The federal government is required to spend 23 percent of its annual budget for purchases of goods and services with small businesses, including 5 percent with women-owned firms, 5 percent with small disadvantaged businesses, 3 percent with service disabled veteran-owned businesses and 3 percent with small businesses in a Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone).
Consequently, small business certifications are important to obtain but do not guarantee a contract. Instead, you must learn how to integrate your certification status into your capture management process — in other words, business development and intelligence gathering on the customer, your competition and yourself.
So where do you start? Here are some key government figures you need to know:
• The first key players in the federal acquisition process are the Small Business Administration (SBA) procurement center representatives (PCRs). PCRs are at various SBA area offices and major federal buying centers around the country. Their primary purpose is to work with contracting agencies to increase the small business share of federal procurement awards by initiating small business set-asides, reserving procurements for competition among small business firms, and providing small business sources to federal buying activities.
Make it your business to learn who the PCRs in your area are and contact them. Even if you are not tracking a specific procurement, let them know about your company and find out what set-aside opportunities may be coming out. Remember, the PCRs’ role is to work internally within the acquisition planning process to try to influence procurements in favor of small businesses. They can’t award contracts but they are a great source of knowledge and critical to your capture management process.
• The second is each agency’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) staff. The office is responsible for promoting the maximum practicable use of all designated small business categories within the acquisition process. The OSDBU staff cannot award contracts but they offer valuable information on what’s going on in a particular agency and are, therefore, a critical source to your capture management plans. Reach out to the OSDBU staff for the agency you are targeting and introduce your company’s capabilities. Also, attend as many OSDBU outreach events as you can to connect with them. The office is an entrée into the agency.
• The final is the contracting officer (CO), who is the only player who can actually award you a contract and has the authority to enter into, administer and/or terminate contracts and make related determinations and findings. If you learn about a potential procurement, you can ask the CO if he or she can carve out a small portion for a set-aside in addition to contacting the PCR and OSDBU to advocate your position. Just by asking, you can potentially open up more opportunities for your firm.
Here’s an example of how this can help you: A small construction company I mentored was short listed for an Air Force base requirement. The owner became aware of the Service Disabled Veteran (SDV) set-aside category and immediately applied for the certification. After receiving his certification, he went to the PCR, OSDBU and CO for that contracting agency, alerted them of his new certification, was moved to the top of the list and awarded the contract.
Doña Storey is the American Express OPEN adviser on procurement. Owner of a small business contractor herself, she helps other small firms navigate the procurement process.
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