Geospatial Agency Seeks Small Business Innovation
New opportunities are opening up as
intelligence acquisition approaches are adjusted.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is looking toward small business to provide vital technologies as the agency confronts budget constraints. Enticement efforts include targeted outreach, reshaped acquisition patterns and improved networking among potential contractors.
The relationship between small business and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is growing, says Sandra Broadnax, the small business director for the NGA. “We’re doing a lot more to embrace and bring industry to the table so that they can better understand our processes,” she states.
The agency is looking toward small business “because of their skills, capabilities and efficiencies that they can bring to the agency,” Broadnax says. The NGA’s outreach effort extends far beyond the Beltway to seek skill sets around the country.
“We’re looking for folks who can do some of our innovative technology,” she states.
Among the areas where small businesses can have the greatest effect on the NGA are software apps and cybersecurity, Broadnax suggests. The NGA recently released an apps acquisition that is well-suited for small businesses.
Broadnax believes that small business involvement with the NGA will increase in the coming years. With budget constraints, government organizations will be examining their approaches to look for new ways of reaching out to industry. “We all know that small businesses are the innovators; they can bring efficiencies, they can bring [solutions] quickly. So, you have the ability to be more embracing than you had in the past,” she states. “A lot of things are coming together all at the same time that will generate that increase over the next five years.”
At the head of the agency’s outreach efforts is a small business guide that aims to educate and inform businesses about the NGA, Broadnax offers. It outlines the NGA small business program office’s cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) and small business innovation research (SBIR) programs, among other elements. As these businesses improve their understanding of the NGA, they are better able to help the agency with efficiencies and respond to its requirements.
Small businesses also can “take the agency to a different level of handling risk” because they are more proactive and responsive to change, Broadnax adds. In addition, the office sponsors small businesses so they can have the skill sets and capabilities necessary for access to classified information. This helps them engage in more programs with the agency.
Broadnax allows that her office has a program in which it sponsors small businesses that are pursuing upcoming NGA acquisitions. The agency houses its business opportunity list on the intelligence community Acquisition Research Center “on the low side.” If companies cannot reach the high side to view classified and sensitive business opportunities, this enables them to view upcoming unclassified acquisitions. She adds that if companies want to pursue a contract on the classified side, they can contact her and the office will sponsor them to determine if they are capable and eligible to obtain a clearance.
“We definitely want to bring in people who don‘t want clearances, because sometimes they have the skill sets that we need to help take our mission to the next level,” Broadnax maintains.
The agency encourages small business participation both through prime contracts and through direct awards. Where appropriate, the NGA will carve out a 100-percent set-aside, she notes, adding that many requirements that are in source selections are these types of set-asides based solely on NGA market research.
The agency is encouraging small businesses to team for larger acquisitions that cannot be carved out. “Don’t be fearful of that,” Broadnax says to small businesses. “A lot of consortia are coming together today.”
The Resource Decision Acquisition Support (RDAS) indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) acquisition is a partial set-aside for both large and small businesses as primes, Broadnax points out. The administrative services IDIQ AdminServe also has large and small primes. The Enterprise Support for Administrative Services (ESAS) contract originally featured large-business primes, but the agency inserted clauses and language annually requiring these large companies to increase the training of small businesses for the Enterprise Program for Analytical Support Services (EPASS), she offers.
For prime opportunities, Broadnax emphasizes to small businesses that they should respond to a market research when the NGA issues one. This way, the agency knows the existence of small businesses that have the particular skill set or capability. She explains the agency reviews these responses and determines if it can give the small businesses prime work or carve out a partial set-aside, for example.
“Too often, the community thinks it’s too late at that point, but it’s not—it’s right on time,” she says. “That’s when [small businesses] do need to respond.”
Also, if small businesses respond to a market research/request for information (RFI) by saying they want to do subcontracting work, the NGA will tell those small businesses to look to the large businesses that responded to the RFI for potential teaming. The agency will provide the large business sources that responded to the RFI, Broadnax says.
Broadnax reports that the NGA has created a PowerPoint presentataion called the Small Business Performance. It lists all large and small businesses with their specific goals, and it is briefed at both the agency’s senior level and the contracting officers’ level. Users can view this presentation instead of just relying on the semiannual subcontracting reporting document. If a company on that list is not reaching its goals, that can be addressed, she adds. Small business participation evaluation criteria are included in requests for proposal (RFPs), and these numbers should match the list. “We are increasing our monitoring,” she states.
The NGA just developed a new contract governance process that allows earlier engagement and greater exchange of information about elements such as a market research or competition. Broadnax relates that the small business office constantly engages the acquisition contracts office on policy and providing assistance on researching for additional small businesses, for example. The goal is to provide program managers and contracting specialists more small businesses that want to do business with the agency.
Quarterly small business meetings that are open to all enable networking and capability sharing with other small businesses. Any that are eligible for the mentor/protégé program are encouraged to join it, Broadnax says. “There are many ways they can come in to do business with the NGA, even if they don’t have clearances, and collaborate with the other small businesses that do have clearances,” she emphasizes.
The biggest challenge to bringing small businesses into the NGA is ensuring that they have the capacity to handle some of the agency’s acquisitions, Broadnax offers. The way to overcome this challenge is to examine acquisitions with an eye toward carving out elements, she says. “Sometimes [small companies] don’t have a huge capacity; so that causes us to re-examine our requirements and how we are putting them out.
“If you have it, bring it,” Broadnax declares. “I say to small businesses: NGA is small business friendly. We want your capabilities and skill sets if it can help move the mission to the next level.
“We are about providing national security information and helping the warfighter,” she continues. “If [small businesses] can help us do that, then there are no limits.”