Small businesses are agile and innovative, and every day they provide value in their contributions as prime and sub-tier suppliers to the defense mission, the director of the Defense Department's Office of Small Business Programs said.
And there's no question that the warfighter is benefiting from their capabilities on a daily basis, Farooq A. Mitha said.
"We have a lot of support from the president, the secretary [of defense], and the deputy secretary [of defense] to maximize small-business participation in DOD's procurements," he said.
While small businesses still face barriers to entry in doing business with DOD, Mitha said, "One of the things that we're laser focused on is how we can reduce those barriers. In [an upcoming Federal Register] notice, we're saying to small businesses, 'You're important. We need you.' Our nation is facing really significant challenges on supply chain resilience and competition. The president has signed out executive orders on these issues, along with advancing racial equity through our procurement process. Small businesses are at the center of that."
Mitha said DOD wants to hear from small businesses on the challenges they face, because the department is tasked with developing a small business strategy and incorporating feedback from industries is critical to that strategy.
Small businesses are the nation's No. 1 job creators and its No. 1 innovators, and they develop patents at a high rate, he said.
With near-peer competition from Russia and China, there is a risk for DOD to be reliant on foreign or single sources, Mitha said. "If we don't have small businesses at the table, and at the forefront, we will not be able to rise to the occasion as a nation."
DOD is trying to make it easier for the small business owner to do business with the department, by offering a plethora of resources, such as the procurement technical assistance centers, the small-business director said, adding that 95 of such centers are around the country, helping small businesses do business with DOD. The department also offers other programs such as its mentor protégé program, which helps pair small businesses with large businesses. Through that program, small businesses can learn from the larger businesses and get mentoring in engineering, technical support, business development assistance, and learn how to do business better with DOD. The department also has a small business innovation research program, and programs within the services that are working with startups.
"We're looking to streamline the points of entry — one through our website, business.defense.gov," Mitha pointed out. "We're also looking to increase the connective tissue between these programs, so that businesses don't have to go to 10 different places to get 10 different opportunities. We want them to be in one place, and we want to help businesses mature across these programs. We are looking to make investments in a more coordinated way as we're doing business with these small companies."
Across the services and DOD components are small business offices with more than 750 small business professionals that are working every day to ensure that DOD is developing acquisition strategies. They are also looking at our requirements to ensure small businesses are considered at the earliest stages of developing strategies in how the department is going to solicit for any given requirement, he said.
"I think it's important for small businesses to know that we have this work force and that they are there to engage and to work with them to do market research to identify capable suppliers and new entrants," he added.
Mitha says he is developing tools that will help the DOD's acquisition workforce do better market research to help get better market intelligence on small businesses. "Part of the whole 'workforce' is we have to be able to support our small business professionals and give them the tools that they need to help bring more small businesses to the table," he noted.
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