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Thursday, June 8, 2023

IRS Emphasizes Outreach and Transparency in Bringing More Small-Business Contractors to Opportunities

Industry can expect to see more requirement-based industry days and reverse industry days, partnering more with industry groups, and working to advance the equity executive order.

The Internal Revenue Service is eager to work with small businesses on a “litany of opportunities” and wants to ensure that potential contractors come to the table with knowledge of the agency’s goals and ready to offer solutions.

“We do our best to share information and be as transparent as possible about future procurements,” IRS Deputy Chief Procurement Officer Guy Torres said at the Government Technology & Services Coalition’s IRS Day 2023. “Responding to questions or setting time aside to talk with industry is the right thing to do. That’s why days like this are critical.”

The Treasury Department set a prime contract small-business goal of 40 percent for fiscal year 2023, along with a small disadvantaged business goal of 12 percent, a service-disabled veteran-owned small-business goal of 3 percent, a woman-owned small-business goal of 5 percent, and a HUBZone small-business goal of 3 percent. The department also has a 20 percent subcontracting small-business goal, with a small disadvantaged business subcontracting goal of 5 percent, a service-disabled veteran-owned small-business subcontracting goal of 3 percent, a woman-owned small-business subcontracting goal of 5 percent, and a HUBZone small-business goal of 3 percent.

Outreach is critical to meeting those goals and bringing innovative ideas to an ambitious agency that has projects underway including IT modernization and digitalization to improve efficiency and the experience for the taxpayer.

Industry Liaison Ali Pourghassemi, who was named Federal Small Business Champion at the 2022 Homeland Security Today Awards, said the office’s outreach efforts incorporate a “multipronged approach” spanning from announcements on SAM.gov to social media.

“Our acquisitions forecast is one of the better forecasts in the federal government,” he said, noting that it’s updated quarterly. “IRS made a real push in keeping our forecast fluid, not stale or stagnant. Look at it often.”

IRS wants to hear and digest feedback from industry about how agency outreach can be even stronger. “Forecasting was the No. 1 thing you wanted to know more about,” Pourghassemi told the industry audience. When reviewing agency data, he advised, “folks really need to pay attention to expiring contracts” as well as executive orders in crafting their pitches.

“At the end of the day, you don’t want to talk to me – the program people have the requirements and ideally money to move forward,” he said.

“I want to put the best vendors in place to meet with these people,” he added, stressing that prospective industry partners should “do your homework.”

U.S. Treasury Department Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization Deputy Director Melissa Oliva told the industry audience that she is “always excited when I see small business raising their hand to say ‘yes.’”

“I want to come to small-business events because of engagements such as these,” she said.

Oliva emphasized the potential of vendor outreach events, describing one session in which one participant went on to win a multi-year, multimillion-dollar award. “Pay attention – you want to understand the lay of the land at an organization,” she advised, adding that the Treasury Strategic Plan describes the programmatic objectives of the organization. Prospective contractors should read Treasury’s Equity Action Plan and understand what’s in the annual IRS budget, and review Treasury-related white papers at the Government Accountability Office to get an idea of “where we need to further advance our priorities.”

Torres said it’s important to remind stakeholders that “it is okay to admit the need to delay or clarify requirements after an initial requirement is posted.”

“Industry appreciates the transparency, and it reduces anxiety that we in government are hiding something from industry,” he said. “I remember that used to drive my BD and capture teams crazy trying to understand the waffling or non-responsiveness to industry when poised with a question that needed refinement.”

As IRS strives toward the goals of considering small businesses first and being in compliance with the agency’s prime contracting targets – “we’re going to be working tirelessly,” Oliva vowed – industry can expect to see more requirement-based industry days and reverse industry days, partnering more with industry groups, and working to advance the equity executive order through avenues such as the Small Business Administration’s Council on Underserved Communities.

Oliva said Treasury OSDBU is looking at establishing a prime digital directory to help small business have a seat at the table.

“You are truly the economic stewards for communities,” she said. “We want to figure out how we can level up, enhance customer experience.” She encouraged small businesses to respond to RFIs as those opportunities become available and to utilize their advice about being well-prepared. “Responses can be a little lackluster in terms of them not using the information that’s free – the strategic plan, performance information, etc. I know that you have it in you; we need that to be in writing.”

Oliva emphasized to prospective contractors that “you’re marketing to the agency,” and recommended that they “find out how we’re doing compliance-wise” as IRS is “looking for all socioeconomic categories” particularly service disabled and HUBZone contractors.

“These are nuggets that you can also put in your email – maybe you’ll be able to get us over the helm to meet our goals,” she added.

The State Small Business Credit Initiative helps empower small businesses by increasing access to capital, particularly in historically underserved communities. On March 2, Treasury reported that three states alone — New Jersey, Texas, and Washington – were approved for up to $890.7 million in SSBCI funding, bringing Treasury funding of state and territorial plans to more than $8 billion.

Oliva advised prospective contractors to “look up your state – some of that funding can be used to train up some of your subject-matter experts.”

Noting that industry “spends a lot of dollars responding to RFPs, RFIs, Sources Sought,” Torres reminded businesses that “words matter” in their pitch to IRS.

“So, be calculated in your messaging. Clearly describe what you want. Clearly describe your evaluation needs,” he said. “Ambiguity costs industry more money and increases the risk the government does not get what we truly want. There’s also the risk of an award being pushed to the right, which will impact the mission and add financial costs to the agency.”

Industry should be prepared to see more draft solicitations, and Pourghassemi urged contractors to respond so that procurement officials will “know who’s available or ready.”

“I’m an advocate for not wasting time,” he said. “I want to get you in front of the right people.”

“I really just want to see people be successful – especially small business – and get you on the right path,” Pourghassemi added.

IRS tentatively has a vendor forum event scheduled for May 2 and an industry day scheduled for May 3; more information will be available on government portals.

“There is a litany of opportunities” from IT modernization efforts to professional services, Oliva stressed, encouraging small businesses to reach out to OSBDU to learn more. “Industry engagements are great to be able to have that more intimate dialogue.”

“For the first time in years, the IRS has predictable, multi-year funding for modernization over the long-term,” Torres said. “With this additional funding, the IRS plans to go above and beyond the technology modernization plan released in 2019.”

“Some modernization work will take years to complete, but taxpayers and IRS employees can expect to see some changes soon,” he added.

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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