NASA Asks How to Better Advance Equity Through its Spending Power
This request for information furthers two executive orders from President Biden.
The space agency wants to hear from the public about how it can better advance racial equity and support underserved communities with the billions of dollars in procurements and other forms of federal assistance it doles out each year.
A request for information from NASA that will formally be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday will further President Biden executive orders on equity, issued in January 2021 and February 2023. The agency specifically wants to hear feedback on outreach, engagement and training; barrier analysis; and diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility for procurement, grants and cooperative agreements.
“NASA will review inputs received and may use this information to evaluate, implement, modify, expand, and streamline procurements, grants, cooperative agreements, regulations, policies, practices and processes to remove systemic inequitable barriers and challenges facing members of underserved communities,” the document reads. This request builds on a previous one issued in June 2021.
Examples of questions are: Are there barriers to entities taking advantage of the NASA Office of Small Business’ training opportunities? How can NASA better work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions to advance its outreach on contract, grant and cooperative agreement awards? Are there particular barriers with either NASA or federal government regulations, policies or practices to applying for contracts, grants and cooperative agreements?
The request notes that NASA has already instituted a requirement that contractors must submit diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility plans for certain contracts and it has “included a term and condition in its grant and cooperative agreement awards for recipients to obtain at least one quotation from a small and/or minority businesses, women’s business enterprises, or labor surplus area firm when acquiring goods or services that exceed the simplified acquisition threshold (currently $250,000).” NASA would like to know what more it can do to further the goals of each.
Public comments on the request for information are due in about two months. NASA especially wants to hear from members of underserved communities.
NASA’s equity action plan, released in April 2022 as required by Biden’s first executive order, stated that in 2021, NASA spent $19.6 billion on goods and services, which included about $2 billion (or 10%) going to small disadvantaged businesses. “By focusing its purchasing decisions and paying particular attention to Small Businesses classified as Disadvantaged-, HUBZone-, Service-Disabled Veteran-, and Women-Owned, the agency can promote equitable economic investment and spur innovation,” the plan said.
Also, NASA awards about 3,000 grants and cooperative agreements every year; however, Minority Serving Institutions such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Predominantly Black Institutions, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges or Universities, Native American Non-Tribal Institutions, Alaskan Native- or Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions Asian American- and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions are often underrepresented in such, the plan stated. “Whatever the barriers, preliminary data suggests that NASA grant and cooperative agreement awards could be distributed more equitably.”