The confusion surrounding the federal budget debate

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

Recently, WIPP’s President Jane Campbell and I gave a webinar on the federal budget process, which attempted to explain all of the moving parts in the federal budget, including what it means to businesses and the organizations they support. Below I have laid out the steps in the process as simply as possible.

Immediate action item

  1. The funding for Fiscal Year (FY)17 ends on April 28, 2017, therefore Congress must act on or before that date to keep funding the government for the remainder of FY17, which ends on September 30, 2017. FY17 has been funded through a Continuing Resolution (CR), meaning that FY17 has been funded at FY16 levels. While under a CR, federal agencies cannot award grants or initiate new program starts.

Funding options for FY17

(a) A Continuing Resolution until the Fiscal Year ends, or

(b) An “omnibus” appropriations bill to fund the rest of the year. Omnibus simply means putting the 10 remaining agency appropriations into one big bill. The Defense Department and the Veterans Affairs Department bill were signed into law, so there are 10 agencies remaining.

The president can request supplemental appropriations in the current fiscal year, which is exactly what President Trump did in March. He requested $30 billion more for FY17 funding for defense and homeland security. Congress will decide whether or not to honor his request, which would be rolled into the FY17 Omnibus bill.

Longer-term action items

  1. Funding for FY18—which starts October 1, 2017. The House Appropriations Committee is responsible for starting the funding process, and revenue bills must start in the House. The committee is just now starting hearings on funding programs, and subcommittees of this committee have responsibility for certain federal agencies. For example, the Treasury and SBA are funded by the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee. The three-part process is as follows: Subcommittees act first, the full Appropriations Committee considers, and then the bills go to the House floor for action.
  2. Raising the debt ceiling will be required sometime this fall. Why does that matter? If it is not raised, the federal government defaults on its debt, which would send ripples through the global economy.
  3. The FY18 Budget Resolution provides a high-level set of budget numbers that appropriators work against. Much like your own budget, the federal budget is anticipated spending, not what is actually spent (appropriations). Ideally, the Congress should agree on a resolution before it does appropriations, but that does not seem likely.

The interplay between the president’s proposed budget for FY18 (yes, there will be two: 1) a blueprint released in March and 2) a more detailed budget in May) and appropriations is worth an explanation. What we all learned in civics class, “the president proposes and the Congress appropriates,” sets the tone. The media frequently forgets to include this fact in their coverage of the budget, suggesting that the president has the sole power to determine the budget. In fact, he does not. He can only use his bully pulpit to ask for funding priorities. Generally speaking, the Congress, especially if it is from the same party as the president, tries to accommodate his requests. Side noteI say “he” because there has never been a “she.”

In his proposed budget, President Trump suggested cutting many programs that have powerful constituencies, causing widespread alarm among recipients of these programs. While this is certainly a wake-up call for many, the real alarm bells should be directed at the appropriators.

Which leads me to WIPP’s strategy with respect to FY18 funding of programs that support women entrepreneurs. We have concentrated on the appropriators and will continue to urge support. Members on the House Appropriations Subcommittees are the first line of defense and later, the full Appropriations Committee. After finishing with the House, we will turn our attention to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The last stop is floor action.

All told, the season to advocate on behalf of appropriations started in March, and will continue through the rest of the year. The Congress will continue to engage constituents with respect to budget decisions. On April 7, Congress will begin a two-week recess. Legislators will be in their home districts and conducting meetings. Echoing WIPP’s funding requests would be much appreciated. If you are a government contractor, consider voicing the need for stability in the federal budget.  If you support local nonprofit organizations, take a look at federal support dollars and speak up.

The time is now.

Rock, Paper, Sciss… Paper, Paper, Paper

By Jennifer White, WIPP Government Relations

The House Small Business Committee wants to know: are burdens on small businesses from paperwork being reduced by the Paperwork Reduction Act? According to Sam Batkins, the director of regulatory policy at American Action Forum, the short answer is they are not.

