Native American businesses should take advantage of opportunities
By Michael Anderson
NACA strives to connect the dots for our 8(a) Native-owned businesses and those interested in Native 8(a). In doing this, we maintain a strong relationship with the U.S. Small Business Administration in tandem with our mission to develop Native economies through government contracting.
We mentioned in our first two articles that navigating the complexities of government contracting is a challenge, especially for those new to this industry. This is the reason NACA partners with subject matter experts like govmates, an online matchmaking resource for large prime contractors seeking small businesses of various demographics. However, at some point, a business must turn to the overarching policies, statutes and legislation that affects their strategic business interests, and consider being an advocate for support and change where necessary.
If you are at the business table, you are either part of the policy discussion, or part of the menu. It is our responsibility to influence and educate Native-owned businesses to advocate for themselves. In government contracting, that advocacy must be at the federal big picture level. In doing so, NACA stresses the importance of understanding and having knowledge of issues that affect the big picture.
NACA continues to concentrate on key initiatives that will open doors to increase contracting opportunities while curbing policies that could harm small businesses. We keep a close eye on our policy priorities and leverage what we see as real potential for affecting Native 8(a) in a positive way for our members. Concurrently, Native companies should practice the same diligence in learning what contributes to the ebbs and flows of their contracting experience.
As one example, we see a tremendous opportunity to work with federal agencies and strengthen implementation of the 107-year-old Buy Indian Act. The Federal Procurement Data System shows that since fiscal Year 2013, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has procured $103.3 million under Buy Indian out of $1.22 billion spent (8.5 percent). At the same time, the Indian Health Service procured $15.1 million under Buy Indian out of $3.3 billion spent (0.5 percent).
If we were to assume a Buy Indian goal of just 23 percent—the goal for federal small business contracting—that would translate to $200 million more in potential BIA opportunities and $800 million more in potential IHS opportunities. Assuming even a modest 5 percent profit margin, that’s $50 million lost for qualified Native American businesses and their communities. This echoes what the Government Accountability Office reported in July 2015.
The way ahead will require both agencies and their Native stakeholders to identify and ensure qualified and capable businesses bid on BIA and IHS contract opportunities. Training and familiarization is certainly required for contracting officials and contractors—also identified as a shortfall in the GAO report.
NACA brought together officials of both agencies during a Federal Agency Panel at the 2017 NACA Outreach Summit. Also present were representatives of Tribal, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian companies. BIA officials discussed how they had improved their implementation of Buy Indian with the release of the Department of the Interior’s National Policy Memorandum, on Jan. 12, 2016. The Indian Health Services presently lacks a policy, but acknowledged that it is drafting one with the goal of meeting Buy Indian requirements.
This is just one example of challenges that will require the attention and support of all Tribal, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian businesses, including individually owned Native entities. There is a new economic imperative that is being touted across Native organizations, associations, and coalitions. The imperative relies on unity of commitment to issues that impact economic development in Native communities. The imperative recognizes that we seek to raise the economic standard of all communities—to include the surrounding local, state and regional areas. Effective use of the imperative is not designed to increase federal expenditures. Instead, these dollars will feed into the national economy and more importantly, give financial strength to communities whose goal is to be self-reliant.
Thinking ahead to our future, we must also influence and train our younger generation to advocate for their culture, communities, and businesses. Towards that end, NACA will host our annual Emerging Native Leaders Summit (ENLS) from July 18-20, 2017 in Washington, D.C.
This event is designed to engage our future business leaders in advocacy and provide an introduction for their steps into federal contracting. ENLS is a building block for a stronger Native-owned business economy. We hope to generate interest in attendance, sponsorship, and attendance. For more information, visit www.nativecontractors.org. ♦