Leveraging Federal Contracts: Sustainable Revenue For HBCUs

Panel discusses NASA's contracting goals


Tabisa Kalisa, (left) the HBCU/Minority Institution program manager for NASA’s Office of Small Business Programs, facilitated a discussion on how HBCUs can generate sustainable revenue through federal contracts. Panelists included Michael Townsend , senior director for supplier diversity at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC); Stephen Brettel, program director at PAE Applied Technologies; Donna Elmore-Cole, senior contracts negotiator, Prairie View A&M University; Latonia Jones, President and CEO of Phenomenal Management Partners (PMP); and Calvin Mitchell, national accounts director, General Services Administration. Photo by Sharon Brooks Hodge

Slides From Presentations 

(click to download PDF)

Video highlights from the panel discussion:

Key points from Stephen Brettel's PAE presentation:

Key points from Michael Townsend's SAIC presentation:

Key points from Latonia Jones' PMP presentation:

Key points from Calvin Mitchell's GSA  presentation:


By Brianna Williams

The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities held its 2018 HBCU Week Conference September 16-19 in Washington D.C. The theme was HBCU Competitiveness: Aligning Institutional Missions with America’s Priorities.

Among the numerous events, the National Aeronautical and Space Administration facilitated a panel to discuss the agency’s goal of awarding $190 million in contracts to HBCUs.

“NASA has got a 1-percent HBCU goal of total prime and subcontracts. That’s acquisitions,” said facilitator Tabisa Kalisa, program manager for NASA’s Office of Small Business Programs. “Those are contracts awarded directly from NASA to an HBCU, as well as from our prime contractors.”

Kalisa described the agency’s action as an opportunity for HBCUs to become more viable contractors for NASA and to the federal government. This opportunity also gives private contractors a financial incentive for assisting HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.

The panel included private contractors who are working with HBCUs and representatives from universities who are contracting directly with the space agency or as a subcontractor.

“We awarded $529 million dollars last year alone to small businesses. That is money on the table for HBCUs to go after."

Stephen Brettel

PAE Applied Technologies is one of those contractors. Stephen Brettel, PAE’s program manager, explained how his company started off as a small business that grew by selling its services. He compared the humble beginnings of PAE to the present state of HBCUs and emphasized how these institutions have the same potential to thrive as the small businesses who currently receive 80 to 90 percent of mentor-protégé relationships.

“We awarded $529 million dollars last year alone to small businesses,” Brettel said, adding that is money on the table for HBCUs to go after.

Panelists emphasized that universities would still compete with small businesses to obtain contracts, despite the monetary incentive for private contractors to conduct business with HBCUs and other minority serving institutions.

According to Michael Townsend, who is senior director for supplier diversity at Science Applications International Corporation, another facet of the partnership is teaching the universities to think like businesses.

SAIC is a provider of technical, engineering and enterprise information technology services, such as real estate, acquisitions and technology.

“SAIC is a premier technology integrator,” Townsend said. “We provide whole lifecycle services and solutions to the government, as well as state and local commercial customers.


“One of my roles in SAIC is bringing HBCUs to our programs to support us as subcontractors.”

Michael Townsend

During his presentation, Townsend referred to his company’s relationship with Oakwood University as evidence of the success contractors can have through these collaborations. Students and faculty of Oakwood University have been on a team with SAIC as technical partners while working with NASA for over a decade. Townsend estimated over 100 students have completed the program since its inception with a portion of them obtaining employment at SAIC.

"Follow the money."

Latonia Jones

“Getting government contracts as an HBCU is another revenue stream,” said Latonia Jones, who is president and chief executive officer of Phenomenal Management Partners.” It is a revenue stream that could be astronomical for your university.”

Throughout her presentation, Jones, who is an Alabama A&M alumna and a consultant for the AAMU-RISE Foundation, stressed the importance for HBCUs who are seeking government contracts to follow the money. An alternative method she suggested for universities to acquire funds was through what is called “other transaction agreements.”

OTAs are legally-binding instruments, but they are not standard procurement contracts, grants, or cooperative agreements. According to Jones, its non-traditional state makes OTAs prime for universities.

“I feel like that money is too low. ... We can do better. I think we can.”

Calvin Mitchell

Similar to the other panelists, Calvin Mitchell said HBCUs could be getting more contracts from the General Services Administration, where he is the national accounts director. GSA is an agency that performs administrative work for the government, such as real estate, acquisitions, and technology.

According to Mitchell, GSA contracts totaling about $3 million were received by 23 HBCUs in 2017.

“I feel like that money is too low,” Mitchell said. “Three hundred and forty-two billion dollars, and we’re getting three million? We can do better. I think we can.”

Mitchell put that amount in perspective by comparing the figure to the $33 billion that GSA received through contracts, which amounts to five percent of the $342 billion the federal government spent on contracts.

The general consensus of the panel was that millions of dollars are available for HBCUs and MSIs through contracts with federal agencies, such as NASA and GSA, however these institutions must be proactive and diligent in completing the work to secure these funds.

For additional information, contact Sharon Brooks Hodge  Knowledge Sharing Center content manager.

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