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A surge in economic diversification efforts across Indian Country has driven historic tribal participation in federal contracting.  A tool from a federal agency that purchases billions could help spur even more. 

Between the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program, federal defense contracting set-asides and the Buy Indian Act, tribes have found success in generating non-gaming revenue through federal contracting opportunities. 

In fiscal 2022, the federal government spent $20 billion with Native American businesses, according to Robin Carnahan, administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). 

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Now, those opportunities could be a bit easier to find, thanks to a newly launched search tool by the GSA,which oversees support and management of federal real estate and associated services and contracts. The federal agency has enhanced its business database with a new set of search identifiers meant to help quickly identify Native-owned businesses using the GSA Advantage!, GSA eBuy, and GSA eLibrary services

New search terms for those databases include “an,” which can be used to identify a business owned by an Alaska Native Corporation; “hn” which can help identify a Native Hawaiian-owned business; and “to,” which can help identify a tribally-owned enterprise. Individually-owned businesses run by Indigenous people can be found by including the term “ai” in a GSA search.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to forging cooperative relationships with Tribal Nations that are built on trust, consensus building, and shared goals … (including) supporting the economic growth of Native-owned businesses,” Carnahan said in a statement announcing the new tools. 

The move could enhance Native discoverability in a sector that has steadily, then rapidly, grown in recent years. According to a report from the Center for Indian Country Development at the Federal Bank of Minneapolis, Native businesses pulled in $202 billion in contracting revenue in the last four decades, thus creating one of the largest economic drivers in Indian Country. 

The bulk of that spending comes through the professional and business services sector, with roughly 50 percent for contracts with the Department of Defense. That lands squarely in GSA’s wheelhouse, meaning an easier way to find Native businesses could boost already meteoric success in the sector

Prior Tribal Business News reporting points to searchability and discoverability as a chief concern among Native suppliers, per Native American Business Association leader Amanda Smith. The NABA leader spoke to Tribal Business News about following in the footsteps of Supply Nation, a centralized database of Indigenous businesses in Australia, during a trade mission to the country in 2022. 

Improved searchability would help ensure the Buy Indian Act in particular has the desired effect, with certain contracts from the Department of Defense and the Indian Health service set aside for Native businesses, Smith said. 

“With all due respect, I appreciate the Buy Indian Act, and increasing percentages and goals, but if contracting officers don’t have a place to find these businesses, they’re going to have a reason not to utilize that,” Smith said at the time. “Supply Nation was able to come in and say, ‘Hey, this is what we have in Australia. We have this foundation, we know what works.’”

Ultimately, new search tools at GSA continue the Biden-Harris administration’s mission toward improving business relationships between tribes and the federal government, Carnahan concluded in a statement.

“Making it easier for buyers to obtain quality commercial products and services from Native-owned businesses is good for federal agency missions, good for the federal marketplace, and good for the communities we serve,” Carnahan said.