Contract Players

What can you do for your country-and what can your country do for you? Here are some opportunities government agencies offer entrepreneurial women:
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the December 1996 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

1996: Prime contracts, $145 million (1.5 percent); subcontracts, $248 million (2.6 percent)

1997 goal: $382 million total (5 percent)

Most of 's women contractors provide computer or administrative support services, but the agency hopes to expand women's participation in high-tech contracting. NASA's Mass Minority Business Resource Advisory Committee develops ideas, sources and training programs to eliminate obstacles for women-owned and small disadvantaged businesses. Meanwhile, NASA's prime contractors round table promotes the use of women- and minority-owned businesses to prime contractors.

NASA has a training and mentor-protégé program, plus biannual high-tech conferences and an annual open house where women meet prime contractors and NASA's small-business specialists.

The key to working with NASA is the . Contracts for $25,000 to $500,000 are listed exclusively online.

Department Of Defense

1995: Prime contracts, $1.9 billion; subcontracts, $1.2 billion plus

1997 goal: 5 percent

We have over 700 buying activities, each with a small-business specialist," says Janet Koch at the DOD. "Once you know what you want to sell, you market it directly to that specialist."

The agency's Thrust Program targets small businesses in five industries: environmental, manufacturing, health care, telecommunications and management information systems. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program allows small businesses to bid on research and development initiatives; the Delta Pilot Program assists small firms hurt by defense cuts. There's a mentor-protégé program, plus a home page that offers women-owned companies access to all DOD publications, links to legislative offices, and inclusion in a database the department taps for contracting opportunities.

Department Of Agriculture

1996: Prime contracts, $1.9 million (3.3 percent)

1997 goal: 5 percent plus

Women business owners are not using our programs," says Dayton Watkins at the USDA's Rural Business Cooperative Services Agency, which provides financing to rural businesses. "We've set out to correct that."

Watkins is forging ahead with a women's initiative. "We'll use all our resources to target women business owners who need financing," he says.

The USDA also helps women expand globally by linking them with the Department of Commerce's women-only trade missions.

General Services Administration

1996: Prime contracts, $161 million (3.3 percent)

1997 goal: 5 percent

Most women GSA contractors are in , building services, clerical support, janitorial and construction. To increase the number of women contractors, the GSA hosts breakfast meetings and workshops with women business owners in major cities. According to Mirinda Jackson at the GSA, the agency also has a mentor-protégé program, a Web site, a vendor database, and an annual forecast with "a brief description of what we're looking to buy, the dollar amount and contact information."

Department Of Justice

1996: Prime contracts, $125 million (5 percent); subcontracts, $27.7 million (5.5 percent)

1997 goal: Prime contracts, 5 percent; subcontracts, 5.5 percent

In monthly briefing sessions with entrepreneurs, Justice Department representatives review services and products they're seeking. One-on-one counseling is available, as are a half-dozen fairs annually where entrepreneurs can meet department workers. Occasionally, says Ken Bryan at the Justice Department, the department also holds a procurement conference and fair for women-owned firms, in addition to "at least 10 procurement fairs and conferences we either co-host or attend to reach women."

Contact Sources

Department of Agriculture, USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service, Washington, DC 20250, (202) 690-4730, (

Department of Defense, Rm. 2A338, The Pentagon, Washington, DC 20301-3061, (703) 697-9383, (

Department of Justice, Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, Washington, DC 20530, (800) 345-3712, (202) 616-0521, (

General Services Administration, 18th & F Sts. N.W., Rm. 6029, Washington, DC 20405, (202) 501-1021, (

Headquarters, 300 E St. S.W., Washington, DC 20546, (800) 262-7295, (202) 358-2088, (


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