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On The Road With ChallengeHER: Lessons Learned

posted Jun 5, 2014, 1:44 PM by Ann Sullivan   [ updated Jun 10, 2014, 9:16 AM ]
U.S. Department of Agriculture Edition
Washington, D.C.

By Ann Sullivan

June 3, 2014 -- Good news on the USDA front.  The Department is making inroads into contracting with women.  Department-wide, the percentage awarded to women is 7.5%, exceeding the goal set by Congress of 5%.

This panel was three women who were heavy hitters—they oversee big buying portfolios at the USDA.  Note to self:  If you want an agency to exceed its women owned goals, put women in charge of acquisitions at the agency. My three panelists were:

  • Yvonne Howerton, Director, Acquisition Management Division for the FFAS (yvonne.howerton@wdc.usda.gov)
  • Dianne Guidry, Chief Acquisition Officer, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), USDA (dianne.guidry@wdc.usda.gov)
  • Lisa Wilusz, Director, Office of Procurement and Property Management (OPPM), USDA (lisa.wilusz@dm.usda.gov) 
All three offered to be a reference point for interested women-owned businesses.

Lessons Learned

  1. Buying is decentralized.  That means buying is done at the state and local level rather than being centralized at headquarters in Washington DC.  The Natural Resources Conservation Service, however, is undertaking an initiative to centralize their buying, so watch for that change in the not too distant future.
  2. The USDA really likes buying off the GSA Schedules.  So, if you are a small business and want to do business with SBA, you should seriously consider investing in getting a GSA Schedule.
  3. Like every agency, pay strict attention to the instructions in RFPs.  Follow them to the letter and don’t waste your time trying to get innovative during the proposal process.  Although unsolicited proposals are accepted, this agency is much more focused on buying what it says it needs through its solicitations.
  4. The USDA leans heavily on its small business office to be the initial point of contact and to identify women owned businesses that fit the criteria they are looking for.  Monthly vendor outreach sessions are held and information is located on the USDA’s website.