The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) was designed to reduce the total amount of paperwork the federal government imposes on private businesses and citizens. In order to achieve this goal, it imposes procedural requirements on agencies that wish to collect information from the public. However, between the sheer volume of instructions that accompany some paperwork, and the lack of resources at various agencies, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Look, for example, at the Internal Revenue Service. According to Frank Cania, founder and president of driven HR, the IRS is responsible for more paperwork than any other agency. “Small businesses fall into a cycle of having to file new forms every time an honest mistake is made in order to avoid IRS fines,” said Mr. Cania, who testified on behalf of Society for Human Resource Management.

For perspective on how time consuming and complex some of the documents can be, he explained to the committee that while an I-9 Form is only two pages long, the instructions are 15 pages long, and the instruction manual is “a slim 69 pages long.”

According to Sally Katzen, professor at NYU Law and senior advisor at Podesta Group, another key related issue with an agency like the IRS is that lack of resources to help individuals with compliance. “Used to, you could call and get someone to answer on the third ring,” she said. “Now, given the cuts to the IRS, the waiting period is well over two hours if you bother to stay on the phone. They’ve had to give up almost all of their assistance with compliance.”

When asked by the committee what Congress can do to make it better, Ms. Katzen answered that the key is investing in resources. “Somebody has to talk to somebody if you want the system to work. You need to put in the resources to enable that to happen.”

It is important for agencies to be able to collect information because it not only aids government decision making, but is often redistributed to the public which some find critical for making business decisions. However, there has to be a way to reduce the volume of paperwork. “There is only so much agencies can do. Only Congress can change the statutory requirements,” Ms. Katzen concluded.

To see the written testimony and witness list from the hearing, click here.

Executive Order Bonanza has Implications for Business

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

President Trump will complete only his third full week on Friday and has already left a lasting mark on how small businesses and government itself work with 20 Executive Orders. Through a series of presidential actions, Mr. Trump has touched on topics ranging from Immigration to healthcare. It’s time we took a deeper dive into what’s come down the pipeline and how it affects the small business community. Read the blog here.

The domestic policy action that was signed in the presence of a number of small businesses, is the “Two-for-One” Executive Order.

Here’s the rundown. The Executive Order has two parts – one aimed at Fiscal Year 2017 and one for Fiscal Year 2018:

  • FY17: “1 in and 2 out.” If a federal agency proposes a new regulation, it must recommend two regulations to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to be terminated. OMB, not the agency will have the final word on which regulations are eliminated.
  • FY18 and subsequent fiscal years: Agencies are ordered to offset costs of new regulations and the OMB is ordered to create a budget that limits how much a new regulation can rise.

On its face, this Executive Order spells relief for lenders and small businesses but there are a raft of unknowns still to be resolved. One question is when this directive will be implemented. For example, the administration’s OMB Director-designate Congressman Mick Mulvaney is undergoing a tough confirmation process and the timeline for his confirmation by the full Senate is still unclear.

Executive Orders generally provide broad guidelines rather than detailed plans on its execution. Questions to be answered are: What actually constitutes a “regulation?” Is it simply a single rule or a whole host of interwoven regulations that, together, provide guidance for an agency on an individual program or policy? What constitutes a “cost?” Will the benefit in a cost-benefit analysis be considered or will the analysis include only the cost? OMB is stocked with experts so we anticipate much more clarity on this as soon as the OMB director is confirmed.

Now, on to more straightforward presidential actions regarding President Trump’s infrastructure plans. One such action expedites environmental review and approval for high priority infrastructure projects and gives any Cabinet member or governor the unilateral ability to designate a project as “high priority” thus shortening the approval process, laid out in the NEPA law. He’s also issued a “Build the Wall” action which orders the Department of Homeland Security to begin building a wall along the U.S. and Mexico border using existing funds. It also authorizes the hiring of 5,000 new border agents. Congress will have to appropriate additional funds for completion because the current budget does not have funding for this project.

Additionally, there were two more Executive Orders issued almost immediately upon President Trump’s inauguration. One of the first actions signed by President Trump was an Executive Order that begins the process of repealing Obamacare. While it does not directly repeal the law, it directs federal agencies to give states, insurance companies and consumers maximum flexibility in complying with Obamacare until such a time as it is repealed. Full repeal and/or replace is going to take an act of Congress which has been openly wrangling with itself on whether to repeal, repeal and replace, or to “repair” the existing law. Regardless, this presidential action starts the ball rolling with respect to repeal of Obamacare while Congress considers its course of action.

