Federal procurement featured in new equity action plans

GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan, shown here testifying at her confirmation hearing in June 2021.

GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan, shown here testifying at her confirmation hearing in June 2021. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Improving access to federal contracting vehicles and supporting small, disadvantaged businesses are key parts in the equity action plans released by agencies on April 14.

The General Services Administration is making federal procurement a key focus of its first-ever equity action plan, aiming to increase investments in small disadvantaged businesses as the White House seeks to address systemic issues impacting underserved communities.

GSA, along with more than 90 federal agencies, unveiled its equity plan on Thursday. GSA's plan highlighted the role it plays in overseeing $75 billion worth of annual contracts and said it plans to center its equity efforts on three areas: federal procurement, federal buildings and federal technology design and delivery.

The plan identifies five major barriers impacting small, disadvantaged businesses (SDBs) from achieving equitable outcomes in the federal marketplace, including the lack of a centralized portal for opportunities in which new entrants can assess potential awards. A lack of resources and knowledge around the complexities of navigating and complying with federal procurement requirements also impacts SDBs in winning task or delivery orders, according to GSA.

To address those barriers, the agency said it look to find new paths for SDBs to find places on existing governmentwide acquisition contracts, create a supplier diversity plan and a "robust post-award engagement strategy" to help SDBs achieve success. Additionally, GSA is looking to simplify the process for new entrants and improve vendor education to create new pathways into federal procurement.

"This plan lays out how GSA intends to integrate diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility as a priority in everything we do, from delivering projects to designing websites," said GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan. "For government to work, it needs to work for everyone. That's why we're focused on improving how we at GSA, and our federal partners, can improve how we deliver services to all of America's communities."

GSA also says it will award all remaining cohorts for 8(a) STARS III, Polaris and women-owned small business pools this year, part of an effort to support the White House goal of increasing federal contract spending on SDBs by 50% over five years. Last month, the agency announced a four-fold increase in its contracting opportunity goals for SDBs from the year prior.

Other agencies feature a focus on procurement in their equity action plans as well, including the Small Business Administration, which says it will invest in improved technology to streamline program applications and integrate data as part of an effort to increase access to capital for minority-owned businesses.

The Commerce Department's equity action plan also includes calls for the Minority Business Development Agency – an agency within the Commerce Department tasked with promoting competitiveness for minority businesses in the federal marketplace – to create a pool of federal contracting opportunities. The Department of Homeland Security also pledged to make its contract vehicles more open to SDBs.

The equity action plans are the result of President Joe Biden's executive order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which envisioned a multi-year effort to improve federal service delivery and access for underserved communities. The White House website now features a page dedicated to its government-wide equity efforts, with links to each agency's action plans and filtering options to review the more than 300 commitments and strategies. 

GSA has been working to streamline the process and improve education resources for SDBs and minority-owned businesses for several years, releasing a request for information in 2020 about developing its small business contract vehicle, Polaris. The Biden administration has meanwhile sought to leverage its procurement authority to narrow the racial wealth gap, previously announcing plans to invest $31 billion in various forms of assistance for socially and economically disadvantaged business owners looking to form working relationships with the federal government.