Small Business Specialists Link Small Vendors with DLA Supply Chains

FORT BELVOIR, Va. — Small business specialists at the Defense Logistics Agency earn a living looking out for the little guys. Whether they’re leading small-business owners through the contract solicitation process or alerting contracting officials at the agency’s supply chains on potential new sources, members of the DLA Small Business Office ensure small companies get a share of federal contracting dollars.

Story by Beth Reece, Defense Logistics Agency

DLA awarded almost $7 billion in contracts to small businesses in fiscal 2011. That’s 30 percent of the money the agency could have potentially awarded to small businesses, said Amy Sajda, director of DLA’s Small Business Programs.

The Defense Department recently named DLA’s small business staff, which is spread throughout DLA’s primary-level field activities, the 2012 Small Business Team of the Year. In addition to answering daily questions from vendors seeking to do business with DLA, small-business specialists seek out new companies whose products and services might meet warfighters’ needs in the future.

“We’re adding value for both warfighters and taxpayers, because it’s all about enhancing competition and driving down prices. It also helps us avoid sole-source situations,” said Christina Young, the program’s deputy director.

Federal agencies are required by law to support America’s small businesses, but it also makes good business sense, Young added.

“Two out of every three new jobs is created by a small business,” she said. “Supporting them is important because they really are the lifeblood of America’s economy.”

The Small Business Act defines a small business as one that is independently owned and operated, organized for profit, and not dominant in its field. Eligibility is based on the average number of employees and sales volume over a three-year period.

The Small Business Administration works with leaders in the federal government to establish annual goals that ensure small businesses have ample opportunity to provide goods and services to the government. DLA’s goal this fiscal year is 33.5 percent, higher than that of most organizations because of the volume of consumable products the agency purchases for warfighters, Sajda said.

Within that 33.5 percent, 5 percent or more is expected to go to women-owned small businesses and small disadvantaged businesses, and 3 percent or more to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses and historically underused business zones, she added.

Instructions for doing business with DLA are outlined on the agency’s public website, but Young said small business specialists take extra steps to pair prospective businesses with the right DLA supply chain. In May, for example, she met with local business owners at the Federal Contracting Conference in Florida.

“These folks have been negatively impacted by the end of the space shuttle program and are looking for other markets they can expand into. Or, they want to find out if a product or service they have could be used for the government in a slightly different way,” she said.

Her staff often meets with the presidents or owners of such companies to determine how they might be able to meet warfighters’ logistics needs. If the business provides a commodity or service that DLA typically buys, small-business specialists will put them in touch with contracting officers at the correct supply chain.

“We will even tell them how to fill out forms if that is what they need,” Sajda added.

And when vendors specialize in an area outside of DLA’s interest, small business specialists try to link them with a suitable DoD agency.

“Our mission is a very positive one all the way around. Because we have a direct connection with the services and other defense agencies, we can usually get small vendors to a place where there’s potential for a contract,” Young said.

Small-business owners can also turn to the DLA-managed Procurement Technical Assistance Program, which has 93 centers across the nation that provide assistance to those wanting to do business with state, local and federal government.

DLA’s small-business staff is currently working to increase contracting opportunities for service-disabled veteran-owned businesses. Young and Sajda are partnering with representatives from such organizations as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans Association to brainstorm opportunities that might expand the industrial base among service-disabled veterans. This month, they also expect to meet with owners of service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

“We want to make sure they know about us and know about our mission. If they have a product line or service that fits well within DLA’s needs, we’d love to bring them on,” Young said.

Though many people believe the reason for supporting small businesses stems from socioeconomics, it originated during the Great Depression to ensure the nation’s industrial base could support the military’s logistics needs, Sajda added.

After World War I, many of the companies that provided small parts needed by military services going to war folded. By the time the United States began preparing for World War II, there were few companies that could supply small components for major military systems.

Lawmakers realized that small-business owners who provided wartime commodities lacked money to keep afloat in peacetime. As a result, Congress initiated the Small Business Act, allowing the government to pay small businesses a price differential to help them remain open and accelerate production. The 1947 Armed Services Procurement Act of 1947 extended that policy to peacetime and required a “fair proportion” of federal contracting dollars to be placed with small businesses.

Young said she expects the pressure to partner with small businesses to increase.

“But it’s the right thing to do once you understand the importance of these businesses and supporting the economy,” she added.