The other significant action taken by the president instituted a federal agency-wide hiring freeze on all existing and open positions with exceptions for national security, military, and public safety.  The president intends this as a stopgap and allows agencies to reallocate to prevent public safety and national security from being adversely affected. The kicker, however, is that the memorandum explicitly prevents the hiring of outside contractors to prevent the circumvention of the spirit of the order. Given the number of waivers and exceptions allowed, it’s not altogether clear how this will work in practice, but it certainly lays down a marker that the president is serious about reining in the growth of the federal government.

Finally, on Feb. 3, the president signed two Executive Orders aimed at decreasing regulations for the financial industry; the first calling for a review and the scaling back of existing financial laws, including Dodd-Frank, and the second halting the implementation of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) fiduciary rule, which was set to go into effect this April.

Dodd-Frank, enacted after the 2008 meltdown, was responsible for creating more stringent rules regarding bank capitalization, increasing compliance and reporting standards for banks, introducing stricter mortgage requirements, creating the Financial Stability Oversight Council and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and curbing excessive risk-taking and the existence of too-big-to-fail institutions on Wall Street. Mr. Trump’s action on Dodd-Frank requires regulators to produce a study on financial rules within 120 days—appearing as more of a demand for a review than a complete dismantling of the law.

The fiduciary rule was intended to prevent consumers from receiving conflicted advice when it comes to retirement savings. The president’s order calls for the DOL to examine the rule to determine whether it may lead to the unintended consequence of making it more difficult for advisors to provide financial advice to their clients. However, embraced by much of the financial industry, this order is expected to move quickly compared to the order on Dodd-Frank.

These Executive Actions have the potential to clear the way for even greater gains by women-owned small business moving forward. As we reach for new heights in 2017, WIPP will be fully engaged with the Congress and administration to ensure that burdensome regulations harming the growth of women-owned small business are eliminated and we continue to be the robust engine powering the small business economy.

It’s a Big MACs World

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

Earlier this week, WIPP submitted comments on a proposed rule changing the rules related to small business participation on multiple award contracts, also known as MACs.

The FAR Council, which oversees federal acquisition regulations, sought to clarify the use of set-asides, reserves, and orders placed against MACs. As contractors already know, use of these large contracts is steadily growing. Ensuring all socioeconomic groups, including women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) have access to these opportunities, is a top priority for WIPP.

The rule adds coverage for the new concept of a “reserve.” A reserve would be used on MACs where a partial set-aside is not feasible, but where agencies still want small businesses to participate as prime contractors. This “reserve” concept is very similar to the tracks outlined in WIPP’s Do Not Enter report, which shows how agencies have utilized certain socio-economic set-asides, and discriminated against women-owned firms.

While the proposal provides clarity for contracting officers, it falls short by including an out-of-date policy regarding the limitations on subcontracting. In May 2016, the Small Business Administration finalized a rule change that substantially revised the limitations on subcontracting by making it easier for women-owned firms to comply. The new rule focuses on the percentage of the award amount that has been subcontracted, not the percentage of work. The rule also provides an exemption for similarly situated entities, so WOSBs subcontracting to other WOSBs does not count against the percentage of the award subcontracted. This new policy is a win-win for small businesses, but the FAR Council does not acknowledge the new policy in its rule. If one of the purposes of the rule is to clarify small business authorities for contracting officers, the FAR should use the most up-to-date performance of work requirements.

WIPP appreciates the interest of the FAR Council in providing greater flexibility and clarity for the role of small businesses in multiple award contracts. But this proposed rule does not do enough. Without additional small business protections, this rule could hurt our nation’s biggest job creators- small businesses.

WIPPs full comments on the rule can be found here.

Gloria Larkin, WIPP’s National Partner of the Month – February 2017

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Gloria Larkin, president of TargetGov, has been a staunch ally of WIPP for years. She leads GiveMe5 webinars, responds quickly and effectively to WIPP’s calls to action, and is always on the lookout for new WIPP members. It’s thanks to people like Gloria that WIPP thrives!

