NASA Reaches Out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities

1 percent goal touted

NASA HBCU Road Tour Jackson State University Aug. 22-23, 2017

Photos By
Kevin Bradley

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Tabisa Kalisa, Program Manager NASA Office of Small Business

Purchasing – Fair and Reasonableness : Presented by Bruce G. Emerson, Senior Manager, Subcontracts Procurement at SAIC

STTR Deep Dive:  Presented by Michael Vinje, Small Business Technology Manager at Kennedy Space Center

By Sharon Brooks Hodge

NASA is the only federal agency that has established a specific goal for contracting with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as other Minority Serving Institutions.

During a stop on the 2017 NASA HBCU/MSI Technology Infusion Road Tour, which was held at Jackson State University Aug. 22-23, Tabisa Kalisa emphasized that the National Aeronautical and Space Administration is committed to awarding 1 percent of its $19.3 billion contracting budget to HBCUs and MSIs. That amounts to $193 million. According to Kalisa, who serves as a program manager for NASA’ Office of Small Business Programs, NASA’s prime contractors also are expected to expend 1 percent of their budgets with HBCUs and MSIs.

Toward that end, representatives from SAIC, Boeing, DXC Technologies, SGT, Jacobs Technology, and Lockheed Martin joined NASA at the event. NASA’s participation included officials from the agency’s Shared Services Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, Kennedy Space Center, Langley Research Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s SBIR/STTR program, Johnson Space Center. Two other federal agencies that are interested in replicating NASA’s commitment to HBCU contracting, the General Services Administration, and the Department of Energy, also participated in the outreach event at Jackson State University. (Click on the links to access agency presentations.)

NASA has had a goal for contracting with underutilized businesses, such as HBCUS, since 2001. However, this commitment was just added to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) on Aug. 9. To date, NASA has not been able to reach this goal.

Efforts are being made to match qualified HBCUs with prime contractors who have not met their goal, Kalisa told participants. This is being facilitated through a database. HBCUs were encouraged to upload their capability statements into the NASA vendor database.

Being in the database alone is not enough to secure a subcontract. In  the keynote presentation, Malcolm Jackson, who is vice president of strategic accounts at Phase One (a subsidiary of Accenture Federal

Services), offered five tips for HBCUs to improve their potential to contract with NASA: run the organization like a business; know the customer; establish strategic partnerships; deliver high quality products or services; prepare employees.

Other speakers at the NASA HBCU/MSI Road Tour offered this advice:

  • Know the agency’s priorities. Doing business with NASA requires solving an agency’s problems. Don’t come to pitch without doing your homework first. For example, the needs at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are different from those at the Kennedy Space Center. And from year to year the focus will change at each agency. Information on NASA’s agency-wide procurement forecasts can be found online.
  • Recognize and accommodate the agency’s calendar. Academic institutions typically observe a three-month summer vacation; businesses do not. Although it may have been possible to work on a grant using the academic calendar, performing under a contract means meeting deadlines and delivering milestones even in the summer or right before Christmas.
  • Be responsive. Agency representatives and prime contractors said HBCUs have missed opportunities because of slow response to requests. If your contracting official has other duties, assign someone else the responsibility of answering questions and communicating with the agency.
  • Establish a policy for releasing faculty to be available to work on a contract opportunity. If a faculty member is performing tasks on a contract, your institution will need to determine how this will impact classes.
  • Develop a “fair and reasonable” pricing schedule. Some universities have over-priced their research and development services to a level that one prime contractor described as “unrealistic.” NASA does not want to subsidize the football program or pay for new band uniforms when contracting for a product or service that it needs.

More Presentations

Partnering for Solutions That Serve: Presented by Calvin Mitchell, Acting Director for the National Account Management Strategy Division at General Services Administration

SBIR/STTR Programs: Presented by Dr. Joseph Grant, Program Executive NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters

Strategic Alignment of Your Research Interest To the NASA Mission: Presented by Thomas Stanley, Center Technology Transition Lead, Stennis Space Center

Finding Opportunities Within The NASA Mission Directorates: Presented by Damian Taylor, Program Specialist, Space Technology Mission Directorate


Another Knowledge Sharing Center news feature that might interest you:

HBCUs Should Pursue Contracts  During  the 22nd Annual Technical Assistance Workshop Series sponsored by the National Sponsored Programs Administrators Alliance, HBCU leaders were asked to address the most important steps that sponsored programs and research can take to reach higher levels of financial security for their institutions. Read More



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