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While the health care debate has effectively drowned out discussion of any and all other political issues currently facing the U.S., President Barack Obama has quietly found the time to advance his other campaign promises, most recently launching a new initiative to increase small and minority-owned business access to government contracts. "In order for t he Federal Government to better meet or exceed the goal of 23% of prime contracts for small businesses, Vice President [Joe] Biden and I have tasked Small Business Administrator Karen Mills and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke with leading a federal government-wide initiative to increase outreach," said Obama. "Over the course of the next 90 days agency officials will take an important step forward by holding or participating in more than 200 events focused on sharing information on government contracting opportunities."


In addition to the government officials' attendance at numerous procurement events, Locke and Mills were also charged with expanding their outreach to fellow contracting officials, passing along best practices and education to help agencies reach their contracting goals and promote small business procurement in remarks and discussions with business groups nationwide. "It has been a priority from day one of this administration to ensure that small and minority-owned businesses are aware of and have access to federal contracts and funding opportunities," said Locke. "Over the past 40 years, minority-owned businesses have grown from 300,000 to nearly 4 million today. Their success and the success of small American businesses are vital to our economic recovery."


Included in the contracting opportunities that the administration will begin promoting to small businesses are those that fall within the broad infrastructural investment initiatives in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The ARRA also provided an increase in funding for the Small Business Administration's (SBA's) microloan program, piling an addition $50 million for loans and $24 million for technical assistance onto the program's budget in the hope of increasing small firm access to capital. "Government contracts can play a key role in helping small businesses turn the corner in terms of expansion and job creation," Mills said. "But make no mistake, the benefits the government receives are equally as impressive-working with small businesses allows the federal government to work with some of the most innovative companies in America-with a direct line to the CEO."


The initiative drew cheers from Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Chair Mary Landrieu (D-LA). "The announcement today that the Obama Administration will follow through with commitments to increase federal contracting opportunities to small businesses, including minority-owned and veteran-owned businesses, is a step in the right direction. The Federal Government is the largest single purchaser of goods and services in the world. Small businesses are due at least 23% of all contracts awarded, and this Administration's effort to ensure they are not left out of the process demonstrates their commitment to small business growth throughout the country."


Small business owners looking for more information on existing contracting opportunities can visit the administration's website at www.fedbizopps.gov. Commerce and SBA officials are also available to answer questions in local offices across the country and can be found on the agencies' websites, www.commerce.gov and www.sba.gov.


Jacob Barron, NACM staff writer


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