Study Finds Underrepresentation of Women-Owned Small Businesses Depends on How Disparity Ratios Are Measured

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Women face a wider variety and a greater severity of challenges in starting and growing their business ventures than men. Difficulties obtaining government contracts represents one of the largest hurdles faced by women-owned firms. Congress approved the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contracting Program to provide greater opportunities for small businesses to win federal contracts.

The Small Business Administration partnered with Optimal Solutions Group LLC (Optimal) to conduct a study that identified the industries in which WOSBs are underrepresented with respect to federal procurement contracting. Optimal used the disparity ratio approach, which measures the degree to which WOSBs are represented in proportion to their prevalence in the population of “ready, willing, and able” businesses. The disparity ratios were calculated by the number of contracts and the obligations of contracts. The evaluation also used secondary data sources, such as the Federal Procurement Data System, the System for Award Management, and calculations based on Census data for all firms in the United States.

Overall, the evaluation suggested that results regarding WOSBs’ disparity in federal procurement depend on how it is measured. The results revealed that WOSBs’ underrepresentation was greater when the disparity was measured with respect to the obligations of awards than for the number of awards. These results support the importance of using both measures of the disparity. Optimal recommends that future studies should develop interactive, near real-time decision support tools to provide detailed results for disparity metrics.  

Visit WOSB Federal Contracting Program for more information.

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Optimal Solutions Group, LLC

Founded in 2000, Optimal Solutions Group, LLC, is a nonpartisan public policy research and technical assistance firm that stands out for its quantitative expertise and innovative approaches to provide rigorous, data-driven research and technical assistance to government agencies, corporations, nonprofit organizations, and philanthropic foundations. Located at the University of Maryland’s Discovery District in College Park, Optimal is a leader in driving real-time public policy research. Optimal has 60+ employees, including multidisciplinary researchers with backgrounds in economics, education, health, housing, sociology, statistics, information management and entrepreneurship. Optimal has four research centers—Health, Education, Housing and Workforce Development, and Social Policy—as well as an International Practice, Analytics Group, and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center.

Study Analyzes Effectiveness of Surveillance Reviews in Government Agencies

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The Small Business Administration (SBA) monitors whether government agencies are providing opportunities for small business participation in federal contracting by performing Surveillance Reviews, which assess whether selected Procurement Centers (PCs) at federal agencies execute their small business programs effectively and according to federal regulations.

The SBA completes about 30 Surveillance Reviews annually at major PCs across the country. These are selected for review from a pool of approximately 3,000 PCs and based on several criteria, including, but not limited to, failing to meet small business goals in the prior fiscal year and having not been reviewed in the prior 5 fiscal years. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Surveillance Reviews shifted from in-person site visits to virtual Surveillance Reviews from March 2020 to the present. Barriers to virtual information sharing such as security constraints reduced the number of reviews possible during the pandemic.

Optimal Solutions Group LLC is evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of Surveillance Reviews, which includes an analysis of outcomes for PCs that have undergone Surveillance Reviews and to what extent PCs increase their small business contracting goal achievements following Surveillance Reviews. This evaluation also looks at lessons learned from the SBA’s shift to virtual Surveillance Reviews during the COVID-19 pandemic. Results in findings will be used to produce actionable recommendations to Surveillance Review effectiveness and efficiency and be presented to the SBA in 2022.  

Visit small business federal contracting for more information.

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Optimal Solutions Group, LLC

Founded in 2000, Optimal Solutions Group, LLC, is a nonpartisan public policy research and technical assistance firm that stands out for its quantitative expertise and innovative approaches to provide rigorous, data-driven research and technical assistance to government agencies, corporations, nonprofit organizations and philanthropic foundations. Located at the University of Maryland’s Discovery District in College Park, Optimal is a leader in driving real-time public policy research. Optimal has 60+ employees, including multidisciplinary researchers with backgrounds in economics, education, health, housing, sociology, statistics, information management and entrepreneurship. Optimal has four research centers—Health, Education, Housing and Workforce Development, and Social Policy—as well as an International Practice, Analytics Group, and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center.

