By Anna Urman
Small businesses are the engine of America’s economy and an unparalleled source of innovation, creating nearly two million jobs annually. Eight million small businesses are minority-owned and nearly 300,000 are engaged in export and international commerce.
“America’s 30 million small businesses are central to our economy and our communities. Their courageous innovation makes our cities and towns vibrant places to live, work and raise families,” said President Donald Trump. “Small businesses employ almost 59 million workers, more than one-third of our country’s labor force.”
Recognizing the importance of America’s small businesses to the economic vitality of our nation, as well as the nation’s security, Congress passed the Small Business Act in 1953 to encourage and develop the capacity of America’s small businesses by ensuring that a fair proportion of federal purchases are placed with small business enterprises. The Small Business Administration (SBA) defines a small business as an independent business having fewer than 500 employees. Small business definitions by industry that are used in government programs and contracts can also be found on SBA’s website.
The Small Business Act also prompted the creation of an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) at all federal agencies, with a dual mission: to provide assistance and support to small businesses and to ensure that the respective agencies meet the goals of small business contracting. SBA categorizes small businesses by size or revenue in specific industry categories and also includes socio-economic designations including Women-Owned Small Business, Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, Historically Underutilized Business Zones and Small Disadvantaged Business.
In fiscal year 2017, U.S. federal government agencies awarded $105.7 billion in small business prime contracts that supported the creation of more than 584,000 jobs. An additional $75 billion was awarded in subcontracting dollars, that supported 414,000 jobs, as well as innovation and growth across the board.
The Department of State’s OSDBU is proud to support the Department’s mission to advance the national interests of the United States and its people while helping the Department meet its goals of supporting the U.S. small business industry. In fiscal year 2018, the Department awarded contracts to more than 1,200 American small businesses, achieved an “A” on the Small Business Administration’s small business scorecard and exceeded its annual goal set by the SBA by awarding 27 percent of the Department’s nearly $10 billion spend, or obligations, to small businesses. Of that 27 percent, 14.6 percent went to Small and Disadvantaged Businesses; 5.6 percent went to Women-Owned Small Businesses; 4.7 percent went to companies located and employing people in Historically Underutilized Business Zones; and 3.9 percent went to Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses.
The Director of OSDBU reports to the Deputy Secretary and operates with a staff of seven. The office works closely with the Department’s acquisition community, including the Office of the Procurement Executive and contracting officer’s representatives across all of the bureaus’ program offices to help with completing market research to identify small businesses that can support the Department’s unique requirements.
“I am proud of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization and the Acquisition team in leading the Department of State to consistently meet and exceed our small business goals,” said Deputy Secretary John Sullivan. “Their hard work and commitment to small business is the reason the Department has consistently received an ‘A’ performance rating from the Small Business Administration every year since 2010.”
In fiscal year 2018, OSDBU reviewed more than 500 acquisitions to ensure maximum practicable opportunity for small businesses by following the “Rule of 2” from the Federal Acquisition Regulation which sets aside contracts for small businesses. The Department worked with more than 1,800 small businesses, which provided a broad range of supplies and services to the Department.
After conducting market research, program offices are sometimes surprised to learn that small businesses are often not small in capability and that they include experienced companies that have successfully supported complex high dollar value projects, including overseas work and national security. Often, small business contracting can also speed up procurement time frames. The most commonly sought after services include administrative support, information technology, construction and facilities management, automotive vehicles and security guard services.
OSDBU also serves as the Department’s internal resource, conducting training sessions every year to educate acquisitions staff and general service officers on the advantages, requirements and processes for small business utilization by the Department.
In addition to being an internal resource, OSDBU conducts outreach activities, trainings and counseling sessions with small businesses. OSDBU meets with more than 1,000 businesses every year, hosts four conferences and attends more than 40 small business events around the country where they are able to share the Department’s mission, priorities and contracting opportunities for the business community. Recent conferences have focused on supporting the Department’s overseas requirements, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, and financial and administrative functions in Charleston. To give back, each year, OSDBU presents a Small Business of the Year Award to recognize a successful small business that provided exceptional service to the Department.
The Department’s OSDBU has proved to be a leader among its federal agency peers. OSDBU’s Director George Price participates in the OSDBU Directors’ Council to engage in government-wide collaboration on small business contracting. In the past year, the Council has worked with SBA and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy on implementing a number of laws and regulations that affect small businesses’ ability to participate in federal contracting, such as category management and increasing subcontracting opportunities for small business. Price and his staff are often invited as subject matter experts on successful small business practices at other agencies outreach efforts and conferences.
“Our efforts help maintain a viable and innovative industrial base, promotes worldwide economic development and supports mission critical functions for every bureau within the Department of State,” said Price. “To achieve that, the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization is proud to work with industry partners, the acquisition corps and program offices to maximize prime and subcontracting opportunities for U.S. Small Businesses.”
Anna Urman is a senior procurement analyst in the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization.