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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The bumpy federal government contracting playing field

Marriage is Great. Now How About Government Contracts?
Two Supreme Court rulings on Wednesday greatly expanded the rights of LGBT people to marry. But for gay and lesbian business owners, the issues around work are still thorny. For them, same-sex marriage is only the beginning of a much longer road toward full acceptance. Though expansion of the federal definition of marriage to include same sex couples will markedly change the social landscape, there is still no federal recognition of LGBT people as a minority, and until the SCOTUS ruling on Wednesday, the Federal Defense of Marriage Act singled out LGBT people as a class that did not deserve equivalent treatment when it comes to federal benefits.

The 8a program is intended to open the doors for minority-owned small businesses under the fiercely competitive federal contracting program. At stake is approximately $100 million worth of federal contracts awarded annually to small businesses. Among the business owners that the government regularly recognizes under 8a are minorities such as women, Asian Americans, African Americans, and so-called disadvantaged businesses. (Disabled and veteran entrepreneurs are included elsewhere in the contracting process.)

Columbia Consulting is certified as gay-owned under a program conceived and rolled out about five years ago by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The certification is similar to that of many women and other minorities, who can get certification for their businesses from programs overseen by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council and the National Minority Supplier Development Council. While the federal government recognizes these other certifications in an attempt to make the federal contracting process more diverse, it does not officially recognize the NGLCC certification.

Less than 10% of LGBT-owned businesses currently work as contractors for state and local government, according to NGLCC research, although 80% say they would like that opportunity.

James Nowlin, co-founder and Excel Global Partners of Dallas, Texas, a small business that provides financial accounting and enterprise resource planning consulting services, says the federal playing field needs to be leveled for LGBT-owned business to participate and grow. "When you look at federal contracting opportunities for the federal government, those opportunities are really provided because of the money from taxes, and there are opportunities for all kinds of businesses and owners of all kinds of backgrounds," Nowlin says. "LGBT owners and employees pay taxes as well."

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