workforce in 2006, and minorities 28.3%. Some financial regulatory positions had lower figures: Just 35% of financial institution examiners were women and 18.7% were minorities, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
In 2008, white men held 64% of senior positions in the financial services industry, according to a May report by the Government Accountability Office.
The new offices, according to the provision, must "to the extent consistent with applicable law" consider the diversity of companies seeking contract work and, in some cases, their subcontractors. The provision applies to "all contracts of an agency for services of any kind" but specifically cites financial services such as asset management and programs dealing with economic recovery.
Diverse firms can best serve minorities hit hard by the crash of the subprime mortgage market, said Janis Bowdler, deputy director of the wealth-building policy project at the National Council of La Raza.
"It's one thing to put bilingual tellers in your banks. It's another to make sure you have a diverse board," she said.
Todd Gaziano was one of four members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who wrote to lawmakers objecting to the provision. He said that companies whose workforce did not reflect the overall population could find it difficult to convince agencies that they had done enough to hire minorities and women.
"It's pernicious, it's unconstitutional and it's counterproductive to ending discrimination because it requires discrimination," he said. "If you are hiring somebody because of his race, you are not hiring somebody else from a different race."
The provision was narrowed during final negotiations over the bill. A sentence was added clarifying that it did not apply to "the lending policies and practices" of any regulated firm.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) tried to narrow it further. One of his failed amendments called for just one diversity office for the entire Federal Reserve. A House Republican aide said one agency estimated that the office would cost it about $270,000 a year.
It could be years before the provisions kick in. Similar language was added to a 2008 bill mandating new diversity offices at federal housing agencies, including Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks. Those agencies have not yet approved final rules.