An important highlight in the history of women in government contracting was recently celebrated in Silver Spring.

The event was for women business owners from across the District of Columbia-Maryland-Virginia region who gathered at the Silver Spring Civic Center to trumpet the 10th anniversary of ChallengeHER, a national partnership between Women Impacting Public Policy, the U.S. Small Business Administration and American Express that has served more than 26,000 business owners.  

The goal of each ChallengeHER event is to provide women business owners with procurement education, inform them about best practices for working with the government and offer ample resources to learn how to apply and obtain a federal contract under the woman-owned small business set aside program.

In addition to the fireside chat with SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman that was led by WIPP President and CEO Angela Dingle, the highlight of this year’s event was the announcement of a new U.S. Department of Education multiple-award woman-owned small business set-aside contract. Spearheaded by Calvin Mitchell, director of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, this agreement will provide the department with critical digital services in the areas of cloud and infrastructure, application development, network services, data analysis, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and emerging technology. 

That’s a mouthful and that means it’s time for an acronym you make half an effort to come up with an acronym. (That’s almost a necessity for government work, right?) That’s why the set-aside contract is better known as CANDACE, in honor of the late Candace Ayles Waterman. She was a trailblazer and advocate for women entrepreneurs. Ms. Waterman tragically passed away earlier in 2023.

“The CANDACE contract will provide new and expanded opportunities for our WOSB community,” said Dingle, “and will advance the SBA’s goal of awarding 5% of prime contracts across the federal government to women-owned small businesses.”

About pricing

The Biden-Harris Administration is announcing the next phase of the federal government’s enterprise approach, which is known as the Better Contracting Initiative. The BCI is a four-pronged initiative to ensure that the federal government is getting better terms and prices when purchasing goods and services by doing the following:  

● Leveraging data across federal agencies to get lower prices and better terms 

● Negotiating common enterprise-wide software licenses

● Saving money and avoiding waste by getting contract requirements right the first time

● Getting better value from sole source and other contracts

The BCI also ensures the government is deliberate about who it buys from, including small and disadvantaged businesses.

The initiative has already produced huge results. Last year, for instance, the federal government purchased over $700 billion of goods and services. While federal agencies have unique needs and purchase highly-customized items ― such as fighter jets and space telescopes ― most of the goods and services purchased by agencies are common commercial items that most agencies use, such as IT hardware and software, facilities maintenance and package delivery services. 

While the approach sounds like simply using common sense, it’s important to understand that for decades federal agencies have often paid inconsistent prices (and often too much) when compared to market prices. To address this issue, the Obama-Biden Administration pushed the federal government to begin to take an enterprise approach to the common goods and services it buys. 

It seems to be working. This new way of doing business has led to the feds avoiding $90 billion in costs for taxpayers since fiscal 2016. 

$226M set-aside

Some big news came from right in our backyard in late November when NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center released a revised draft request for proposal. The update concerns acquiring administrative support for research and development in the physical, engineering and life sciences (except nanotechnology and biotechnology). 

But the biggest news is that this is a total small business set-aside in its enormity: it has a ceiling value of $226 million. 

This RFP was issued to provide NASA Safety and Mission Assurance departments with support to effectively perform risk-based mission assurance. In addition, it reflects the desired excellence in safety, risk management, reliability engineering, quality engineering and mission assurance at the centers.

NASA solicits offers for a cost-plus, fixed-fee, indefinite delivery indefinite quantity, single-award contract with a five-year ordering period and one 6-month option period. 

Offers are due Jan. 2, 2024, at 8 a.m. EST. Get ready.

Gloria Larkin is President and CEO of TargetGov, and a national expert in business development in the government markets. Email [email protected], visit www.targetgov.com or call toll-free 1-866-579-1346 x 325 for more information.