On January 13, President Obama revealed his plan to collaborate a tangled web of agencies with duplicating services into one. If given the authority, his plan is to consolidate six departments and agencies, including the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of Commerce. The president has also elevated the SBA administrator to a cabinet-level position.
It’s about time. After all, small businesses are the back bone of America’s economy.
Currently, the Department of Commerce and the SBA both offer small and medium-sized businesses services that include business development, foreign investment and trade promotion. Under Commerce, there is the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), which is tasked with creating growth opportunities for minority business owners regardless of size.
MBDA has a network of business centers across several regions of the U.S. offering access to capital; entrepreneur education and survival tips; assistance with the SBA’s small business development programs; workshops and education on how to successfully grow with government contracts; contract proposal assistance and matchmaking key government procurement officials with qualified minority businesses.
Then there are the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), which are funded by the SBA and provide similar resources as the MBDA’s business centers but are aimed at small businesses and entrepreneurs in certain socio-economic categories. Adding to the mix are SBA local and regional offices across the country.
These services are valuable for the survival and growth of America’s small businesses but business owners are left somewhat confused when approaching the government's maze of business development services. Teaming the SBA and the Commerce Department’s capabilities into one and capturing each agency’s best practices would offer a simpler path for businesses seeking guidance and resources. In turn, small businesses would spend less time being unsure of where to turn and more time accessing the government’s resources in a more seamless and coherent way.
If the government is serious about meeting its small business procurement goals, there needs to be more programs targeting the more experienced small business government contractors. These small business “past performers” have the ability to excel through the procurement process quicker and are capable of winning contracts at a faster pace. Yet they are still facing challenges, such as personnel, capital and other resources required to fulfill an agency’s demands. One solution is to facilitate these businesses to participate in a special teaming relationship with viable new small businesses entering SBA programs, such as the 8(a) Business Development Program and HUBZone.
Many of the current programs only offer growth opportunities for new small business government contractors.
A teaming relationship between a more experienced contractor and a novice contractor would bring greater innovation, increase job growth opportunities and enable agencies to fulfill their small business procurement goals.
It would be a win-win.
Lourdes Martin-Rosa is the American Express OPEN adviser on government contracting and has 20 years experience in the federal procurement arena.