SPAWAR open for (small) business

Charleston Regional Business Journal
Daniel Brock
November 18, 2010

The best way for small businesses to get in the door at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic is pretty simple, according to a SPAWAR executive charged with advocating for those companies: Read the website.

Ron Kennedy, a deputy for SPAWAR’s small business program, said that the agency’s e-commerce site is the place to go for solicitations, market surveys and special notices.

Kennedy said his office works to ensure the small business community has a fair shot at SPAWAR contracts.

And it’s not chump change. In fiscal 2009, the center doled out $3.5 billion in work, $1 billion of which went to small businesses. Kennedy made it clear, however, that the onus lies with companies to match their competencies to SPAWAR’s requirements.

SPAWAR, a department of the U.S. Navy, provides systems engineering for all branches of the U.S. military and others, including federal law enforcement agencies. Examples of the agency’s work include the installation of radio and computer equipment on mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles and the configuration of “Internet cafes” at military installations in Iraq and other combat zones.

Kennedy said another key to getting business with SPAWAR was to respond to market surveys, which the agency is required to post for solicitations of more than $150,000.

The questionnaires’ primary purpose is to help the SPAWAR acquisition team determine its strategy for a project, such as whether the work should be opened to a full competition or made available through small business initiatives.

If two or more small businesses that can do 50% of the work don’t apply for a job, the contract is automatically awarded through open competition.

“You’re cutting your own throat,” by not filling out surveys, Kennedy said during a small-business workshop at the C5ISR Government and Industry Partnership Conference. The event, in its fourth year, is sponsored by the Charleston Defense Contractors Association. C5ISR is an acronym for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.

Kennedy said that small business should also challenge contracts that have been given “sole solicitor” distinction on the website if they think they can do the job.

But Kennedy warned, “Don’t abuse the system if you can’t provide that service.”

The most common way to get work with SPAWAR is to begin as a subcontractor, Kennedy said. He suggested small businesses should scope out project bidders — a list of which appears on the e-commerce site — and attempt to work with them.

Finally, Kennedy advocated for building relationships both inside and outside of SPAWAR to increase chances of obtaining a contract. SPAWAR works with some 9,000 “industry partners” across the globe.

Kennedy said though some of the tips might sound simple, people would be surprised how many are seemingly ignored.

“I am constantly amazed that small businesses don’t know this,” Kennedy said.

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