A Dual Mission, Accomplished

Posted October 29, 2012

This Washington, D.C.-area firm specializes in winning federal contracts that help people with disabilities, while employing workers with disabilities to do the work.

Sheila Newman knows her way around government contracts, and the nation’s capital. When navigating both, you have to be able speak the language of acronyms, she says. For Newman, so fluent is she in acronyms and government-speak, it’s like a second language to her.

Newman is president and owner of New Editions Consulting, Inc., located in Fairfax, Va. She competes for and wins federal contracts – and not just any old contracts. All of them have one common thread: Helping people with disabilities.

New Editions’ services include research and evaluation studies, policy analyses and program development, as well as information-technology expertise in programming, database services and accessible web sites. The company helps federal and state agencies with marketing and communications, event planning, and technical assistance and training.

Choosing Wisely

Putting all of these services into practice with the result of helping people with disabilities seems ambitious, but Newman makes it look easy. As a former rehabilitation counselor, she says she’s determined to make disability services her company’s specialty. For example, if the government issues an RFP (request for proposal) regarding information technology, New Editions will only bid on it if it benefits people with disabilities in some way.

Using this philosophy has allowed the company to land government clients including the Department of Labor, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Veterans Affairs, to name a few. Most recently, New Editions won a contract from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) to provide technical assistance for “Money Follows the Person,” a program that helps states rebalance their long-term care support systems to transition people with Medicaid from institutional care into their communities.

Practicing What They

Newman says her competitive differentiation works for winning business, but she has a double-bottom line: She tries to employ people with disabilities to do the work. Around a quarter of her 45-person consulting workforce also have disabilities. “We try to practice what we teach,” she says.

Plus, Newman says, she benefits when other employers turn down candidates with disabilities. “I feel like I’ve gotten great employees that other employers have passed on because they simply refuse to look at the abilities and instead focus on the disability,” Newman says, adding that she still sees the same attitudes among some employers that she saw 30 years ago as a newly graduated rehabilitation counselor.

For those lucky enough to work at New Editions, employees have great perks. She has installed flexible and family-friendly work policies, and tries to make the workplace as culturally diverse as she can. “I like to say that New Editions looks like every company in America should look,” explains Newman. “Our workforce has rich diversity made up of many different races, ages, cultures and disabilities.”

Well-Deserved Recognition

It’s not always easy to keep a company running at full speed, especially one that’s so reliant on government-funded projects. Each project typically involves a two-to-five-year stint; once a contract is over, the government agency or another contractor might recruit her staff – not an uncommon practice in Washington. “It makes my attrition rate sound terrible, but it’s a good thing, and I feel good that my employees get hired,” Newman says.

Newman’s hard work and her desire to improve work opportunities for people with disabilities is paying off: Her company made Inc. magazine’s List of America’ s Fastest Growing Companies in 2007, and the Fairfax County Disability Service Board named New Editions as their 2007 Employer of the Year.

Yet another list she made in 2011 is what makes her proudest. At last year’s holiday party, Newman’s employees made a list of the “Top 10 Reasons That New Editions is The Best Place to Work in D.C.,” noting that Newman takes a personal interest in every employee and has a deep commitment to making the world a better place for people with disabilities. “For me, that was very rewarding,” she says.