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David and Goliath: Understanding Mentorship Through the Department of Defense Mentor Protégé Program

posted Jan 25, 2016, 8:14 AM by Ann Sullivan   [ updated Jan 26, 2016, 7:41 AM ]

While many businesses sell what the Department of Defense is buying, the complexity of defense contracting requirements can stymie interested vendors. In fact, obtaining necessary security clearances, and understanding the agency’s unique rules and focuses encourages new vendors to work with experienced defense contractors.  So how does an interested contractor start selling to the Department of Defense? If you are a small business, have not performed a defense contract in the past year, and offer something innovative for national security the DoD’s Mentor Protégé Program (MPP) may be your solution.

The DoD MPP was developed to create a “highway” for small businesses to connect with defense agencies and experienced contractors, differing fundamentally from other agencies’ mentor protégé programs. An experienced mentor firm acts as a prime contractor and coach for a subcontracting protégé firm. The paired businesses then go through DoD monitored sessions outlining goals. Each agreement is unique and negotiated between the two entities, outlining the project, expected assistance, and how the mentor will be reimbursed for developing the small business. Examples of assistance include:

  •      Business or technical training
  •      Advance payments
  •      Noncompetitive subcontracting awards
  •      Loans
  •      Assistance with the clearance process
  •      Equipment

In an important shift from past years, there will be a strong preference to protégés offering innovative products or services to support key national security goals. Though all seven agencies that use the DoD’s Mentor Protégé program have their own strategic goals outlined annually, the Department of Defense’s priorities range from cybersecurity, to robotics, to information assurance. In addition, the protégé must be a disadvantaged small business (Tribally or NHO Owned, 8(a), HUBZone, SDVOSB, and WOSB) or a “nontraditional defense contractor”, a firm that has not had a contract with the Department of Defense in the past year as defined in the DFARS. In addition, the protégé business must not exceed half of their NAICS code’s size standard.

If the basic nuts and bolts of the MPP sound like a fit, finding a mentor is the next step. Mentors and protégés select each other, with protégées limited to one mentor and mentors permitted to have multiple protégés. You can review the full list of approved mentors for a potential prime that would be an asset to work with, and for which you’d be a valuable team member. These businesses have at least one contact dedicated to working with small business subcontractors or potential protégés who will be able to explore the possibility of an MPP agreement.

As the Department of Defense seeks to counter ever-evolving threats, including innovative small businesses and helping them grow will be a significant component for national security. With this renewed, strategic focus and a push for a national “changing of the guard” technologically, it’s more important than ever for small businesses consider the Mentor Protégé Program.

Alexandra Eaton is the Business Development Specialist of NextWin Services. Alexandra can be reached at aeaton@nextwinservices.com

"Fair Pay" Rules Just Aren't Fair

posted Nov 3, 2015, 2:06 PM by Ann Sullivan   [ updated Jan 26, 2016, 7:45 AM ]

Last summer, President Obama issued an Executive Order with the goal of barring bad companies from winning federal contracts. Women Impacting Public Policy, along with most in the contracting community, agrees that companies that follow the rules should not have to compete against companies that break them for federal contracts.

In May, the Labor Department and the FAR Council (overseers of contracting rulebook, “the FAR”) proposed how the President’s order would be implemented. It turns out, as with most things, the devil is in the details.

The proposed regulations require federal contractors and subcontractors to disclose violations of 14 federal labor laws and equivalent state laws from the previous three years. Exemptions were provided for companies with contracts valued less than $500,000. As proposed, prospective federal contractors would need to declare if they had labor violations in the previous three years when submitting an offer. During an initial evaluation, contracting officers would see that declaration (a simple “yes” or “no”), without any additional detail or explanation.

Later, if a contractor were likely to win an award, the contracting officer would have to decide if the contractor is a responsible company (a requirement of all government contracts already). It is in this phase that details like appeals, remediation, or mitigating factors could be explained. Contracting officers will attempt to identify companies with “serious”, “willful”, “repeated”, and/or “pervasive” violations and not award them contracts. Companies with minor violations could still be considered responsible and win contracts.

