TRW Inc. may be one of the nation's biggest defense companies, but last year its locally based computer systems integration division gave away much of the work it won -- and 48 percent of that to small businesses. And therein lies an opportunity.
The government requires prime contractors like TRW to give at least 30 percent of their subcontracts to small businesses.
The Small Business Administration tries to encourage them by helping prime contractors and small businesses find each other and by honoring companies that go out of their way to meet or surpass the requirements.
The SBA's mid-Atlantic regional office gave TRW Systems Integration Group in Fairfax its 1990 distinguished prime contractor award.
Last year, more than 48 percent of the division's prime contracts were subcontracted to small businesses, company spokesman Al Frascella said.
Fred Bell, TRW's small-business liaison, said TRW hires small businesses "not simply as socioeconomic commitment, but because it makes good economic sense."
Many small-business owners say the work is easier to come by than small government contracts, and that they prefer dealing with private companies for their lack of bureaucracy and the possibility that one contract will turn into a continuing business relationship.
Because small companies have lower overhead, Bell said, they can fill contracts less expensively for prime contractors. And as far as finding them, "there's nothing mystical about it; it's just hard work," Bell said.
As small-business liaison, Bell answers questions about bid requirements for the companies that want to be TRW's subcontractors. He maintains a database of small businesses so that everyone involved in handing out work is aware of new companies and the government requirements for using small and minority-owned companies.
The Small Business Administration maintains its own database of small and minority-owned companies, though many prime and subcontractors say they find it inefficient.
Michael Gooden, president of Arlington-based Integrated Systems Analysts Inc. said the database's limitations mean more work for the company to find small-business subcontractors, though the government's requirements are not impossible to meet.
"I don't think there's a strong support infrastructure to get that information," he said. "While there are resources available, they have a modicum of usefulness and the company has to take the initiative."
Through his membership in such local trade groups as the Northern Virginia Minority Business and Professional Association he gets many leads for subcontractors, he said.
Twice a year, the SBA stages a contracting day, holding seminars to help companies understand the procedures of finding contracts and writing bid proposals.
Representatives from government agencies and prime contractors also come to find potential subcontractors.
Deborah Dunn, president of Martha Weems Ltd., an advertising firm that has a contract with TRW, said that by attending one of these seminars she found answers to the questions inspired by the procurement maze.
In addition, she said, to get started she sought out everyone she knew who had worked with the federal government to discover the ins and outs of the system.
Dunn said working with TRW has been easier than working with other prime contractors, because its database of contractors is efficient. At other companies, she said, she has had to hound procurement officers more, staying in constant touch to avoid losing business.
And working for a prime contractor can often lead to more work with the company or referrals to other companies. Government regulations limit such referrals from its contractors. "A government agency has one need and one need only," she said.
The Federal Aviation Administration's $139 million contract for technical support and assistance in managing the agency's Advanced Automation System contract-a $3.5 billion program for which IBM is the prime contractor-to automate air traffic control by giving routine, repetitive tasks to computers and leaving air traffic controllers to make basic control decisions. TRW is also th help with other automation programs.
TRW Inc.'s Systems Integration Group, Systems Division, based in McLean. It interviewed more than 40 small minority-owned businesses before it bid for the contract. TRW is subcontracting 50 percent of the contract's value to the businesses listed below. The first two each get 20 percent and the remaining four divide 10 percent.
RMS Technologies Inc.
Job: Helping in the areas of testing and evaluation, aquisition and computer systems integration.
Computer Technology Associates
Job: Helping develop the interface between controllers and their computer workstations, and providing computer modeling and simulation.
Diversified International Sciences Corp.
Job: Engineering on the man-machine interface, terminal programs, software development and installation, and site installation.
Architecture Techology Corp.
Job: Technical support in computer systems architecture and characteristics.
System Resource Corp.
Job: Technical suport in analyzing requirements for the man-machine inteface and integrated logistics management.
Beverly Hills, Calif.
Job: Technical support on the computer system's reliability and maintainability, and fault tolerance analysis.