Read our Q&A with Gloria to learn more about her and her work.

Q: Tell us a little about TargetGov and its mission

A: TargetGov is celebrating its 20th year in business in 2017! Our mission is to help small, mid-sized and large government contractors win business and aggressively grow their companies. Our clients have won over $3.9 billion in federal contracts in just the last five years.

Q: Have you always been an entrepreneur? If not, what inspired you to take the leap?

A: I have been both an employee and an entrepreneur. I took the leap 20 years ago because I wanted to do something that no one else was doing—help businesses see great success and increase their revenues with a targeted, proactive marketing and business development process.

Q: Have you encountered challenges you had to overcome as a business woman and if so, what have you learned from them?

A: The challenges have been constant, and access to capital is one of the biggest. Through the years, I have had several business loans to grow my business, and none of them were the amount I asked for. It’s an issue even to this day. In applying for a line of credit, I was offered less than half of what I thought it should be. I had the chutzpah to say exactly the amount I thought they should give me (more than double what they offered) and was pleasantly surprised that they agreed. In the past I wouldn’t have pushed, but now, I do.

Q: Do you have a success story that you are particularly proud of? Tell us about it!

A: My proudest moments are when our clients contact us and tell us of their awarded contracts and successful business growth. It feels like my children are successful and I am one proud parent! The first billion was a heady milestone. Now as we see the four-billion milestone coming this year, we are ecstatic about their success!

Q: What is the biggest lesson learned working with the federal government?

A: The biggest lesson is that the federal government market is constantly changing. The rules and regulations are burdensome, yes, but success is predicated on having a strategy and plan that addresses this constant change and adapts proactively, with a trackable, measureable and scalable process. Seeing it work in real life is extraordinary!

Q: Do you have any tips you would like to share with women pursuing federal contracts?

A: This is a demanding market and one must be well prepared, have a well-thought-out roadmap, the discipline to execute it, and measurable actions to track success. This is truly the market in which you can think BIG and see results. But it takes effort and knowledge; use the experts to help you!

Q: Tell us about your experience as a WIPP member. What resources and value has WIPP provided that has been helpful to you and your company?

A: WIPP has truly changed my life. I started getting involved as a committee chair, then learned how to talk to my Congress people. I participated in virtually every area WIPP works in and found a home on the procurement committee. Then I worked my way onto the government board, and then to Chair of the Educational Foundation. Thanks to WIPP, I have testified before the House Small Business Committee, and traveled to more than 15 states and had lifetime trips to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Japan and Oxford, England to speak or work with women in those counties. Working to start the GiveMe5 program, and supporting it through the years has been a great highlight. WIPP has impacted more than 30,000 women business owners through GiveMe5! And I am deeply honored to have many WIPP members as clients and heart-felt friends.

10 Things You Should Know From the Linda McMahon Hearing

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

On Jan. 24, the Senate Small Business Committee held a hearing on the confirmation of Linda McMahon (former WWE CEO), to become Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA). Here are the 10 things you should know about her hearing:

  1. SBA is still part of the cabinet—President Obama elevated the position of SBA Administrator to cabinet level. President Trump is sticking with that change.
  2. Existing programs are safe…for now—When questioned by numerous senators on specific program commitments, McMahon repeatedly said that if the program is working then it should be continued.
  3. She will go to bat for small business in the executive branch—McMahon sees herself as the small business advocate within the executive branch, and will go to other agencies and make sure that more federal contracting opportunities are provided to small businesses.
  4. She will work to expand the 5% contracting goal for women—Senator Duckworth (IL), asked about the 5% goal, and McMahon expressed support for women entrepreneurs, broadly, “I have been very forthcoming in wanting women entrepreneurship to grow. And I will continue to support that, it is very near and dear to my heart.”
  5. She has a history working with Veterans—According to McMahon, WWE was always concerned about veterans and how to help create jobs for them. Senator Cardin (MD) discussed the Veterans Institute for Procurement (VIP) program and noted its impact and high performance.
  6. Look for an emphasis on mentoring—Given McMahon’s background in business mentoring, she may focus on programs that incorporate mentorship. As co-founder of Women’s Leadership LIVE, McMahon’s organization educates entrepreneurs about all facets of starting and expanding their business.
  7. She wants to help free small businesses from burdensome regulations—While many senators asked questions about regulatory burdens on small businesses, Senator Ernst brought up the PROVE It Act—legislation passed out of committee last session that empowers the SBA Office of Advocacy to require agencies to analyze rules for their small business impact.
  8. Speaking of advocacy—McMahon expressed support for expanding the independent SBA Office of Advocacy to ensure that the voice of small business is heard on federal regulations.
  9. She wants small businesses to participate in anticipated Infrastructure projects—When asked about promoting fair opportunities for small businesses to compete for work in the highly anticipated infrastructure plan, McMahon stated that small business participation was a given.
  10. Streamlining cumbersome federal contracting—McMahon expressed support for streamlining the alphabet soup of federal websites and databases like SAM and FBO.

This was a conciliatory confirmation hearing. Given the contentious nature of other confirmation hearings, it was unknown what tone McMahon’s hearing would take. But the hearing went well. Senators were polite and McMahon was responsive to concerns. With so much partisanship in Washington, it was positive to see McMahon’s interest in working with the committee—both sides.

In With the New

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

With inauguration festivities up ahead and a newly elected Congress hard at work, it is time to get down to business. The New Year serves as a good reminder that while there may be some new faces in Washington, many of the policy ideas are those we have seen before. Below are some highlights of what is both old and new in Washington for 2017.

Old and New. For the first time in years, our Country has unified government in the House, Senate, and White House. The difference this time is that the government is united by the Republicans, not Democrats. Amazingly, it’s only been six years since the Democrats controlled the government. New—now the Republicans are in change.

Old. Some problems don’t change. Creating more opportunities for women entrepreneurs to access capital continues to be a major theme for WIPP in 2017. Today, women entrepreneurs receive only 4% of commercial loan dollars. WIPP’s access to capital platform Breaking the Bank has been well received by policy makers because it is focused on solutions.

New. Some problems just surfaced. WIPP recently released a report, “Do Not Enter: Women Shut Out of U.S. Government’s Biggest Contracts,” finding clear evidence that women-owned small businesses have limited opportunities to win some of the federal government’s most sought-after contracts, despite a proven ability to deliver innovative goods and services. The report also outlines steps policy makers can take to rectify the problem.

Old. 2016 Was certainly a year of regulations for federal contractors. From Paid Sick Leave, to Overtime, Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces—it was often difficult to keep them straight.

New. 2017 is the year of deregulation. President-elect Trump and the U.S. House have strongly indicated many Obama administration rules will be repealed. The House just passed the Midnight Relief Act to quickly repeal any rule finalized in the last 60 days of an Administration. WIPP supports efforts to make it easier for women entrepreneurs to work with the government.

New. Government contracting finalized. While it took many years, SBA has finally released the new all-small business Mentor Protégé Program, and new rules making it easier for WOSBs to work with other WOSBs. WIPP looks forward to working with SBA to ensure WOSBs can use these program changes to grow our businesses.

Old. Wait –Nothing gets repealed in government contracting, there is just more to pile on.

Old and New. In 2017, 125 women hold seats in the U.S. Capitol building. One hundred and four women hold seats in the U.S. Congress, making up over 19 percent of the chamber. A greater percentage of women serve in the U.S. Senate, where there are 21 women (making up 21 percent). While the total number of women is identical to the number last Congress, there is one key difference—64% of the new women elected are women of color.

New. Firsts in Congress. Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware is the first woman, and woman of color to serve from Delaware. Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto is the first woman, and first woman of color Nevada has elected to the U.S. Senate.

As WIPP prepares to work in the 115th Congress, we plan to present our ideas based on input from membership. We will work with all Members of Congress, and the new Administration, because one of the few things everyone agrees on is that enabling businesses to grow strengthens our economy. Women are entering the ranks of business ownership at record rates, and launching a net of more than 1,100 new businesses each day. We will work for the next several years to reinforce and grow the success of women’s business owners.