WIPP responded to the regulation during the public comment period expressing concerns with the new system and how it could negatively impact women-owned businesses, including those who had no history of unsafe or unfair work practices.

Notably, the proposals were incomplete as the Labor Department and FAR Council chose not to include what state labor law violations must be reported. It is impossible to gauge the impact of a regulation – the reason for comments– when missing significant portions.

What was in the proposals, however, was equally concerning. WIPP’s comment discusses how, in some cases, violations that require reporting will not be be fully adjudicated. That is, companies would have to report decisions against them that may ultimately be overturned – as nearly a third of NLRB decisions have been.

This is compounded by WIPP’s worry that simply having violations on record will “blacklist” companies without providing any opportunity to offer explanation. With limited resources and time, contracting officers may elect to avoid companies with any disclosed violations, despite the intent of the order to only bar violations of a certain severity.

The comment also considers burdens on subcontractors who similarly must report violation history, and the lack of resources the government may face to answer questions about weighing different labor violations. Moreover, the onus to collect and judge subcontractor violations falls to primes, a strategy the Labor Department itself questions.

WIPP’s final concern is that this rule is one of many in a disconcerting trend of new regulations that specifically target federal contractors. Earlier this year, regulations raised the minimum wage solely for workers on federal contracts. New requirements regarding sick leave are expected to come later this year. These make contracting with the federal government more onerous, particularly for women entrepreneurs seeking to enter the market.

Without question, WIPP supports efforts by the federal government to rid the contracting environment of businesses with a history of abusive and neglectful violations. In doing so, the government levels the playing field for the millions of businesses playing by the rules. But the proposals commented on will not achieve this goal. Instead, they will make it harder to be a contractor – pushing the innovative products and services of women-owned businesses out of the federal market.

John Stanford is the Vice President of NextWin Services. John can be reached at jstanford@nextwinservices.com

Why Now Is the Time for NextWin Services

posted Jul 1, 2015, 12:07 PM by Ann Sullivan   [ updated Jan 26, 2016, 7:44 AM ]

Being the owner of a successful government relations company for thirteen years begs the question—why start another company?  To understand why I started NextWin Services is to understand a great need and a great opportunity.

By that I mean, I saw a problem that is in dire need of a resolution – meager business development for smaller companies that do not have dedicated federal sales teams but want to sell to the federal government.  While there are many vendors who can advise small or mid-size companies on how to position for federal contracting, we don’t know of many companies who can go a further step – assistance with developing relationships with federal agencies.  Our offerings are tailored to different needs. For example, some companies already know who they need to sell to and just need an introduction to get there.  Others, especially with innovative products and services, need a broader approach to the procurement marketplace. 

An additional need NextWin addresses is providing assistance to companies who are already federal contractors but have a problem with a federal agency.  Given our good relationships with small business advocates in federal agencies, we are in a position to help. This became one of our four offerings: Fix It.

With these solutions, we see tremendous opportunity.  The Congress and the SBA have put in place many policies that are helpful to smaller businesses seeking to enter the federal sector.  Taking advantage of it, whether it is small business, 8(a), woman-owned, HUBZone or veteran-owned, requires traction to get to the federal buyers.  This is nearly impossible unless you live in the Capital region or spend a significant amount of time traveling back and forth from Washington.  Our charge is to make those marketing trips efficient and valuable—ultimately resulting in sales.

Our model is new and innovative.  We will tailor business development needs to our clients to make it affordable and productive.  And we tap into our nationwide network of businesses who will make good strategic partners, our in-depth knowledge of federal acquisition rules and our relationships with federal agencies.

We know the challenges that come with being a smaller vendor in the federal contracting arena, but we also know the rewards that come from getting it right.  NextWin is dedicated to making sure your work with us is a win.  We want to help you get the next win as well.

Ann Sullivan is the President of NextWin Services, as well as the founder and President of Madison Services Group, a government relations firm with offices in Northern Virginia and Washington DC. 

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