Small biz feels shut out of DHS

Small businesses are finding it hard to do business with the Homeland Security Department, according to some who testified today before a House subcommittee.

"Based on what I've seen of Congress, you do not believe that the American people are expendable to either natural disasters or attack," said Dan Lane, chief executive officer of EmCom, an emergency alert network run by Technical Legal Consulting Inc. "I can't say the same about homeland security."

Lane and others, speaking before the House Small Business Committee's Rural Enterprises, Agriculture and Technology Subcommittee, said small companies have found it difficult to get the department's attention. Lane described months of effort trying to get officials to consider signing a contract for EmCom, which can send alerts to officials and first responders via wireless phones or other mobile devices when disaster strikes.

The agency is disorganized, Lane said. Department employees didn't know the agency's command structure or where officials' offices were located, he said.

"Even though [emergency preparedness] was a policy directive, no one could point us to the right person to talk to," Lane said. "In essence, there was a face with no body."

Patricia Driscoll, CEO of Frontline Defense Systems LLC, told the House panel that after Unisys Corp. won the contract to create the infrastructure for the Transportation Security Administration, small businesses like hers had to deal with the contractor instead of the agency. Unisys, she said, wanted access to proprietary information — intellectual property that companies closely guard.

Two government witnesses described the efforts that the government in general and DHS in particular are making to open the door more widely to small businesses.

Michael Barrera, national ombudsman at the Small Business Administration, reminded the panel that SBA has a governmentwide goal of awarding 23 percent of all contracts to small businesses.

"The No. 1 hurdle is access to the high-quality information they need," said Kevin Boshears, director of DHS' Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. "Sometimes a business has a good or a service they think might be of value to the government, but they don't know quite where to start."

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