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Administrator Carnahan Remarks at Reservation Economic Summit (RES)

April 3, 2023


Thank you and good morning everyone. It’s an honor to be here on behalf of the Biden-Harris Administration. I appreciate the chance to speak with all of you here in this forum and, along with a number of GSA colleagues, we’re very much looking forward to hosting consultations with Tribal Nations later this afternoon. In doing that, our hope is that we can continue to build a strong working relationship but, even more than that, strong Nation-to-Nation partnerships. 

President Biden and leaders across his Administration know that there’s more work to be done to strengthen the ties and trust between Tribal Nations and the United States. That’s our commitment, and my hope is that our conversations today – and our daily work at places like GSA – will demonstrate in concrete ways how we intend to uphold our responsibilities. 

For nearly two years, I’ve served as the head of the General Services Administration, which has a presence in thousands of communities across the U.S., including in Indian Country. 

We understand the importance of our responsibility to Tribal Nations, whether we’re...

  • working on real estate projects on tribal lands; 
  • helping Native American-owned businesses provide goods and services to the federal government; or,
  • ensuring that federal websites are inclusive and accessible. 

As GSA Administrator, I’m here to explore ways we can enhance our support of Native Customers, increase our spend numbers going to Native-Owned businesses, and establish a precedent for regular, meaningful consultation between GSA and Indian Country. 

As you may know, GSA has wide-ranging responsibilities and we partner with nearly every agency in the federal government. We do everything from managing the federal building portfolio to procuring vehicles, energy, technology and pretty much anything else our agency partners need. Through all these interactions, one thing is absolutely clear: we can only succeed in delivering effective, efficient government to the people we serve if we work together. 

This kind of partnership with our customers and partners is more important than ever.  Because, right now, GSA, like many other federal agencies, is responsible for making historic, once-in-a-generation investments through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act. 

It’s our responsibility to be good stewards of these funds and make sure they’re invested in a thoughtful, equitable way. 

As you know, these pieces of legislation include specific funding for tribal communities, so we’re eager to collaborate with you to ensure you have the access, support, and connections you need to use those funds in ways that make sense and have the greatest impact for Tribal nations.  

Supporting Native Vendors is not new.

In FY22, Native American Owned Businesses captured over $20 billion of federal obligations.

  • Of that, 
    • 57% went to Alaska Native Organizations;
    • 22% went to Tribally Owned Enterprises;
    • 15% went to individually owned Native firms; and,
    • 6% to Native Hawaiian Organization Firms.
  • And each of these groups exceeded $1B in awards. 

While those numbers are big, they still only account for 3.3% of government spending.  And we also know that only 12% of those Native Owned firms registered to do business with the federal government actually won contracts. 

GSA specific numbers were better, we awarded 7% to Native firms. And I’m pleased to tell you that 57% of those were competitively awarded, which shows the vibrancy and strength of Native Contracting. 

But, we know this isn’t good enough and that, right now, we have a unique opportunity to do much more to support Native American Owned Businesses.

I’d like to share some of our ideas on how we can do that – and I’m hoping we’ll be able to generate even more ideas during our consultation later this afternoon.  

First, in the coming years, GSA will invest $3.5 billion dollars in infrastructure funds to improve 26 projects at Land Ports of Entry on our Northern and Southern borders. Indian Country spans over 260 miles of those borders. 

We understand that before doing that work in Indian Country, we’ll need true nation-to-nation partnerships. I also understand that historically, that hasn’t always happened. 

We intend to change that and have already started. 

Earlier this year, the GSA team, along with our customers from US Customs and Border Protection, began planning the expansion of a Land Port of Entry along the Canadian border located on Trust Lands. But, we paused that planning in order to hold nation-to-nation consultations with Tribal Leaders and address questions and concerns from the Grand Portage Lake Superior Chippewa people. 

That consultation was extremely valuable in helping the GSA team reframe its thinking about the project and in forging a cooperative relationship built on trust and consensus building with that Tribal Nation. 

We hope to use this as a model to build on for all future GSA projects that impact Indian Country. 

But, GSA is responsible for more than just land and real estate. We also want to make it easier for you to do business with the federal government. 

For example, we’re looking to collaborate with tribal governments on using self-governance funds to reduce the administrative burden of interacting with the federal government. This should make it easier to buy vehicles or professional services and work with us even more closely on infrastructure projects.

Through our Native Nations Working Group, we’re looking at ways to enhance SAM.gov and reduce barriers in access to capital. Which, in turn, should help us boost the success of Native-Owned businesses in the federal marketplace.

We’re also exploring how we can better support the Native business community through contracting opportunities, especially for 8(a) and small businesses. 

Later today, you’ll hear from GSA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization on how we’re working more closely than ever with the White House Council on Native American Affairs and the Department of the Interior to offer government-wide native procurement training. 

This training is intended to help acquisition experts across government better understand some of this community’s specific and unique needs – as well as the many advantages of working with Native-Owned Businesses and, for my part, at GSA, we’re requiring all acquisition staff to complete this training. 

We understand that training only goes so far and one size doesn’t fit all. Tribal Businesses are extremely diverse in size, industry, and category so we’re also working on a government-wide forecasting tool to better match companies with opportunities that fit their particular situation. 

