NASA Releases Equity Action Plan to Make Space More Accessible To All

NASA Releases Equity Action Plan to Make Space More Accessible To All

Under President Joe Biden‘s Executive Order 13985, advancing racial equity in the federal government, NASA has released its inaugural equity action plan.

NASA’s equity action plan establishes key focus areas that will allow the agency to track its progress toward improved diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), and accessibility both internally and externally.

“We’ve prepared a series of reports, a 90-day report, which was our plan to determine how we would do a barrier analysis on what were the things that would potentially impede progress and success of advancing racial equity and procurement in grants. We submitted that report in April 2021,” NASA Senior Procurement Executive and Assistant Administrator for Procurement Karla Smith Jackson told BLACK ENTERPRISE.

“The 200 Day Report, which was the result of the barrier analysis, was submitted in August. After that, we were required to do an annual Equity plan that talks about how we are going to continue our program and identify and continue to remove barriers. Once that was submitted and approved, OMB (Office of Management and Budget) asked us to put together an action plan.”

The four key focus areas identified in NASA’s analysis, which the plan addresses, are:

  •      Increasing integration and utilization of contractors and businesses from underserved communities and expanding equity in NASA’s procurement process 
  •       Enhancing grants and cooperative agreements to advance opportunities, access, and representation for underserved communities 
  •       Leveraging Earth Science and socioeconomic data to help mitigate environmental challenges in underserved communities 
  •       Advancing external civil rights compliance and expanding access to limited English proficient populations within underserved communities 

NASA is working to achieve its DEI goals through increased outreach and education. The agency is going to HBCUs and minority-serving institutions to talk to them and recruit talent. The agency is also reaching out to small businesses representing the LGBTQ+, disabled, and veteran communities about navigating its procurement process.

“The first one is the idea that they don’t know,” Smith Jackson told BLACK ENTERPRISE.

“They don’t know we’re out soliciting. Where would they get information, and how do we communicate that opportunity? To answer that particular barrier we stepped up our outreach. So we’re planning this year to double our engagements with small businesses, HBCUs, and minority-serving institutions. We also have a couple of collectives working with LGBTQ communities that will go into the community and brief them on our procurement requirements.

Smith Jackson added that in addition to outreach, NASA is also focusing on teaching those communities how to operate within the federal procurement system.

“Basically, how do you do business with the federal government? In those cases, we are doing matchmaking with the Small Business Administration. They have a number of virtual trainings every month, plus they have downloadable recorded training on how to respond to a solicitation, write a proposal, and one-on-one interactions, so we’re trying to make sure that people know those resources are available to them.”

Additionally, NASA will lean into its DEI goals by continuing to analyze and assess the feedback it receives from initial requests for information. The initial request solicited insight from the public on whether and to what extent NASA programs and policies perpetuate barriers and limit benefits for people of color and other underserved communities.

According to Smith Jackson, NASA’s outreach signifies that the agency is committed to identifying spaces and places across the U.S. where they typically haven’t looked, including the Southwestern U.S.

One of NASA’s core values is inclusion, our core values are safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and then inclusion has been about the business of diversity inclusion. For a long time, this particular executive order has helped us shine a brighter light and get a little more support for this initiative. The history of NASA is we’ve had a lot of cooperative agreements which is a form of a grant and coalition-building in the minority-serving institution as well the HBCU community,” Smith Jackson told BLACK ENTERPRISE.