GSA focuses on small businesses as fed spending falls

February 19, 2012

As federal spending shrinks, the General Services Administration says it’s taking an active effort to help small businesses win government work.

The agency has been hosting weeklong training sessions across the country for small businesses that hold spots on GSA contract vehicles known as schedules. It also has been providing online events for companies looking to break into government work and promoting a mentor-protege program that partners large and small businesses.

“It’s very clear that the government is going to be spending less money, so that means that it is going to be tougher [and] there are going to be fewer dollars to chase,” said Steven J. Kempf, commissioner of GSA’s federal acquisition service. Small businesses are “going to have to chase harder, they’re going to have to sharpen their pencils.”

Kempf said the GSA launched a mentor-protege program about a year and a half ago and now has 80 small businesses participating. The agency is also promoting more unofficial partnerships; for instance, nine companies recently grew too large to participate in a contracting vehicle for veteran-owned small businesses but have been allowed to stay on as informal mentors. They can no longer compete as prime contractors, but could be subcontractors to the remaining eligible companies.

“We’ve had some businesses that were ... very successful, so they’ve grown up in the program [and] have moved on,” Kempf said. “This is another way that they can nurture the smaller businesses.”

Within the past year, Kempf said, GSA has also held sessions as part of what it calls a “business breakthrough program,” a weeklong training meant to help companies that are on a schedule — or a contract vehicle that allows them to win additional work — better understand how to market their businesses and find their niche.

About 6,000 people, two-thirds of whom represent small businesses, have taken GSA’s Pathways to Success Webinar, which is intended to help companies that aren’t on a schedule but want to win work.

Bethesda-based Catapult Technology serves as a mentor to three protege firms, said Barry Kane, the company’s president. Each of the three has special designations, such as service-disabled, veteran-owned or woman-owned.

The companies provide “ready-made partners,” Kane said, particularly when a given contract requires that some portion of the work be done by a disadvantaged business.

Kane said some contracts Catapult has pursued have provided extra credit for those who serve as small-business mentors, providing an incentive for larger businesses to participate.

“We’ve invested a lot of time and effort in mentoring these companies but the idea is somewhere along the line it would help us,” he said.

Still, Kempf said each partnership is different, making it difficult to evaluate the overall success of the program.

Though McLean-based Integrity Management Consulting teamed with its mentor on one contract, the two companies’ partnership has been fairly limited thus far, said Mary Beth Romani, Integrity’s chief strategy officer. She said Integrity is hoping to see more work with its mentor in the future.

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