In 2021, NASA spent $19.6 billion on goods and services, but only 10% of total spending went to disadvantaged small businesses.

In 2021, NASA spent $19.6 billion on goods and services, but only 10% of total spending went to disadvantaged small businesses.

The story so far: Earlier in April 2022, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released an action plan to “make space more accessible”. The plan supports the US government’s efforts to improve racial equity in the federal government.

“The Equity Action Plan reinforces our commitment to further identify and remove barriers that limit opportunity in underserved and underrepresented communities. This framework anchors equity as a core element of every NASA mission to make the work we do in space and beyond more accessible to all,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.

What is the Spatial Equity Action Plan?

NASA’s Equity Action Plan is a response to the 2021 U.S. Government Executive Order to “Advance Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities.” The presidential order inspired NASA to develop the Equity Action Plan under which the space agency plans to identify and eliminate systemic barriers and ensure representation.

The Spatial Equity Action Plan lists four priority areas for underserved communities.

Fairness in purchases and contracts: In 2021, NASA spent $19.6 billion on goods and services. About 10% of the total expenditure – $2 billion – was committed to disadvantaged small businesses.

Focusing on businesses classified as disadvantaged, disabled veterans, female-owned, and historically underutilized (HUBZone) can promote equitable economic development, according to the space agency.

NASA’s three-step approach to engaging with contractors in underserved communities includes investigating barriers in procurement programs, increasing engagement events, and utilizing service lines dedicated products.

By FY2029, NASA aims to increase the number of outreach events for underserved communities by 50 percent. The organization will also try to improve the number of participants in these events by 5 to 10% per year.

Using earth science and other data to help mitigate environmental challenges: To make earth science information easily accessible to everyone, NASA will make its 50 most requested environmental datasets from last year available on the Internet, and the full transfer of earth science data from the NASA to the cloud will be completed by 2025. Space will host datasets that have significant value for environmental justice on the Amazon Web Services Open Data platform.

NASA will also train about 2,700 users on how to effectively use agency data to address environmental parameters such as air quality and water resource management. The introductory training will be offered in English and Spanish.

Increase in grants and cooperative agreements: Underserved communities and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) are generally underrepresented among the 3,000 grants and cooperative agreements awarded by NASA each year. There are more than 700 federally designated MSIs, representing approximately 14% of all degree-granting institutions of higher education in the United States. and small businesses/minority-owned businesses.

Barriers that prevent underserved communities from accessing grants can include barriers that block access to information, inadequate resources, and a lack of understanding of NASA processes.

To overcome these barriers, NASA works to identify historically black colleges and universities, MSIs, and small/minority-owned businesses that are eligible for grants but are not submitting applications, and also analyzes barriers for those who have not received awards, regardless of their application status. This will allow NASA to identify and resolve recurring obstacles.

NASA also plans to hold a series of six training sessions and four outreach workshops and events per year. The space agency will assess the effectiveness of these efforts by measuring metrics such as the number of applications submitted by new entrants and the funding received by those applications.

Improved respect for external civil rights and access for population groups with limited English proficiency: The Civil Rights Compliance Review program has a limited ability to perform review audits – a possible reason why participation of underserved communities in NASA programs might have been limited.

NASA plans to increase its civil rights compliance reviews to ten per year by FY2024. The end goal is to conduct reviews of all granting institutions, then move to an audit schedule of maintenance.

In the United States, about 8.2% of all people over the age of five speak “less than very good” English, and more than 25 million people are not fluent in English. The language barrier is a potential reason why non-English speakers have limited access to NASA resources.

By January 2023, NASA will publish an updated language access plan. This includes multilingual communication elements at NASA centers, as well as multilingual education and outreach opportunities with the overarching goal of establishing an equitable communications strategy.

Who will oversee NASA’s efforts to achieve its equity goals?

A leadership team, led by NASA’s Deputy Administrator, will lead the organization’s equity efforts. The space agency has also established a leadership council that will be led by the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity and will provide quarterly reports to the leadership team. The Board of Directors will be made up of employee resource groups, center directors, associate administrators and senior executives.

To ensure external accountability, NASA plans to hold regular public meetings and target outreach to underserved communities, among other measures.