Government agencies welcome diverse small businesses as crucial partners
Diverse entrepreneurs are involved in major projects, from transportation hubs to package tracking systems
"It takes more than our own employees to reach our vision." - Inez Williams, FAA
By Sue Marquette Poremba
Editor in Chief
Government agencies turn to diverse suppliers to fill a wide range of technical needs, from engineering at the new World Trade Center transportation hub in New York City to IT systems that track packages through the postal system.
The agencies reach out to savvy suppliers through a wide variety of small business programs.
The IRS is typical
The small business program developed by the Internal Revenue Service (Washington, DC) is similar to those of many other agencies. Its website explains that the IRS small business program office was established to assist small business that are located in HUBZones, and disadvantaged, women-owned, veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses. The agency's programs help small businesses to develop and achieve long-term success; they foster an environment where these businesses "can compete successfully for a fair share of IRS procurements on their own merits," and they encourage large non-government businesses to increase the subcontracting opportunities offered to all categories of small business.
Doing business with the FAA
Diverse small businesses are critical to helping the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA, Washington, DC) do its job, says Inez C. Williams, director of the agency's small business development program. "The agency values people and innovation to lead us into the next generation of air transportation.
"It takes more than our own employees to help us reach our vision of safety, efficiency, environmental responsibility and global leadership. It takes other government agencies, universities, international partners and companies big and small."
To facilitate a relationship among these varied enterprises, Williams' office "develops and implements programs that help diverse small businesses obtain procurement opportunities with the FAA," she says. "We provide leadership, direction and oversight in establishing and executing the agency's programs for small businesses, small businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses and women-owned businesses. We establish annual FAA-wide goals and mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating goal accomplishment and program effectiveness."
Williams' office meets one-on-one with diverse and disadvantaged companies to guide them in doing business with the FAA. The agency also hosts a national training conference and trade show each year. It encourages all businesses, especially those run by underrepresented groups, to attend and network with each other, with potential large partners and with other government agencies.
"Small businesses have generated sixty-four percent of new jobs over the past fifteen years," Williams reports. "They employ half of all private-sector workers and pay forty-four percent of the total U.S. private payroll.
"Small firms hire forty percent of high- tech workers like scientists, engineers and computer programmers. These disciplines are crucial to sustaining and upgrading the national airspace with the Next Generation Air Transportation System."
CSSI works for the FAA
CSSI, Inc, which operates from locations in Washington, DC, New Jersey and South Carolina, provides engineering, information technology, safety management and applied research services. The company, which graduated from the SBA's 8(a) and SDB programs in 2001, has a long history of working with the FAA, says CEO Cynthia Castillo.
CSSI's first contact with the agency was as a subcontractor for another FAA supplier in the early 1990s. Soon after CSSI got its own contract with the FAA's Oceanic air traffic control program. "We won a second Oceanic contract in 1996, a third in 1999, and, in 2003, one for Oceanic Integrated Services which continues today," says Castillo.
That's just one area in which CSSI helps the FAA. "Our work for FAA is varied," Castillo explains. "We work on a lot of important projects that impact the national air space system."
One of those important projects is separation standards, where CSSI helps the FAA determine how more planes can fly safely. "That's especially important," Castillo notes, "when you consider how congested the skies are today and the big increase in air traffic that's projected over the next ten years."
Then there's CSSI's work with the FAA's transition to the Next Generation Air Transportation System. "This is a massive, evolving project to improve safety and bring greater efficiency to the U.S. airspace system," Castillo notes. "We'll be providing systems engineering, investment and business case analysis, planning, forecasting and information management services."
Twenty years is a long time for a working partnership to last, but the long life has benefited both sides. "Working with the FAA is a large part of our business and we're grateful for it," says Castillo. "We're passionate about doing a great job for them because when they're successful, so are we."
Some of CSSI's FAA projects have spanned several years, giving CSSI its own important perspective on how to handle long-term work.
CSSI: a vision of opportunities
Working with a government agency is an exhilarating experience. It's an exciting challenge, Castillo finds, to expand her father's vision of the company he founded.
One thing she's learned, and wants to pass on, is that diverse companies should never sell themselves short. If working for the government is your dream, Castillo says, "Go for it! Do your research, understand your potential customers' needs and figure out how you can best address those needs. It's hard work, and you will probably have to pound the pavement, but there are a lot of opportunities for success."
United States Postal Service: reliable, universal mail service
The goal of the United States Postal Service (Washington, DC) is to provide reliable and universal mail service throughout the country. With 300 million potential customers wanting their mail delivered on time, the post office has to coordinate billions of pieces of mail each year and make sure everything ends up in the right mailbox. For that, it depends on suppliers to provide a wide variety of services, including IT.
Robert Oates is manager of the IT category management center for the service's supply management group. He works closely with the IT department. He's responsible for all contracts that relate to enterprise computer hardware, software, IT services and retail systems, including point-of-sale and self-serve kiosk systems.
"I look to engage the right suppliers with the right capabilities at the right time, to provide the best possible value and ensure quality performance for the Postal Service at the same time," says Oates. He wants to foster competitiveness in a diverse supply base, including enterprise alliances.
"It's extremely important to work with diverse suppliers," he says. "It's part of our social responsibility. As good corporate citizens, we believe that supplier diversity is a major imperative for the Postal Service."
Diverse firms contribute to the economic growth of American communities, one reason why the Postal Service takes supplier diversity so seriously.
