Despite Sequester, Agencies Continue Hiring Women-Owned Contractors

Pentagon, HHS and Homeland Security upbeat about meeting 5 percent goal.

The Pentagon’s point woman for hiring women-owned small businesses said this week that she “needed a lift” from the travails of furloughs and sequestration.

“This is a tough time for the federal government and DoD in particular if your’re concerned about small businesses,” said Linda Oliver, deputy director of the Defense Department’s Office of Small Business Programs. “Our travel dollars have been cut to nonexistent, our training dollars cut. I’m not second- guessing the decisions, but it’s kind of a down time.”

Speaking on Tuesday to hundreds of current and prospective contractors at the American Express Open’s annual summit, Oliver’s chief advice was to take advantage of the “debrief,” the optional meeting companies may request within three days of learning that they have been eliminated during a contract award process. “The debrief is not on the contracting officers’ list of fun things to do, since they fear they’re being set up for a bid protest,” she said. “But it’s really valuable and gives all involved perspective and closure,” she said.

In panels on how contracts can be won by small businesses qualified for set-asides under newly expanded thresholds for contract size, Tracey Pinson, a small business specialist at the Army Department, said the Army had awarded 4.5 percent of its contracts to women-owned small businesses, totaling $4 billion.

While awaiting revisions in the Federal Acquisition Regulation extending the program to larger contracts, Pinson’s team has been “educating its buying commands” on the value of female-owned product and service providers.

“I just came off of furlough,” she said. The aberration of sequestration has meant “the Army is not buying a lot of services through the operations and maintenance budget.” She added that “people are retiring left and right because they don’t like being furloughed, so [there’s a] need to educate more.”

Lisa Jenkins, a small business specialist at the Transportation Security Administration, said TSA has awarded 3.4 percent of contracts to women-owned small businesses, totaling $35 million. The agency is planning two industry days for March and November of 2014, she said, encouraging would-be contract winners to “ping me quarterly” with updates on their qualifications because “people feel comfortable with those who are frequent.”

Linda Waters, a small business specialist at the Health and Human Services Department, said her agency—the government’s second-largest in procurement, after Defense—has proudly exceeded its goals for women-owned businesses, with awards at 6.43 percent, worth $1.2 billion. HHS’ 10 upper divisions and 85,000 employees, she explained, manage 300 programs and let $18.5 billion in contracts annually.

(Image via sheff/