SBA Scorecard Has Strong Positive Relationship With Indicators of Small Business Prime Contracting Opportunities

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Each year, the Small Business Administration (SBA) produces its Small Business Procurement Scorecard, which aims to assess the performance of federal agencies towards achieving their small business contracting goals, provide valid and reliable data on federal contracting with an emphasis on transparency, as well as analyze and report agency level and government-wide progress towards the goals. For fiscal year 2017, the SBA revised the methodology for the scorecard, and has since conducted a rigorous program evaluation to assess the effectiveness of this change and the scorecard overall in increasing small business opportunities and improving the ability of federal agencies to meet their small business procurement goals.

Optimal Solutions Group LLC (Optimal) found that the change in the scorecard’s methodology did not result in many changes to small business procurement practices at federal agencies for prime contracting. No changes were observed in indicators of small business opportunities or small business prime contracting dollars after the methodology change. However, the scorecard overall has had a strong positive relationship with indicators of small business prime contracting opportunities, which, in turn, have a positive association with small business contracting dollars. The study conducted by Optimal also found that agencies would like for the SBA to provide guidance on navigating Category Management while promoting small businesses. Overall, the study found partnership and understanding between agencies and the SBA to be the most crucial factor in the entire process of setting and meeting goals to improve small business contracting opportunities in the federal government.

While the findings of the study shed light on the nature of the relationship between the scorecard methodology change and the scorecard overall on small business opportunities and contracting dollars, the study could not provide definite findings of these relationships due to data limitations and methodological challenges.

Visit Small Business Procurement Scorecard for more information.

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Optimal Solutions Group, LLC

Founded in 2000, Optimal Solutions Group, LLC, is a nonpartisan public policy research and technical assistance firm that stands out for its quantitative expertise and innovative approaches to provide rigorous, data-driven research and technical assistance to government agencies, corporations, nonprofit organizations and philanthropic foundations. Located at the University of Maryland’s Discovery District in College Park, Optimal is a leader in driving real-time public policy research. Optimal has 60+ employees, including multidisciplinary researchers with backgrounds in economics, education, health, housing, sociology, statistics, information management and entrepreneurship. Optimal has four research centers—Health, Education, Housing and Workforce Development, and Social Policy—as well as an International Practice, Analytics Group, and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center.

Helping Organizations Achieve Impact: Optimal Join Sponsors for UMD Social Sciences Workshop

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In October 2021, the University of Maryland, College Park will host a workshop for individuals in academia, industry, and government to discuss how academic-corporate partnerships can advance social, behavioral, and organizational science research to impact society and science.

The two-part event will kick-off with virtual session comprised of subject matter experts and partners. One goal of the workshop is to bring awareness to the opportunities that exist to collaborate within multiple disciplines of science, including behavioral and economic sciences. The workshop will also highlight social science and the opportunities that partners, and industries have to make an impact within the discipline. Most importantly, this will allow attendees and panelists the opportunity to learn and network with the community, industry representatives and researchers in social science.

Optimal Solutions Group (Optimal) will support the workshop as a sponsor for this event. Alongside Optimal joins the partners National Science Foundation, MITRE and the Consortium of Social Science Associations. Optimal’s collaboration and sponsorship with the University of Maryland, College Park schools is a relationship that has spanned almost a decade. From classroom talks to the HCIL symposium and judging competitions, Optimal and its staff have always enjoyed collaborating with the university to discuss new ideas and educational opportunities.