So what are we waiting for—let’s get to work.

2016: What Kind of Year it has Been

While there is little doubt that most Americans think our political system is broken, quite a bit was accomplished in Washington this year.

In February, two announcements by SBA marked the result of more than 15 years of WIPP’s advocacy. For the first time ever, the federal government met its goal of awarding 5% of all contracts to women-owned firms. The following day, the WOSB procurement program, which helped make reaching the goal a reality, was expanded from 83 to 113 industries. The government now contracts $18 billion a year with women-owned small businesses, largely due to this program we spent so many years building.

As the snow began to melt, focus turned to the final months of the Obama Presidency. The Administration moved swiftly to issue Executive Orders aligned with their priorities. New rules were finalized from the U.S. Department of Labor including Fair Pay Safe Workplaces, Overtime, and Paid Sick Leave (though all three are under litigation and are expected to be rescinded by President-elect Trump). The General Services Administration finalized the Transactional Data Rule which adds an unnecessary burdensome reporting requirement for GSA schedule contract holders.

Regulations can also help small business. SBA released its updated Limitations on Subcontracting rule, making it easier for WOSBs to follow subcontracting rules by encouraging additional work with other WOSBs. SBA also began accepting applications for the long-awaited all-small Mentor Protégé Program, that helps WOSBs team with a mentor business and pursue federal opportunities.

In the fall, we welcomed Jane Campbell as the new President of WIPP. Her longtime advocacy for women entrepreneurs, coupled with her experience as a business owner, as the first woman Mayor of Cleveland, and as Staff Director of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, allowed her to hit the ground running.

At the end of the year, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a bill that include policies to help women small business owners by establishing a pilot program to allow subcontractors to seek past-performance credit and dedicates additional agency resources to assist small contractors. These are positive changes that will expand access to the federal market for women entrepreneurs.

Also passed as Congress comes to a close was the “21st Century Cures” legislation that addresses medical funding, cancer research, and changes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process. Inside the legislation is the reintroduction of Health Reimbursement Arrangements or HRAs, which offer business owners a tax-friendly way to subsidize employee medical costs, including insurance premiums. WIPP has long advocated for the return of HRAs because allowing employees to find their own individual insurance and reimbursing them was popular with small firms wishing to offer health benefits.

Finally, in 2016 our country elected the most diverse Congress, with more female senators than ever before. As departing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated during his farewell speech, “the Senate is a better place because of the women being here.” We know women in Washington get more done.

As we look forward to 2017, WIPP and women entrepreneurs will continue to press for important policy changes with the Trump Administration and the new Congress. We count on your support to make that happen.

Janice Hamilton: WIPP National Partner of the Month – December 2016

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Janice Hamilton

Interview with Janice Hamilton, CEO and founder of CarrotNewYorkContinue reading

Martha Acosta’s Story from ChallengeHER in New Mexico

_dsc0125Interview with Martha Acosta, Instructional Designer, Learning Consultant, and Instructor about her business, experience, and take aways from ChallengeHER in Albuquerque, NM.

1. Tell us a little about your business and its mission.

Martha: I have had a business as a leadership and organizational learning consultant since 2007 and I have been in the training field for about 20 years in total. I am an instructional designer and I also instruct. I’ve been working on my own for several years now and I just started building my company and hiring people.

My freelance work started out with a contract for Cisco Systems, which then led to contracts with Intel and Harvard Business Publishing, where I work as a contractor and do a lot of leadership training for banks, and large multinationals like General Motors and Colgate through them.

My organization’s mission is to help improve learning within organizations and my academic specialty is in leadership and organizational learning. For Harvard I teach a full range of subjects from the MBA curriculum.

Within federal government my specialty is in the safety leadership area.

Before I started working on my own, I was a training manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico where I led a team that delivered safety training and responded to safety incident corrective actions. It is a passion of mine to help organizations deal with failure.

