Aiding small biz in the GWAC age

contract signing

The Department of Homeland Security is working to ensure small businesses are included in the increasingly complex multi-award, governmentwide acquisition environment.

"For a long time the rules were written as though there would be a single award" per contract, Kevin Boshears, Director of DHS Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization at an acquisition conference on July 11.

"Now there are multiple awards. We try to identify small businesses up front" in creating contracts, he said. In today's Governmentwide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) and Multiple Award Contract (MAC) world, Boshears said, federal agencies have to make a commitment to use small businesses that might otherwise be overshadowed by bigger companies in the contracting process.

Small businesses have always had challenges in federal contracting. The government has a variety of set-aside programs and other preferences established for small firms in certain categories. It also has an overall target for small-business contracting – 23 percent of contracting dollars – which it has never actually hit. According to the Small Business Administration, the government usually comes close to the goal. Small businesses earned 22.25 percent of federal contracting dollars in fiscal 2012, and 21.65 percent in fiscal 2011.

Speaking at a panel discussion on small business issues at the Multiple-Award Government and Industry Conference (MAGIC), in Alexandria, Va., Boshears said DHS has identified portions of larger contracts that small businesses can participate in and sometimes outperform bigger contractors. He cited DHS' Program Management, Administrative, Clerical and Technical Services, a department-wide service contract for acquiring non-IT service solutions. This procurement effort is a 100 percent set-aside for service-disabled veteran owned small businesses. PACTS, he said, provides program management, administrative, clerical and technical services at the department.

"The key is to have the authority to do set-asides through task orders," he said.

The new contracting environment, through efforts like the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative, emphasizes saving money. Yet prices for goods and services in the multiple-source contract environment, said Emily Murphy, Senior Counsel at the House Committee on Small Business, can be deceiving.

"Price isn't the only thing. You have to look at the overall value." Small businesses, she said, can offer expertise in specialized areas that a larger company may not have. So, she said, a higher price may not reflect a company's expertise and its effect on an agency's operations or bottom line.

Murphy said her committee continues to look at ways to keep small businesses from having to compete with huge government contractors as they grow. Small businesses who find success can often add an employee or three or a hundred, pushing them into out of the small business category defined by the Small Business Administration and lose the contracting benefits small businesses qualify for. It's a hard balance to strike. "We don't want to lose the expertise, but we also don't want to block other small businesses."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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