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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Small Business Program

More competition, better value

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has often been misunderstood in its two centuries-plus history. One of the most common misperceptions has been that USACE personnel alone design and execute the myriad projects it undertakes. The truth is that today, more than ever, USACE works collaboratively with the private sector to fulfill its mission. Look no further than the 37,000 USACE employees who work with more than 300,000 contractor employees.

MG Todd Semonite Small Business Program

Maj. Gen. Todd Semonite, USACE deputy commander, speaks with small business industry partners. USACE photo

What’s more, the hundreds of thousands of contractor personnel do not all work for large firms. Small businesses play a major role in USACE’s success. In fiscal year (FY) 2011, USACE awarded approximately 45.4 percent of all contracts to small businesses. For FY 2012, that ratio has been exceeded with small businesses winning 44.92 percent of all contracts, about $7 billion worth.

The numbers are impressive, but their significance goes beyond simple participation. Jackie L. Robinson-Burnette is USACE’s associate director of Small Business Programs. She summed up the importance of small firms to USACE’s mission neatly: “The more competition we have, the better value we get and the better price we get.”

Evidence that USACE’s Small Business Program is effective arises not only from the individual awards that small firms receive directly from USACE but from the business they get from prime contractors who subcontract approximately 50 percent of their work to small businesses. In FY 2011, the combination of USACE-awarded work generated more than 100,000 jobs for the American economy.

In the bargain, leaders at every level in USACE understand that the preservation and expansion of small business competition bolsters the economic well-being and security of the nation. Robinson-Burnette said, “The new chief of engineers, Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, challenges us to continue to look for opportunities to maximize the Corps’ inclusion of small businesses in our missions across the globe. He asked us to work hard to ensure that USACE efforts are nested with Army, Department of Defense, and national priorities – and our small business industrial base is a priority.” That understanding is expounded by USACE’s Small Business Program, an integrated network of small business advisers who provide support to more than 50 sites in the continental United States, Hawaii, and Alaska.

There are more than 60 small business advisers serving within USACE. They support USACE’s division commanders, district commanders, center directors, and the Directorate of Contracting’s 1,200-plus contracting professionals. The small business advisers are an integral part of the procurement process, and work collectively with contracting officers as they plan and execute contracts. The advisers represent USACE in all small business matters and provide support to ensure successful execution of the organization’s mission.

Using and encouraging small business development is not only a USACE goal, it is also a law. The Small Business Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in September 2010, requires all government agencies to “insure that a fair proportion of the total purchases and contracts or subcontracts for property and services for the Government … be placed with small-business enterprises …”

Evidence that USACE’s Small Business Program is effective arises not only from the individual awards that small firms receive directly from USACE but from the business they get from prime contractors who subcontract approximately 50 percent of their work to small businesses. In FY 2011, the combination of USACE-awarded work generated more than 100,000 jobs for the American economy.

Robinson-Burnette has seen the effect of USACE’s emphasis on small business firsthand. The cultivation of small firm participation in USACE projects has improved the overall acquisition environment and mission success.

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Eric Tegler is a writer/broadcaster from Severna Park, Md. His work appears in a variety...