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Optimal Solutions Group, LLC

Founded in 2000, Optimal Solutions Group, LLC, is a nonpartisan public policy research and technical assistance firm that stands out for its quantitative expertise and innovative approaches to provide rigorous, data-driven research and technical assistance to government agencies, corporations, nonprofit organizations and philanthropic foundations. Located at the University of Maryland’s Discovery District in College Park, Optimal is a leader in driving real-time public policy research. Optimal has 60+ employees, including multidisciplinary researchers with backgrounds in economics, education, health, housing, sociology, statistics, information management and entrepreneurship. Optimal has four research centers—Health, Education, Housing and Workforce Development, and Social Policy—as well as an International Practice, Analytics Group, and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center.

Optimal Will Provide Data Tool to Better Understand Changes in the U.S. Manufacturing Sector

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The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) offers tools, solutions, and resources to address manufacturer’s diverse challenges and opportunities. Optimal Solutions Group LLC (Optimal) will provide access to a manufacturing data analysis and modeling tool or service . This tool/service will put dynamic and relevant manufacturing data in the hands of the MEP Centers, which helps with efficiency in serving their local markets.

The goal with this tool/service is to gain granularity in understanding of U.S. manufacturing –– from varying industry levels, to varying geographical levels, to different occupational levels –– and to understand data trends in the U.S. manufacturing sector at various levels of detail. Being able to understand any changes that may be coming to the U.S. manufacturing sector and its subcomponents and being able to prepare for those changes are of importance to the NIST MEP.

Optimal will provide a data tool/service that is hosted on a web-based platform that can be accessed via a site license, which will allow NIST MEP and the national network of MEP Center users to quickly gain access to aggregated manufacturing relevant data from multiple sources and use that data to analyze different aspects of U.S. manufacturing, including changes in establishment counts, changes in employment numbers, and supply chain identification and mapping, etc. Optimal will identify and populate the data. This data will then be aggregated in the tool/service and used to populate analyses and reports, which can also be automatically generated and downloaded from the tool/service. Work is set to begin on this project in October 2021.

Optimal previously provided evaluation support for NIST MEP’s Business to Business Network Pilot Project.

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Optimal Solutions Group, LLC

Founded in 2000, Optimal Solutions Group, LLC, is a nonpartisan public policy research and technical assistance firm that stands out for its quantitative expertise and innovative approaches to provide rigorous, data-driven research and technical assistance to government agencies, corporations, nonprofit organizations and philanthropic foundations. Located at the University of Maryland’s Discovery District in College Park, Optimal is a leader in driving real-time public policy research. Optimal has 60+ employees, including multidisciplinary researchers with backgrounds in economics, education, health, housing, sociology, statistics, information management and entrepreneurship. Optimal has four research centers—Health, Education, Housing and Workforce Development, and Social Policy—as well as an International Practice, Analytics Group, and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center.

Preferential Contract Awards Add Value and Jobs to Underutilized Areas

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The Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) program, part of the Small Business Administration (SBA), helps small businesses in low-income metropolitan or rural areas with high poverty and unemployment rates gain preferential access to federal procurement opportunities. Businesses obtain HUBZone certification in part by employing staff who live in a HUBZone and maintaining a “principal office” in one of these specially designated areas.

Optimal Solutions Group LLC (Optimal) evaluated the economic impact of the HUBZone program and found it has a moderate impact on the 30 counties studied. Optimal used an input-output model to assess the inflow of economic activity brought on by federal contracts won by HUBZone businesses to the distressed HUBZone communities. To estimate the program’s effect on each state and selected counties, the study estimated the total employment, earnings, value added, as well as gross output impacts of the identified contract awards to HUBZone firms.

Through the HUBZone program, federal procurement spending is directed into underutilized areas. Although the findings from the 30 selected counties are not representative of all contract awards to the universe of HUBZone firms, the findings are consistent in terms of the impact of the contract awards to HUBZone firms on large and small local economies. The HUBZone program has a moderate impact on all 30 counties in terms of value added and employment supported by contract awards to HUBZone firms.

Visit HUBZone program for more information.

