Supplier diversity: a major commitment at URS Corporation
URS invests hundreds of millions of dollars with diverse suppliers each year. The process is regulated, and competitive pricing is often key to getting in on the action
URS Corporation (San Francisco, CA) is an engineering, construction and technical services firm that does business with government agencies and private sector companies around the world. It offers program management; planning, design and engineering; systems engineering and technical assistance; construction and construction management; operations and maintenance; management and operations; information technology; and decommissioning and closure services.
Sam W. Artis, director of the small business liaison office at URS, first became involved in the company’s supplier diversity program in 1994. He eventually became its subject matter expert.
“Every year for the past five years, URS has increased the percent of our procurements with minority business,” he says. “In 2009, URS purchased 9.2 percent of goods and services from minority concerns; that’s $161.6 million. In 2013, the minority spend grew to 14.7 percent, or $258.3 million,” he reports.
In 2009, URS purchased more than $234.6 million (13.4 percent) from women-owned entities. The procurement volume continued to increase each year through 2012, when the company attained 18.7 percent ($328.8 million). “In 2013, our procurement volume with women-owned businesses experienced a decline, due largely to sequestration and the government shutdown,” Artis notes. “But we did achieve 15.3 percent ($268 million) in fiscal year 2013 with women-owned concerns.”
Client needs dictate requirements and certifications
URS has three different supplier diversity programs to accommodate federal, state/local and private sector markets. Each market has a different process for vendor prequalification and solicitations.
U.S. government-funded contracts are consistent with the Small Business Act and Federal Acquisition Regulations. Minimum expectations are determined by law, but vary from agency to agency. Contracts funded by the Department of Transportation (DOT) are administered in accordance with public law on a state-by-state basis and adhere to the disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) program requirements.
State-run DOT programs intentionally focus on DBEs, which include both minority business enterprises (MBEs) and women business enterprises (WBEs). DBEs, MBEs and WBEs must obtain certification in the state where their primary office is located before obtaining certification in a state where the contract is executed.
Private sector supplier diversity program requirements are unique to each client. Clients develop definitions to satisfy their own socio-
economic objectives that may be different from generally accepted definitions of small businesses.
Federal market suppliers and subcontractors are expected to be registered with the System for Award Management (SAM) and the Dynamic Small Business Search (DSBS), Artis says. Firms may self-certify with regard to both size and socioeconomic standing in SAM and the DSBS.
“We require certification from the U.S. Small Business Administration for both 8(a) and HUBZone status,” he says. “If the work is publicly funded at the state level, we expect to see certification through the individual state Unified Certification Program. Additionally, if the project is in the private sector, we expect to see certification from WBENC and NMSDC.”
Price can be a differentiator
URS maintains corporate memberships with the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). The company augments this with local and regional memberships.
Information on working with URS is readily available. “We provide would-be suppliers with contact information for about forty different procurement managers at www.urs.com,” Artis notes.
Price is perhaps the single most significant factor when bids are considered, Artis acknowledges. “The only exceptions would be where technological innovation would override price and change the best value equation,” he says.
Investment in suppliers who are in good standing
To help develop its diverse suppliers, the company participates in the mentor-protégé programs administered through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy.
“We have as many as two dozen of our trusted suppliers participating at a time. The program is an important part of our contract commitment to these federal agencies,” Artis notes. “We don’t take on anybody unless they have strategic value. Our protégés are suppliers we’ve worked with before, and we have a high comfort factor with them.”
Through the mentoring program, suppliers learn to identify subcontracting opportunities and become better at bidding and responding to proposals. Protégés are given opportunities to work on projects within the company and enhance their technical development.
“We want to improve their marketing opportunities and sales,” Artis explains. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to make our suppliers better contractors for the federal government and raise the technical competency of the supplier’s employees.”
URS encourages its tier 1 subcontractors to maintain supplier diversity programs of their own that are consistent with URS market practices, Artis points out.
Investing in the community
“We believe our supplier diversity program reinvests about $1 billion annually back into the communities where our projects are located,” Artis says. “We also believe the program provides taxpayers and ratepayers with the opportunity to earn a return on their investment. And we believe our program provides a value to our customers and clients by enhancing their reputations and standing in their communities.”
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