  1. How difficult was the move to self-employment and becoming an independent contractor?

Martha: It was quite tough, from the beginning I even regretted leaving (who leaves a government job, right?). But then I managed to score a contract in Silicon Valley which was a gift to my business. My day rate tripled since I started which would never have happened in regular employment. I learned to love the freedom and many income opportunities I can create for myself. But it also came with many lessons learned such as the need to manage my cash flow to cover for seasonal variation so I had to start thinking about my income differently.

  1. Have you always planned on doing business with the federal government?

Martha: I wanted to grow my business which was difficult to do due to my narrow specialty and freelancer status. People wanted to hire just me as an expert so it was difficult to start building a team around me to form a company.

I believe that the contract with the U.S. Forest Service which I just signed will give me the opportunity to work with more people on a larger scale.

  1. What shaped your decision to start pursuing Federal Contracts?

Martha: Since my work at Los Alamos I have been interested in high-reliability organizations, that do high-risk operations, such as the nuclear industry and firefighting. Through my work, I have learned that leadership and culture are very important for ensuring that high-reliability organizations are reliable. That’s why I would like to pursue more federal contracts because I think there is something I can offer in that area.

How has this shaped your business?

Martha: I really hope that government contracts will enable me to start hiring people. I’ve contracted freelancers before but that was on a short-term basis. So I see a lot of possible impacts of government contracts on my business.

  1. How do you think ChallengeHER and the Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) program help women-business owners in the process?

Martha: ChallengeHER is a great opportunity to learn about all available resources and people which are out there for free ready to help women get federal contracts. I had no idea! I also believe that we have such a great advantage with the WOSB and EDWOSB program which can offer tremendous opportunities. We just need to learn how to use it.

The ChallengeHER conference also helped open my eyes about all the opportunities within the WOSB program and SBA as a whole that can help me to pull in other people and go after contracts that I can’t do by myself. So I am excited about all the opportunities.

  1. Could you share the key takeaways you took from the ChallengeHER event?

Martha: There were many big eye-openers during the event. One of the key lessons was from Sally Walton’s (Procurement Center Representative, U.S. Small Business Administration) lesson – get to know your competitors. I haven’t realized before how valuable partnerships can be for getting bigger contracts and getting financing needed for hiring more people. I also learned the importance of building relationships with federal buyers, competitors, other big businesses in my field to find out different ways to partner with other organizations on contracts. So I will be putting in place a business and marketing plan to get to know my competitors.

Another big eye-opener was when we found out through talking to SBA that I could be in other programs than just WOSB, such as 8(a) and Disadvantaged Small Business. If you have all of these different certifications that makes you more eligible for set asides and contractors can get multiple credits. So one of the first things that my business manager will do is to get us certified in all these different programs. That was really helpful.

I also learned a lot by talking to Los Alamos and Sandia Laboratories and learnt more about what they might be interested in and I also got some key contacts, which is terrific.

They also mentioned the importance of monitoring the success of the contracts. My contract doesn’t have many milestones or targets so I should probably create those to make sure to have tangible results to demonstrate the success of the contract for future negotiations.

So overall it was an incredibly useful event for me.

  1. What contracts are you currently working on?

Martha: As mentioned above, I just got my first government contract this September with U.S. Forest Service. I got brought in because I am a subject matter expert in organizational learning and culture. They do reviews after fatality and safety incidents and they put a lot of effort to understanding why they happened. First they wanted me to help them with their learning review process. However, subsequently they found out that I could help them in the creation of their online learning efforts. So consequently my contract grew into a much larger one where I’m helping them roll out an online University possibly even into other stakeholders within USDA.

The reason why I got asked to do that initially is because in Los Alamos we had several incidents that shut the lab down when I was working there. My contact at the U.S. Forest Service knew that I was involved in these investigations and learning reviews before. So thanks to my contacts from Los Alamos I got in touch with the Director of Human Performance, Innovation and Organizational Learning within the U.S. Forest Service and they were looking for experts for their learning reviews.

  1. What would you recommend to other WOSBs doing business with federal government?

Martha: It’s also one thing I learned from the ChallengeHER – pretty much anything that you do, there is part of the government that is going to buy that. It’s really a matter of figuring out that niche.

Also use all the available resources and people that make their living out of offering free help, so use them!