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Optimal Solutions Group, LLC

Founded in 2000, Optimal Solutions Group, LLC, is a nonpartisan public policy research and technical assistance firm that stands out for its quantitative expertise and innovative approaches to provide rigorous, data-driven research and technical assistance to government agencies, corporations, nonprofit organizations and philanthropic foundations. Located at the University of Maryland’s Discovery District in College Park, Optimal is a leader in driving real-time public policy research. Optimal has 60+ employees, including multidisciplinary researchers with backgrounds in economics, education, health, housing, sociology, statistics, information management and entrepreneurship. Optimal has four research centers—Health, Education, Housing and Workforce Development, and Social Policy—as well as an International Practice, Analytics Group, and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center.

A New Study Analyzes a Switch to Online Delivery of Boots to Business Course

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The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Boots to Business (B2B) program is offered free of charge and helps transition service members from military to civilian life through entrepreneurship education and training. During the COVID-19 pandemic, an in-person course rapidly transitioned to an instructor-led virtual course. A new study by Optimal Solutions Group LLC (Optimal) examines the implementation of the virtual delivery and the course quality results.

The study focuses on a two-day classroom course, “Introduction to Entrepreneurship,” part of a curriculum that provides foundational knowledge required to develop a business plan and introduces participants to available SBA resources. The transition of this course to a virtual environment allowed continued service to transitioning military, and the virtual delivery also increased access to those otherwise underserved by removing barriers to the physical location and in-person requirements of the course. Due to the rapid and unplanned transition, the SBA did not prescribe curriculum, delivery, or facilitation instruction changes to its resource partners. Optimal’s evaluation will help increase the SBA’s understanding of how it can effectively implement the B2B course in a virtual environment. The generalizable findings of the study will be used to inform programming and process improvements to increase the program’s effectiveness and may inform decision-making for future SBA virtual training offerings.


Optimal’s evaluation analyzes raw data from the course quality survey and performance data in order to answer evaluation questions such as, “How can the B2B course be most effectively implemented in a virtual environment?” and “Which best practices from the review of the literature and findings can the SBA incorporate to improve the delivery of this virtual training?” Results from the data analysis will be presented to the SBA in a detailed report in 2022.

Visit SBA’s Boots to Business program for more information.

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Optimal Solutions Group, LLC

Founded in 2000, Optimal Solutions Group, LLC, is a nonpartisan public policy research and technical assistance firm that stands out for its quantitative expertise and innovative approaches to provide rigorous, data-driven research and technical assistance to government agencies, corporations, nonprofit organizations and philanthropic foundations. Located at the University of Maryland’s Discovery District in College Park, Optimal is a leader in driving real-time public policy research. Optimal has 60+ employees, including multidisciplinary researchers with backgrounds in economics, education, health, housing, sociology, statistics, information management and entrepreneurship. Optimal has four research centers—Health, Education, Housing and Workforce Development, and Social Policy—as well as an International Practice, Analytics Group, and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center.

Optimal Will Present Findings on the Effects of Federal Government Contracting Opportunities for Small Businesses at Fall Research Conference

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Four representatives from Optimal Solutions Group LLC (Optimal) will present research papers on the effects of federal contracting opportunities for small businesses at the Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management’s (APPAM) 43rd Annual Fall Research Conference in Austin, Texas, this November.

As part of the panel “The Effects of Government Procurement Policies and Practices in Advancing Small Business Contracting Opportunities,” Optimal’s President Dr. Mark Turner and Research Associate Andrey Vinokurov will present “The Effects of Set-Aside Procurement on the Availability of Women-Owned Small Businesses in Federal Contracting.” The Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) federal contracting program is one of several programs that Congress has approved to provide greater opportunities for small businesses to win federal contracts. Recent research by Optimal reveals that WOSBs availability (proportion of WOSBs that are ready, willing, and able compared to all ready, willing, and able firms in each industry) is low when compared to the relative size of women in the population. This study measures the responsiveness of relative and absolute availability of WOSBs that are ready, willing, and able to perform federal contracting in response to federal agencies’ use of set-asides and sole-source contracts.

