It takes flexibility, innovation and efficiency to put the best information warfare products in the hands of warfighters. Small business partnerships play a big role in meeting these needs at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SSC) Atlantic.
This is what drives SSC Atlantic’s Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP) to meet, and usually exceed, a goal of awarding at least 32 percent of all total eligible obligated dollars on prime contracts to small business concerns each year.
According to Robin Rourk, deputy director, OSBP SSC Atlantic, small business partnerships play a crucial role in staying agile enough to support the warfighter mission.
“Typically our small business partners are more innovative and flexible, and are more focused on meeting our warfighter mission,” Rourk said. “Helping the warfighter – that’s their passion.”
SSC Atlantic Executive Director Chris Miller agrees. “Small business partnerships are key in our mission to stay on the forefront of delivering the best [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] solutions to our nation’s warfighters,” said Miller.
The purpose of the small business program is to set aside certain acquisitions exclusively for small business participation to permit a fair opportunity to compete for government contract dollars. Under the Small Business Act, the Department of Defense (DoD) has statutory targets, and acquisition agencies like SSC Atlantic have proposed targets for a percentage of all eligible obligated dollars on prime contracts awarded to small business concerns.
SSC Atlantic’s OSBP achieves these targets by cultivating relationships through clear and transparent communication with small businesses looking to win government contracts. SSC Atlantic also facilitates networking and training through their quarterly Small Business and Industry Outreach Initiative (SBIOI) Symposiums in Charleston, South Carolina.
"The first thing I say to small business at these gatherings is, ‘We can't do it without you!’ These are great opportunities for industry to network with other small businesses in a neutral, non-competitive environment,” said Miller.
What makes SSC Atlantic so adept at meeting their outreach goals and facilitating small business growth? Rourk attributes much of the OSBP’s success to the robustness of its outreach events. “Our quarterly small business outreach is specific to SSC Atlantic and specific to contract opportunities. We host monthly industry luncheons with local nonprofits. We have quarterly technical exchanges, which include a panel discussion and one-on-one sessions,” said Rourk.
Ida Lirette is the Associate Deputy Director of OSBP SSC Atlantic, supporting small business efforts in New Orleans. “The OSBP in New Orleans also meets on demand with small businesses in the Gulf Coast region to counsel them on how to do business with SSC Atlantic and where we post all our information,” Rourk added.
These outreach programs and the wealth of information they provide are no doubt major contributing factors in the OSBP exceeding its small business award targets for the past five years. The percentage of total available contract dollars awarded to small business continues to increase: 35 percent in 2015, 38 percent in 2016 and 41 percent in 2017. Still, for the small business, navigating through the government acquisition process can present roadblocks.
“A lot of small businesses will come to me and say, ‘I don’t have any past performance, I don’t have any experience.’ They feel like they can really make a difference, yet they don’t know how to get started because past performance is a factor for winning contracts,” Rourk said.
When asked how she advises small businesses to work around this challenge, Rourk says her number one recommendation is to get in touch with an experienced company and work with them as a subcontractor. “We encourage them to attend a quarterly outreach event, and network with a company that understands our model. For those new entrants, we encourage them to build relationships through a subcontract,” she said.
Another way to stand out as a young small business capable of taking on government contracts is to hone in on a niche. It’s small, specialized firms like these that help SSC Atlantic succeed in its technical growth areas like cyber, cloud computing and data science analytics. Rourk recounts one of the OSBP’s biggest success stories, a woman-owned, small, disadvantaged business that became a niche-based manufacturer specializing in supporting our Marine Corps division.
“They were awarded an 8(a) contract through the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program. This contract enabled them to grow over the years and obtain other DoD contracts. It’s rewarding to watch that growth,” said Rourk. Mutually beneficial relationships like these are key for enabling SSC Atlantic to provide better information warfare solutions to the warfighter.
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) won the DoD’s Verdure Award for its efforts to promote small businesses in fiscal year 2015. The Verdure Award is a part of the DoD's Vanguard Awards Program, which recognizes the exemplary contributions of small business professionals or members of acquisition teams that influence small business participation in defense procurement. SPAWAR’s OSBP was also awarded the Department of the Navy Secretary’s Cup in 2017 for its contributions to the Navy’s small business mission.
But an award-winning small business program is not possible without executive support. Rourk attributes the OSBP’s success in hitting small business targets to leadership buy-in.
“With the commanding officer and executive and deputy executive directors emphasizing our mission internally and externally, publishing articles, speaking at quarterly events and luncheons, and supporting the Contracts Industry Council, it’s clear we have leadership’s full support,” she said. “And it’s this leadership support that sets us up to succeed.”
Miller’s support is highly visible at all SSC Atlantic sites through his appearances at outreach events or his blog posts on the benefits of working with small business.
“At end of the day, we are looking for partnerships that help us promote and recognize innovative ideas and translate them into information warfare solutions for our warfighters. What we need from industry is what small business gives us: agility, efficiency and innovation,” Miller said. “Together, we form an amazing team.”
For industry representatives interested in partnering with SSC Atlantic, a current, detailed contracts listing is posted at http://www.public.navy.mil/spawar/Atlantic/Pages/Home.aspx. SSC Atlantic’s E-Commerce portal can be found at https://e-commerce.sscno.nmci.navy.mil.
SSC Atlantic provides systems engineering and acquisition to deliver information warfare capabilities to the naval, joint and national warfighter through the acquisition, development, integration, production, test, deployment, and sustainment of interoperable command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (C4ISR), cyber and information technology (IT) capabilities.