The Department of Homeland Security said it will expand engagement with the goal of increasing contract opportunities for small businesses owned by or supporting members of underserved communities as a core tenet of its first-ever Equity Action Plan.
The plan was crafted in line with President Biden’s Jan. 20, 2021, executive order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which stated that “because advancing equity requires a systematic approach to embedding fairness in decision-making processes, executive departments and agencies must recognize and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity.”
DHS singled out seven focus areas in furtherance of this mission: applying for naturalization, accessing humanitarian protection during immigration processing, bidding on DHS contracts, countering all forms of terrorism and targeted violence, filing complaints and seeking redress in DHS programs and activities, airport screening, and accessing Trusted Traveler Programs.
“The Department of Homeland Security interacts with the public on a daily basis more than any other federal agency. Since January 2021, DHS has taken several meaningful steps to ensure we are equitably serving the public and every community across the country,” Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement Thursday. “The DHS Equity Action Plan builds on our Department’s progress in better integrating equity into the full range of DHS activities and reinforces our commitment to continuing this critical work.”
In FY 2020, DHS obligated over $7.6 billion in contracts from a pool of $21 billion to small businesses. Preliminary FY 2021 data indicates the total small business-eligible dollars obligation hit a historic high for DHS at nearly $8 billion, including service-disabled veteran-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, small disadvantaged businesses including 8(a), and HUBZone small businesses.
“DHS will prioritize enhancing efforts to engage these firms through various outreach activities, in addition to monitoring and increasing small business goals as appropriate,” the plan states.
This starts with identifying barriers to equitable outcomes, according to the department, which found during an engagement session held last year that “stakeholders reported they perceived several barriers to bidding on a contract at DHS, including goals for SDBs do not take into account the needs of specific minority groups, inability to break into areas where there are existing contracts, and limited awareness in some sectors of how to navigate the contracting process.”
Next, the plan details actions and intended impacts to address those barriers, with a focus on “additional outreach efforts on underserved communities for whom statutory set-aside authorities may not exist” including continuing the Vendor Outreach Sessions Program, held 10 times each fiscal year, and hosting additional “How to Do Business with DHS” sessions targeted specifically to underserved communities.
DHS said it will “increase awareness of procurement opportunities, requirements, and guidelines among groups that may have thought those opportunities were out of reach or were unaware of DHS’s commitment to small businesses.”
The plan also stresses the importance of tracking achievement of Small Business Administration goals at the department and agency/office levels, as “expansion of outreach efforts and the President’s management agenda should generate an increase in small business goal achievement throughout DHS.”
DHS said it will expand current Vendor Outreach Sessions surveys “to include additional demographic questions that enable assessment of the effectiveness of these efforts with respect to particular underserved communities,” helping provide DHS with “disaggregated data on the types of firms that are benefitting from outreach opportunities and whether they found that the sessions reduced barriers and increased transparency.”
The plan also vows to “monitor and increase DHS small business goals as appropriate.”
“The OSDBU and SBA monitor contract awards to businesses owned by individuals identifying as eligible for federal statutory set-aside contracting. These include women-owned, service-disabled veteran-owned, and Historically Under-Utilized Business Zone (‘HUBZone’) programs with various and highly specific criteria. However, businesses that are not eligible to compete in these programs may be able to compete as a small business under SBA programs, based on company revenue or number of employees,” the plan states. “Even though the SBA programs are likely to benefit underserved communities, there is currently no separate numerical goal for underserved communities in federal small business contracting programs. OSDBU will therefore monitor and establish or increase these goals as appropriate.”
Finally, the department said it will “increase accountability for DHS leadership and the acquisition community in assessing DHS’s commitment to small business participation.”
The SBA Annual Procurement Scorecard “provides accountability for DHS’s small business, socioeconomic, and subcontracting goal accomplishments in federal contracting” and “measures DHS’s adherence to the Small Business Act and changes in the size of DHS’s small-business vendor pool,” the plan notes, adding that DHS has received a grade of “A” or “A+” on the Scorecard for the past 12 fiscal years “and will continue to strive for this level of excellence.”
DHS will also provide Vendor Outreach Sessions survey data and feedback quarterly to DHS leadership with analysis of participation by underserved communities. “This information will be used to better target outreach efforts,” the department said.