As part of the same panel, Data Scientist Sadaf Asrar and Business Intelligence Analyst Yash Kothari will present “Effects of the 8(a) Program in Increasing the Utilization of Small Disadvantaged Businesses in Federal Government Contracting.” The federal government established the 8(a) program to improve the capacity and supplier base of small businesses owned and operated by socially and economically disadvantaged members of society. To help provide a level playing field, the government limits competition for certain contracts to businesses that participate in the 8(a) program. The objective of this paper is to understand the market for goods and services demanded by federal agencies and those supplied by 8(a) businesses as well as to examine the performance of 8(a) businesses in obtaining federal contracts as they progress from the initial development stage to the transitional stage of the program and assess how they fare once they graduate. 

The APPAM Fall Research Conference is a multi-disciplinary research conference attracting the highest quality research on a wide variety of important current and emerging policy and management issues.

Visit APPAM conference and panel for more information.

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Optimal Solutions Group, LLC

Founded in 2000, Optimal Solutions Group, LLC, is a nonpartisan public policy research and technical assistance firm that stands out for its quantitative expertise and innovative approaches to provide rigorous, data-driven research and technical assistance to government agencies, corporations, nonprofit organizations and philanthropic foundations. Located at the University of Maryland’s Discovery District in College Park, Optimal is a leader in driving real-time public policy research. Optimal has 60+ employees, including multidisciplinary researchers with backgrounds in economics, education, health, housing, sociology, statistics, information management and entrepreneurship. Optimal has four research centers—Health, Education, Housing and Workforce Development, and Social Policy—as well as an International Practice, Analytics Group, and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center.

Study Finds 8(a) Program Benefits Businesses By Obtaining Prime Federal Contracts

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The federal government established the 8(a) program to improve the capacity of small businesses owned by the socially and economically disadvantaged members of society by creating a level playing field for providing goods and services to the federal government and increasing the supply base of qualified businesses owned by such members of society.

The Small Business Administration partnered with Optimal Solutions Group LLC to conduct a rigorous program evaluation to assess the performance of the 8(a) program by examining the market for goods and services supplied by 8(a) businesses and those demanded by federal agencies. The study found that there is overlap between the industries that federal agencies buy goods and services from and those in which 8(a) businesses operate. However, the results show that a change in spending in those industry sectors by federal agencies would largely not differentially affect contracting dollars to 8(a) businesses. The study identified the strongest relationships of any agency procurement practices with 8(a) spending with the use of 8(a) set-aside and sole source vehicles. Spending through these vehicles have a very strong positive relationship with increasing 8(a) prime contracting dollars.

The results also show that of the 8(a) businesses that were successful in obtaining a first prime federal contract, those that had more experience in federal contracting, had a higher concentration of federal earnings in their overall revenue, and had more set-aside and sole source contracts were likely to receive higher prime federal contracting dollars. Comparing the performance of businesses that joined the 8(a) program to a group of non-8(a) businesses statistically matched based on their characteristics, the study found that 8(a) businesses were more likely to obtain a prime federal contract in the first 4 years after joining the program compared to the non-8(a) businesses. Moreover, the results show that businesses in the 8(a) program obtain prime federal contracts at a faster rate than non-8(a) businesses.

Visit 8(a) program for more information.

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Optimal Solutions Group, LLC

Founded in 2000, Optimal Solutions Group, LLC, is a nonpartisan public policy research and technical assistance firm that stands out for its quantitative expertise and innovative approaches to provide rigorous, data-driven research and technical assistance to government agencies, corporations, nonprofit organizations, and philanthropic foundations. Located at the University of Maryland’s Discovery District in College Park, Optimal is a leader in driving real-time public policy research. Optimal has 60+ employees, including multidisciplinary researchers with backgrounds in economics, education, health, housing, sociology, statistics, information management and entrepreneurship. Optimal has four research centers—Health, Education, Housing and Workforce Development, and Social Policy—as well as an International Practice, Analytics Group, and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center.

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