Headquartered in San Diego since 1995, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) is comprised of 7,550 government and military professionals plus approximately 4,000 contractors worldwide -- a number that is steadily increasing. And small businesses are part of that contract base ensuring that SPAWAR’s mission -- to provide the best technology for the nation’s military -- is successful.
From nearly 800 Internet cafes in the Middle East that link troops with family and friends to cyber warfare capabilities, SPAWAR designs, develops and deploys advanced communications capabilities, providing the hardware and software to connect warfighters at sea, on land and in the air. SPAWAR’s small business office provides resources, advice and training to help small defense companies learn the ropes to obtain contracts with SPAWAR.
“We continue to see a tremendous amount of growth not just in small business, but also in the subsets of small business,” said Faye Esaias, director of the SPAWAR small business program office. “I am here today at the Department of Defense small business training conference, and one of the talking points is the extra surge in veteran-owned businesses, women-owned businesses -- in almost every subset of the small business community.”
This growth, Esaias said, is attributable to factors such as pending legislation that would increase the demand for certain subsets of small businesses, such as minority-owned and women-owned businesses, veteran- and service disabled veteran-owned businesses, and HUBzone businesses.
“With the pending legislation preference programs for trying to contract dollars to, say, veteran-owned businesses, there would be more enforcement to source to those entities. I think people are seeing this and are creating more firms in those subsets where they see the potential legislation,” Esaias said. “It’s the million-dollar question. The legislation could take on a new life between the time it was proposed and then published -- or it may not be passed. But small businesses are aware of it and are forming entities to be ready in the event it is passed.”
The increase in both the number of small businesses in the market as well as the number interested in vying for government contracts is making the field of government contracting even more competitive for small businesses. Another factor increasing the competition, as Esaias reported, is the decrease in indefinite contracts under the Navy’s SeaPort-e initiative, which is now its primary procurement methodology.
This electronic platform solicits, awards and manages support services in 22 functional areas including engineering, financial management and program management. While SeaPort-e reports that 85 percent of its contract holders are small businesses, Esaias believes this acquisition platform could make it more difficult for small businesses to compete with larger companies.
“It is increasingly difficult to do single-award, indefinite contracts because the Navy wants to promote competition, but that may end up creating more challenges for small businesses,” Esaias said. “They can win the contract, but in order to win they have to monitor all tasks and task order levels, which takes a significant amount of time and effort -- and small businesses typically do not have the depth of infrastructure that a large business would have.”
Esaias has long been an advocate for small business, and she now enjoys making sure they can maximize the opportunities available to them in SPAWAR, and that they may participate in the government marketplace at both the prime and subcontracting levels. SPAWAR’s small business office remains committed to that goal, as well.
In addition to the Department of the Navy’s Mentor-Protégé Program, a separate formal initiative headed by Michelle Nolen, deputy for SPAWAR’s small business program, SPAWAR’s small business office also provides regular one-on-one counseling and an open-door policy to small businesses. The office also identifies opportunities for small businesses, hosts outreach programs, and participates in local organizations like the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), a forum for idea-sharing between the defense industry and the government. Esaias said her team also provides knowledge to SPAWAR’s technical staff on the contributions small businesses can make.
“A lot of our tech people don’t have the opportunity to hear what capabilities and innovation small businesses can bring to their programs, so a valuable part of our advocacy is to try to create those opportunities so that tech people are successful and can see what small businesses bring to the government.”
An upcoming series of roundtable discussions will survey people that work with SPAWAR’s small business office to identify areas the office can improve upon. In tandem with the office’s training on procurement methodologies, the different tools that are available and where to get notified, the office is now taking its education and outreach a step further.
“One thing we are doing now is aligning our staff with our technical project managers, where each person will be a primary point of contact with our program offices: learning about the contracting environment, identifying opportunities for small businesses within technical programs, doing market research and being a part of acquisition planning,” Esaias said.
Blackford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.
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