The DoD’s Equity Action Plan Includes Strategy to Advance Small Businesses Opportunities in the Federal Acquisition Process
The Department of Defense (“DoD”) released its “Equity Action Plan” (the “Equity Plan”) which was developed to ensure the creation of “opportunities for all Americans.” This Equity Plan was developed in response to President Biden’s January 2021 Executive Order 13985 – “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.”
The DoD completed an equity assessment based on the requirements set forth in the Executive Order and developed five “actions” to demonstrate the DoD’s commitment towards leveling the playing field. These “action” topics include: (1) procurement and contracting; (2) military installations; (3) military families; (4) equitable artificial intelligence research and development; and (5) underserved community investment.
While all of these actions are valiant efforts by the DoD to promote equity, one is of particular importance to federal contractors – procurement and contracting. Although the DoD has already implemented programs such as the Small Business Innovation Research Program, the Small Business Technology Transfer Program, the Mentor-Protégé Program, etc., and categorized businesses such as small disadvantaged, women-owned small, service-disabled Veteran owned small, and located in historically underutilized business zones, the DoD noticed many remaining barriers that inhibit the interest and ability of small businesses from pursing DoD procurement opportunities.
During its initial assessment, the DoD found these barriers to include:
- DoD specific procurement and contracting processes;
- DoD specific compliance requirements;
- A lack of simplified and clear entry points for small businesses into the defense marketplace;
- Unclear communication of opportunities for small businesses;
- Lack of access to information on requirements for bid;
- Financial instability; and
- Other inequitable working conditions for the contractor workforce.
To remedy these barriers in the federal acquisition process, the DoD identified a three-step action plan, which includes the following:
(1) Advance opportunities for prime and subcontractors who are members of underserved communities.
In order to further increase small business participation in the DoD procurement process (including the participation of AbilityOne entities), the DoD states it will not only capitalize on its ongoing efforts to increase small business participation but will also implement new practices to ensure these equity barriers are removed. For example, the DoD states it will fully implement management actions called for by the Office of Management and Budget to increase its small disadvantaged business goals. The Equity Plan further states that the DoD will find data showing where disparities exist and issue guidance to the acquisition workforce accordingly. Such guidance will include encouraging additional review of contracting opportunities and resourcing and deploying market intelligence tools. The DoD is also planning to update the Office of Small Business Programs website to create a “one stop shop” for small businesses to access information, resources, toolkits, and counseling support. The DoD is working to stabilize small business programs through dedicated funding (with help from the Executive budget) and permanent reauthorization.
(2) Advance equity through requirements on wage setting and labor practices.
The DoD is working to mandate a $15.00 minimum wage for all service contract workers on Federal contracts. The DoD is also investing in apprenticeships, community college programs, manufacturing training, trade support, and other education and training programs to promote the closing of equity gaps.
(3) Empower small business programs and initiatives to lead policy and management practices.
The DoD is working to ensure that small business leadership is empowered, resourced, and has access to DoD senior leadership.
According to the Equity Plan, the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer must send the Deputy Secretary of Defense an implementation plan that has “clear milestones and completion times” by July 13, 2022. To ensure that progress is made on these actions, the DoD Office of Small Business Programs is going to develop an “enterprise-wide plan of action and milestones.” In addition to the DoD’s Equity Plan, more than 90 other equity action plans were also released by various agencies in an effort to remove these longstanding equity barriers. Among those agencies is the U.S. Small Business Administration, who is implementing similar plans.