The Postal Service has outreach programs and takes part in industry-sponsored forums and trade associations to seek out diverse suppliers. "These also serve as a platform for us to help small, minority and women-owned business learn how to navigate the postal marketplace," Oates adds.
"These businesses bring innovation and new ideas," he explains. "They are typically lean in their operating capabilities, and they help us optimize best practices."
Rupert R. Warner, Jr, acting program manager for supplier diversity at the post office, says, "The Postal Service is proud that its proactive business processes have resulted in building strong relationships with organizations that help fulfill our mission to provide prompt, reliable and technically efficient services."
AHCC Group supplies the Postal Service
AHCC Group (Rockville, MD) is one of the IT companies the post office depends on. AHCC's wide range of services includes asset and fleet management systems, product and vehicle tracking systems and helpdesk.
"We're not only an IT company, but a full end-to-end business process provider," says Heba Elaraby, AHCC co-founder and CEO. "We want to make sure that at the end of the day the government gets what it needs."
Elaraby has worked with the Postal Service for fourteen years. She started as a subcontractor to another company, then began to look at submitting her own contract bids for development support. A major project right now is business process reengineering for bulk mail units.
The business systems AHCC supplies to the Postal Service have a significant impact on the way letters and packages are processed. And in its turn the postal work has helped Elaraby assimilate into the American business culture. Elaraby, a native of Egypt, is a Muslim woman who wears a head scarf. This, she notes, can create quite a challenge in her visits to government agencies.
"At some government organizations, we've had people who didn't know how to interact with us and couldn't move beyond who we are," Elaraby says. "But most of the people at the Postal Service are open-minded. It definitely helps to have the acceptance of people who go beyond who you are and focus on the work you are providing."
It's good work, too. "We're able to cut costs for them," Elaraby reports. "As a small business we don't have much overhead and we're not looking for high profit margins. We make sure our clients are given the option to do things different ways."
One useful AHCC service is managing the investment in assets like computer hardware, saving money by tracking equipment repairs, upgrades and warranties. "It's very cost-effective. If you can account for your assets, you can save millions of dollars," Elaraby notes.
Her own early struggles recently led Elaraby to start the Awareness Blossom Foundation (awarenessblossom.com). "Our objective is to help woman-owned minority business by raising awareness and providing education to government agencies about the challenges we face every day."
The EPA welcomes small and disadvantaged businesses
Jeanette Brown is director of the office of small business programs and the office of small and disadvantaged business utilization at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, Washington, DC). She says her office is there to help small, diverse businesses learn how to work with the EPA.
"We do that directly through contracting opportunities," says Brown, "and indirectly it's done through the disadvantaged business enterprise program. We also look at the impact of our regulations on small businesses, and try to mitigate that through the small business ombudsman program." The EPA works with suppliers who are expert in areas like environmental consulting and R&D.;
Another component of the EPA's supplier diversity outreach is work with minority-serving colleges and universities. "The goal is to expose these institutions to the agency so they can see what we do."
Brown believes that working with small, diverse suppliers sets up positive opportunities for the EPA. "These companies work effectively with the program offices because the smaller companies really do want to please their customers," she says. "Working together makes good business sense. They bring ideas to the table that we might not have considered, and have developed unique technologies."
Supplier diversity can be vital for EPA operations in emergency situations. When Hurricane Katrina struck, the EPA was called to the site, and Brown notes that the agency relied on small, local businesses to step in and provide services and expertise.
The partnerships established with diverse suppliers are beneficial to both the EPA and the small businesses, says Brown. "It helps the small businesses because it provides jobs and stimulates economic growth. It helps us because of their outside perspective and the solutions they bring."
Brown notes that the EPA consistently receives the Small Business Administration's highest rating for working with small, diverse companies.
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey: critical infrastructure
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA, New York, NY) conceives, builds and maintains infrastructure critical to the New York/ New Jersey region's trade and transportation network. These facilities include America's busiest airport system, marine terminals and ports, tunnels and bridges between the two states, and will include the new World Trade Center.
The PA is working closely with contractors in the reconstruction of the new complex that will include the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, an office tower, a memorial museum, and other infrastructure projects.
"These projects will reestablish broad regional access and mobility by providing enhanced transportation facilities and state-of-the-art office towers for businesses, residents and visitors to Lower Manhattan," says Robin Murray, manager of World Trade Center construction M/WBE programs for the PA.
Many of the contractors are minority- and women-owned small businesses, brought in to meet the PA's commitment to fostering regional economic development and creating jobs. "We consider minority- and women-owned small business enterprises our partners," says Murray. "We need their skills, technology and services to achieve our goal of seventeen percent minority- and woman-owned business participation in prime contracting, subcontracting and related work."
Through the PA's office of business and job opportunity, Murray explains, it offers these diverse suppliers technical assistance to ensure successful performance in PA projects.
"With regard to participation in the WTC redevelopment projects," Murray adds, "from 2007 through June 2010, minority- and women-owned businesses have won over half a billion dollars in contracts!"
GOVERNMENT AGENCIES INTERESTED IN
DOING BUSINESS WITH DIVERSE SMALL BUSINESSES
Check out the active programs at these agencies' websites.
|Agency and location
|Federal Aviation Administration
(Washington, DC) www.faa.gov
|Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Department of the Treasury (Washington, DC) www.jobs.irs.gov
||Transportation and infrastructure
management and construction
|Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (New York, NY) www.panynj.gov
||Communications and technology for government and commercial markets
|U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Washington, DC) www.epa.gov
||Human health and environmental safety
|U.S. Postal Service (Washington, DC)
||Mail transportation and delivery
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