As former employees in the private sector, both Secretary Shinseki and I have been in the shoes of small business owners–trying to navigate the ins and outs of the General Services Administration (GSA), and figure out how to secure federal government contracts.
When I worked at a larger company–IBM–we acquired a new company every two weeks. One of the things we looked for in these purchases was a business with the ability to weather the ups and downs of the economy. Companies with federal contracts were attractive for that reason.
Over the last two years, President Obama and the Administration have taken decisive action to empower America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners in many ways, including:
- Tax relief
- Improved access to capital
- Counseling and
- Support for start-ups and small businesses poised for high-growth and innovation.
As the President says, small businesses are the backbone of the American economy and the cornerstone of America’s promise.
At the Department of Veterans Affairs, we are committed to supporting small businesses to fulfill our mission to “care for those who shall have borne the battle” and their families. One third of our discretionary budget is used to purchase goods and services from the private sector, and in light of that VA recognizes that the supplier community is critical to our success in meeting the changing needs of our Veterans.
VA works hard to put Veterans first when it comes to procurement. Our goal is for 12% of contracts to go to Veteran-owned small businesses, and we’ve exceed that goal two years in a row: 18 percent went to Veteran-owned small businesses in 2010, and we are at 17 percent so far this year.
For service disabled Veteran owned small businesses, our goal is 10 percent, and again, we’ve been able to exceed that goal with 16 percent last year, and 14 percent so far this year.
If you haven’t worked with the federal government before, VA can help you make that adjustment. Federal contracting is a different world – spending taxpayers’ money requires focus on value and transparency. Here are some things you should know about what VA offers small businesses:
- VA trains acquisition officials. We are very proud of our Acquisition Academy, which trains and certifies our acquisition team. VA was the first civilian agency to have such an academy.
- We counsel entrepreneurs. Our Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) holds month industry sessions which vendors are invited to and discusses how to do business with VA. We answer their questions and point them to experts who can help them with capacity building.
- We conduct bundling reviews. Representatives from OSDBU review all procurements over a set amount to help determine whether a set aside or preference for small businesses would be appropriate to the acquisition strategy.
- OSDBU also participates in conferences and distributes informational materials that describe how to do business with us. We attend over 100 events a year and counsel small businesses on how to work with us and facilitate business-to-business collaboration.
In addition to the conferences above, VA is hosting the National Veteran Small Business Conference and Expo this summer, from August 15th to the 18th, in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The conference theme is “Building Partnerships–Veterans, Businesses and Government.” VA is proud to host this conference, which is the largest nationwide conference of its kind, and provide Veteran-Owned and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (VOSBs and SDVOSBs) an opportunity to learn, network, and market their businesses.
We are expecting about 4,000 leaders from various VOSBs, SDVOSBs, large contractors, Federal agencies, as well as Veterans from the New Orleans area to participate. This year’s event is composed of three venues:
- Small Business Conference – Attendees will participate in training sessions on a variety of topics including finance, compliance, business development, marketing, strategy, contract management, human resources, technology, and program management.
- Expo Hall – Companies will have the opportunity to network with each other in a 500+ booth expo hall and through one-on-one matchmaking sessions.
- VA Open House – Veterans from both the conference and local community are invited to join us to learn and experience the wide range of resources available to the Veteran community.
VA is serious about strengthening our supplier relationship and meeting all of our small business goals. We simply cannot achieve our mission without America’s small business community–when we improve our relationship with small businesses, we are able to serve Veterans better. For their sake, we must get this right.
W. Scott Gould is the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.