December 22, 2015 | MEA Magazine publishes Gary Shumaker’s Article “Will Being African-American Help Me Win Government Contracts?”

The way you word the question is critical.

By Gary Shumaker

If someone has lead you to believe that an agency will give you a government contract because you’re a minority, you’re sadly mistaken. You also have to be better than the other companies that the government could give the contract to.

This is not to say that you have to compete head-to-head against every other company in the business. there are programs that will limit the competition that you need to best, but you will still need to be better at what you do than the competition.

The competition for some contracts is limited to companies that have been accepted into the Small Business Administration (SBA) 8(a) business development program. Only proposals for companies that have been accepted into the program will be considered.

Getting accepted into the program is no trivial feat. And, it’s not a minority-only program; it’s focused on companies that are owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.

Companies need to be accepted prior to submitting a proposal for an 8(a) set-aside contract, and it’s a months-long process at the minimum. Requirements for admission include the following: the business must be majority-owned by one or more individuals, the owner must be an American citizen, the business must be majority-owned and controlled/managed by one or more socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, the business must be small, and the principals must show good character. Applicants are required to prove social disadvantage, but some people are presumed to be disadvantaged. These include African, Hispanic, Native, Asian Pacific, and Subcontinent Americans. This is not an African-American thing; it’s a socially disadvantaged thing.

A socially disadvantaged applicant must also prove economic disadvantage.  To do this, he must provide a narrative statement of economic disadvantage, and personal financial information including tax returns and other documentation.  In other words, an applicant can’t be too rich.  Again, it’s not about your ethnicity; nobody who is socially disadvantaged can be too rich and get accepted into the program.

Gaining admission to the program can provide several different types of advantages to a company that is just starting out in government contracting. These include: every government agency “sets aside” some of its procurement’s exclusively for 8(a) companies which limits competition to similarly situated companies, a government agency may do a sole source procurement with an 8(a) company, and gaining entry into the 8(a) program gives the company eligibility for another program: the SBA Mentor-Protégé program.

It’s probably worth talking for a minute about what the 8(a) program will NOT do for a company. Once a company gains 8(a) status, nobody will come knocking at the company door to award a contract out of the blue. Also, if you can’t tell prospective customers about how good you are at what you do, you probably won’t win. References play a big part, and if you have none, you probably won’t win. Lastly, you must submit a proposal in order to get the work. You’ve got to give your customer something that he can point to and say “This is why I gave them the work.”

So will being an African-American help you win government contracts?  If you mean, will it give you an advantage when you’re starting up, yeah, it’s one factor.  But, it’s not the most important factor; you’ve got to be good at what you do.  But if you go through the process to gain 8(a) status, it can limit the competition that you need to beat.
Go for it!