Short of qualified small businesses, the 413th CSB expanded its outreach, data collection and sharing to find ones that could meet its mission.
by Col. Kevin M. Nash
When it comes to the Army meeting its small business goals, small businesses have their own demographic and every region is different in terms of the numbers of qualified small businesses. That may be most problematic when the region is Hawaii, as the 413th Contracting Support Brigade (CSB) has discovered.
The 413th CSB, one of six CSBs of the U.S. Army Expeditionary Contracting Command (ECC), supports U.S. Army Pacific. The 413th CSB provides garrison and expeditionary contracting to Army units and joint partners throughout the Pacific, except for Japan and Korea. From its regional contracting offices (RCOs) in Hawaii and Alaska, the CSB traditionally provides significant support to achieve the ECC’s small business goals.
The ECC, a major subordinate command of U.S. Army Materiel Command, is a worldwide contracting organization with an authorized strength of more than 1,200 personnel operating in 30 permanent contracting offices and seven contingency contracting offices. The ECC maintains a robust small business program for its contracting brigades, both in and outside the continental United States (CONUS), with more than $97 million directed to small businesses in FY15 alone.
Operating primarily in Hawaii and Alaska for its garrison-support mission, the 413th CSB maintains the same socioeconomic goals as its counterparts in CONUS. James A. Mastin, the 413th CSB’s current small business specialist, arrived in Hawaii in 2014 to find distinct differences in progress toward making small business goals in the categories of small businesses owned by disadvantaged Native Americans, HUBZone (Historically Underutilized Business Zone), service-disabled veterans, and women.
In Hawaii, where the 413th CSB is based at Fort Shafter, the brigade is fortunate that it can use the Native Hawaiian organization 8(a) category, one of the three “super 8(a)” contractor categories that are allowed additional benefits by the U.S. Small Business Administration. However, the SBS found that there were difficulties reaching the goal for contracting with service-disabled veteran-owned (SDVO) small businesses, and the brigade needed to develop a strategy to achieve this goal.
Three initiatives resulted to improve on the previous year’s small business achievements through stronger outreach, better networking, improved information flow for market research, better training and more effective interaction between contracting professionals and Mastin’s office. The brigade’s small business office not only improved its performance over FY14 but achieved all of its goals during FY15.
ASSESSING THE TASK
The purpose of the 413th CSB’s small business program, like its counterparts within other units, is to provide small businesses with information about conducting business with the federal government. The small business specialist supports planning and implementation of efforts to increase small business opportunities in contracting with the federal government. Additionally, the small business specialist implements national policy to ensure the application of subcontracting requirements with respect to small business firms.
Mastin advises potential contractors on assistance available from government agencies, procedures for formal advertising and negotiated acquisitions, and registration with the Systems for Award Management (SAM), which is the official U.S. government database designed to hold information from businesses relevant to procurement and financial transactions; contractors must register in SAM to receive any government contract. Mastin also advises contractors on how to find requirements on the FedBizOpps Web page, and on submitting proposals and information regarding bids and offers. Mastin is responsible for reviewing and making recommendations on DD Form 2579, “Small Business Coordination Record,” for all acquisitions exceeding $10,000 before issuance of a solicitation.
Mastin began addressing the need for more business with SDVO firms by reaching out to the other SBSs on Oahu. As it turned out, the other government agencies on the island also struggled to meet their SDVO goal. Discussions with these agencies yielded a list of small businesses on Oahu that fell into the small disadvantaged business 8(a) category and also happened to be SDVO small businesses.
The SBS passed that information on to the local contracting office; if a requirement arose that would allow for an 8(a) direct award, the contracting office could use one of those 8(a) vendors that also possessed the SDVO designation. As a result, many of those contractors that held the 8(a) and SDVO category were awarded government contracts for supplies, services and minor construction.
STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT
Then, the 413th CSB embarked on three initiatives to strengthen its approach to small businesses:
- Expanded outreach program to connect with Hawaiian and Alaskan small businesses on opportunities available for supporting the Army. Previous outreach efforts were limited to only a handful of events during the year. Mastin used more than a dozen outreach events, including the annual Hawaii Small Business Forum and various small business matchmaking functions, and expanded his open-door policy that allows vendors to come in and give capability briefings, which helps with market research. He used these outreach programs to inform the 413th CSB’s regional contracting offices about the capable small businesses available as potential sources of supply or services for current and future acquisitions.
- Refined communication and market research data readily available to the 413th CSB’s 51C (military contracting) and 1102 (civilian contracting) professionals to better depict what small businesses could provide. The SBS improved upon the existing information found in the small business resource folder on the brigade’s internal, shared drive. The information previously provided on the shared drive was generic in its reflection of small business capability briefings, catalogs and brochures.
To improve the quality and accessibility of the information provided for 413th CSB 51Cs and 1102s, Mastin broke down the small business documents into their separate socioeconomic categories: women-owned, economically disadvantaged women-owned, veteran-owned, SDVO, HUBZone, small disadvantaged business or 8(a) businesses.
To show the most current information, he further categorized the information within the small business resource folder to reflect the fiscal year in which the information was received. This has proved to be a valuable tool for the regional contracting offices to use in their market research.
- The brigade tailored the role of the SBS to use his solid acquisition skills to improve communication between the 51C/1102 personnel and the SBS, so the SBS would be more fully engaged with the workforce and accepted as a value-added member of the team instead of someone in a separate specialty area. Now the SBS not only gives guidance, but also conducts numerous training sessions on the small business program and on the required forms that must be completed before the solicitation of any requirement.
Mastin maintains operational support to the CSB by serving not only as the small business advocate but as an ombudsman in a wide range of areas requiring a significant degree of business and technical knowledge, including labor, marketing and general business-related disciplines. He sees when acquisition circumstances inhibit small business participation or impact small businesses’ overall operation or survival, and represents the interests of these segments of industry to all levels of management to resolve problems and ensure maximum small business opportunity consistent with the activity’s requirements.
He coordinates all DD Form 2579s before issuance of any solicitations and reviews the corresponding market research to make sure that small businesses participate to the fullest extent possible. This results in many positive comments and feedback from the contracting workforce in Hawaii and Alaska and sets the standard for how the 413th CSB will proceed in FY16.
The implementation of these innovations resulted in increased participation of small businesses and increased achievement of our small business goals as a percentage of available dollars from FY14 to FY15. Additionally, the brigade exceeded all of its assigned goals for FY15.
The warfighter gets the required supply or service while the American government achieves its desired socio-economic effect. The brigade intends to continue to refine and improve its SB program based on its recent success and achieve even better results in FY16.
For more information on the 413th small business program, go to http://www.acc.army.mil/ecc/413th/hawaii/rco-hi_small_business.html.
COL KEVIN M. NASH is the commander of the 413th CSB, Fort Shafter. He holds a master’s in management from the Naval Postgraduate School and a B.A. in economics from Washington and Lee University. He is Level III certified in contracting, Level II in program management, and a member of the Army Acquisition Corps.
This article was originally published in the January – March 2016 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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