2011 Congressional Procurement Conference

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, ROCKVILLE, MD – May 4, 2011

On May 4th, the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce hosted the 2011 Congressional Procurement Conference. Federal agencies, prime contractors, state and local government entities, as well as businesses had the opportunity to network and chose from 34 workshops.

inQbation’s Proposal Coordinator, Sandi Duverneuil, attended the conference and reports that sessions held by the U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as well as the General Services Administration (GSA) were particularly noteworthy, especially with respect to small business.

The USAID workshop, titled ‘Doing Business with the U.S. Agency for International Development, was presented by Mauricio Vera, the Director of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. Mr. Vera admitted that USAID had been ‘missing the boat’ with respect to working with small businesses in the IT sector, but that several IT contracts were set to expire by the end of the current fiscal year.
In speaking to the agency’s challenge of meeting small and disadvantaged business utilization goals, Mr. Vera noted that progress had been made with respect to women-owned businesses (up from 1 to 5%) but that USAID has been struggling with reaching HUB Zone utilization goals.

USAID procurement reform includes the establishment of a board to review all new and proposed indefinite quantity contracts (IQC). In an effort to broaden its partner base, the agency has allocated total ‘set asides’ for some IQCs. An upcoming set aside in the education sector, for example, has a $300 million ceiling. Last, the USAID Forward initiative was mentioned as the agency’s endeavor to change its business practices (see http://forward.usaid.gov/about/overview).

The GSA workshop was led by Shaunta Johnson, Director, Small Business Center, based in Washington, DC. Ms. Johnson discussed the following bullet points as means of identifying prime and subcontracting opportunities with GSA:

  1. Procurement networking sessions, small business conference, workshops, expositions, seminars, trade fairs;
  2. Pre-proposal/pre-solicitation conferences;
  3. Federal agencies’ small business offices (depending on the agency, it was noted that some are better than others)
  4. Importance of building relationships with congressional representatives

As part of the greater ‘culture’ shift within GSA, Access Forums have been instituted. These are 20 minute marketing opportunities for selected vendors to come to GSA to present their company. Each Access Forum has an industry focus. They meet 1:1 with GSA program managers, discuss past performance, core competencies, and engage in a capability discussion.

Both the USAID and GSA workshop facilitators emphasized the mentor-proteg√©e programs and encouraged small businesses seeking to do business with the federal government to first partner with a prime contractor as a subcontractor. To that end, the ‘presumption of loss’ clause was celebrated as a means for GSA to ensure prime contractors will pay subcontractors. In the event that prime contractors default on payment, GSA can now sue prime contractors.

One hot area that was mentioned by Ms. Johnson during the GSA workshop is sustainability. She strongly encouraged participants to make sure they develop the ‘green’ angle in their business and bring it to the forefront of their marketing presentation. Other noteworthy take aways included the assertion that small businesses do not (and should not) need a consultant to help them get on the GSA schedule. Some such consultants charge $20-50,000 fees, but this doesn’t guarantee success. Instead, business owners were encouraged to make use of free resources. In the national capital area, there are procurement technical assistance centers at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, as well as one at University of Maryland, in College Park, Maryland.

Last, but not least, workshop attendees were highly encouraged to read up on the Small Business Administration’s proposed size standards rule and submit comments (due May 16, 2011). Read the full text of the proposed rule, see 76 Fed. Reg. No. 51, published March 16, 2011.¬†Proposed size standards take into consideration the following factors:

  1. Average firm size;
  2. Average assets size (as a proxy of startup costs/entry barriers)
  3. Four-firm concentration ratio
  4. Distribution of firms by size and level
  5. Small business share of federal contracting dollars

Ms. Johnson noted that this is small business owners’ opportunity to make an impact on government procurement reform and indicated that comments are carefully read and taken seriously.

In sum, it was a productive and informative conference!!