A group of 15 lawmakers have asked federal officials to start tracking military spouse-owned businesses in their contracting database.

More military spouses are becoming entrepreneurs to contribute to the family’s income and fulfill their personal goals. The lawmakers want the ability to track how many of these spouse-owned businesses bid for and win federal contracts.

“This change would ensure that military spouse entrepreneurs are adequately represented and accounted for,” said Rep. Marilyn Strickland, D-Wash., in announcing a letter sent to the Office of Management and Budget May 10, on the eve of Military Spouse Appreciation Day. She is leading the effort.

While military spouse-owned small businesses can compete for federal contracting opportunities, there is no way to know whether they are doing so or being awarded contracts. The government doesn’t track military spouse participation.

As a result, there is no way for Congress to gauge trends in military spouse participation levels or address any deficiencies that might exist, the lawmakers stated. The information could also be used to help address the unemployment gap for military spouses, which has stubbornly remained at 20% for years, they said.

The lawmakers, all but one Democrats, have asked OMB to change policy to allow military spouse-owned businesses to self-identify in the Federal Procurement Data System, which is overseen by the Office of Federal Procurement at OMB. That data system includes entities registered to do business with the government. It recognizes many different self-identifiers, such as minority- and veteran- and woman-owned businesses, with codes assigned to each category. Congress, the administration, the Government Accountability Office and others use the information to identify trends and inform policy decisions.

Agencies can search what businesses and other organizations exist in the system and use the data to solicit Requests for Information from companies that might be interested in doing business with the agency, generally or on a specific type of opportunity.

The change, if adopted by OMB, would mean establishing criteria and eligibility for the military spouse-owned business category.

The change wouldn’t give spouses priority unless they qualified under another category such as veteran-owned. But agencies looking for a small business to handle a contract could express interest in those owned by a military spouse.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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