We also want to make it easier for government agencies looking to buy goods and services to connect with Native-Owned businesses ready to meet their needs.

That’s why, later this summer, you’ll see updates to GSA’s primary online procurement tools that will include new identifiers to increase visibility for our customers, partners, and acquisitions professionals so they can more easily find businesses that are: 

  • Tribally Owned;
  • American Indian Owned;
  • Alaskan Native Corporation Owned;
  • Or, a Native Hawaiian Organization Owned.

And we’re doing one more thing on this front that is equally important, we’re looking to deepen our relationships with Native businesses by developing new post-award engagement strategies so that our collaboration doesn’t end when the work begins. 

Bottomline, we want to: 

  • Make it easier for agencies and contracting officers to find Native-Owned Businesses;
  • Support you in getting and keeping that work; and,
  • Provide more transparency about contracting opportunities and set-asides that might become available in the future. 

These are a few of the things that we can do internally at GSA. But, in order to really be effective at scaling the amount of Native-Owned business we do, we also need your help. And the first step is to make sure your business is registered in SAM.gov.  

If you're not sure whether you’re registered or want to get registered, you can visit our SAM. gov genius bar in the lobby, or later tonight on the tradeshow floor. It’s an easy way to verify whether your business is registered, learn more about how our identifiers will work, and get personalized advice to help you update and manage your registration.

And please, to any tribal leaders and government administrators in the room, let us know about any challenges you may encounter – as one of our customers, we want to make sure that you are getting the best support we can provide. And the best way to do that is by hearing your feedback on how things are working.

Another area for collaboration is around our work to electrify the federal fleet, which includes supporting your purchase of more EVs for Indian Country. We can help confirm your eligibility so that you can quickly start buying the EVs you need through GSA.  

GSA is the primary vehicle buyer for most of the U.S. government. As a result, we have close relationships with auto manufacturers and are able to negotiate good prices, including for light-duty vehicles, buses, and healthcare vehicles. 

Buying through GSA means you all can share those benefits – that’s why, right now, we’re partnering with the White House Council on Native American Affairs and agencies providing this funding to maximize your self-governance authorities as much as possible. 

Another example of buying at scale is our focus on procuring carbon-pollution free electricity. Just like many Tribal leaders and businesses, GSA is interested in helping lead the transition to a Clean Energy Economy. 

It’s clear that these investments represent a triple win. 

  • Good for creating good-paying jobs across Indian Country;
  • Good for creating opportunities for Native Businesses to own these Clean Energy projects and new technologies and ensuring that the long-term economic benefits of these investments translate into financial benefits to Tribal organizations, their members, and their communities for generations to come; and, 
  • Good for the planet and future generations. 

GSA’s role in supporting the transition to a Clean Energy Economy is especially relevant because the federal government is the single largest buyer and consumer of electricity and fuel in the country. Along with the Department of Defense, we are the government’s primary buyers of energy, which make us long-term customers with big energy needs.

We’re very interested in working together with Tribal Nations to find mutually beneficial partnership opportunities for Carbon-Pollution Free Electricity development in Indian Country because, as I said, it's a triple win. 

We know this transition will take time and a lot of collaboration. That’s why my team and I are already talking with state utility regulators, energy companies, and suppliers as well as other government agencies to help ensure all of us are aligned and moving forward together.

We’re eager to have Indian Country at the table early in those conversations because we know you’ll be crucial partners to GSA and the federal government more broadly as we make this transition to a clean energy economy. 

In fact, we’re looking for pilot projects right now – for this year – where we can buy Pollution-Free Electricity from tribal organizations. We’re looking for projects that will support clean energy production on Tribal Land and help decarbonize the electricity grid. 

Through these pilots, we hope to learn about your lived experiences with developing CFE, building transmission lines, and connecting to the grid – as well as any challenges or barriers you’ve faced. And, we want to learn from your successes and see where similar approaches might work elsewhere, whether on tribal lands or not. 

At the consultation we’re having later today, we’ll talk more about what an ideal CFE pilot would look like but here’s the short version:

  • Renewables such as solar, wind, or hydro energy (or even fossil fuel based power if the carbon emissions are captured) from a tribal organization;
  • That uses American-made products;
  • Is already connected to the grid; and, 
  • Is located in a competitive utility market. 

So, if anyone in the room is thinking about developing or already has access to Carbon Pollution-Free Electricity, we’re interested in talking to you about becoming a customer and long-term partner.  

If we work together to find mutually beneficial solutions, we can meet this game-changing moment where, because of the Inflation Reduction Act, there is money and momentum at the same time to make these long overdue investments in our people, communities, and our planet.   

I hope you’ll join us in the Livorno room at 1 pm to talk more about this opportunity. 

Most of all, on behalf of all my GSA colleagues, we want to thank you for allowing us to join you today. We’re invested in your success – we want to meet your needs as our customers and bolster your economic growth in the federal marketplace. 

And we’re committed to continuing to demonstrate our respect for Tribal sovereignty and self-governance through regular, meaningful, and robust consultation. Today marks the first. And we look forward to strengthening our partnership in the years ahead. 

Thank you.