Expanding Equity in NASA Procurement

What is ‘Mission Equity’ and how is it expanding equitable procurement at NASA?

NASA is following an equity action plan to increase equality across the agency, and is committing to a programme of targets to remove inequality in areas including their procurement and supply chain operations. 

The 2023 Equity Action Plan outlines key achievements across the agency, but also details the areas where barriers still need to be addressed in collaborating with underserved communities.  

One of the central strategies of the plan involves increasing the utilisation and integration of contractors and businesses from underserved communities to expand equity in NASA's procurement process.  

Advancing equity across NASA procurement 

"At NASA, we are committed to advancing equity to ensure our work benefits all humanity," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. "The Equity Action plan deepens our long-term commitment to recognise and overcome systemic barriers that limit opportunity in underserved and underrepresented communities. This year, NASA has identified STEM education as an area to engage and inspire the diverse talent of our future leaders. We are inviting the next generation, the Artemis Generation, to take on the daring missions of the future in the cosmos, and here on Earth."

Bill Nelson NASA Administrator (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Other areas being addressed include enhancing grants and agreements to advance opportunities, access, and representation for underserved communities, increasing access to Earth science data, improving language access policies, and engaging more with students to build a diverse future workforce.

Key successes for NASA in 2022

The NASA 2023 Equity Action Plan builds on the success of the 2022 strategy.  The Office of Small Business Programs significantly expanded its outreach initiatives, seeing an 80% increase from fiscal year 2021, which surpassed its initial goal of 50% attainment by 2029. Between fiscal year 2021 and 2022, NASA committed $1.9 billion to contracts within the product service line earmarked for small business categories and AbilityOne programmes. These programmes operate as the primary employment avenue for individuals with disabilities, underlining their significance in fostering inclusive economic participation.

The NASA equity plan reflects the Biden-Harris Administration's approach across all government sectors to promote equity. Aligned with President Biden's Executive Order "Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government," it aims to advance racial equity and provide support to underserved communities.

NASA Procurement Launch Pad

The equity plan is not the only strategy in place to encourage diverse contributions and programmes at the agency.  NASA also operates a tool called NASA Acquisition Innovation Launchpad (NAIL) which allows everyone from contractors, engineers and staff, to field and test ideas to improve the agency’s procurement processes. The aim is to allow people to identify improvements by challenging sub-optimal ways of operating. Through NAIL they can recommend tools to increase acquisition process quality or speed, or provide ideas to reduce the burden on industry, or barriers to entry.

A core aim of NAIL is to encourage diverse perspectives, reduce barriers and improve reach. By having a digital portal to allow the sharing of ideas, and a cultural atmosphere that encourages that sharing, it gives people the licence to step forward and contribute.

“What we have now is an electronic presence whereby if somebody has an innovation they want us to look into, they just click on it, fill out a form, submit it, and then we follow up,” says NASA Senior Procurement Executive, Deputy Chief Acquisition Officer & Assistant Procurement Administrator Karla Smith Jackson.

 “We have around 70 projects that have been submitted, on which we're getting comments from individual employees who see things that can be done differently,”.

Employees are encouraged to share ideas regardless of how experienced they are in the agency, as this “allows new perspectives and ideas to get their moment in the spotlight”.

Read more about NASA’s procurement launchpad here.

 

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