Rebuttal: Are Small Business Advocates Helpful?

In a previous newsletter, we questioned the usefulness of federal small business advocates.  We received the following response from a reader which illustrates why companies must perform aggressive, direct federal sales in-house. Small business specialists aren't going to make sales for you.  Lobbyists ask for large retainers and ex-military circle for money. Spend your sales dollars on in-house sales people if you want to succeed in the federal sector.  The reader's response follows: 

I read the subject email and felt compelled to answer it. Before retiring I lived in the belly of the beast as a Small Business Specialist in a DOD organization. As a former contracting officer, I fully understood that nothing happens with contracting officers. Especially in DOD organizations , contracting officers were busy enough with their contractors. The technical people were also busy pursuing their systems and R&D efforts. It became my job to convince the technical people, the real decision makers, to meet with small business contractors -- because the SB contractors may have a new idea, an innovation. It took some work but past connections in the organizations helped, we developed training modules and began an effective small business program. But it fell by the wayside when there was a change in management.

Now I find exactly what you said in your newsletter. Are Small Business Advocates helpful? Probably not . It is frustrating because I find that nobody is really training these people. Or really worried about training SB Specialists (or COs) -- properly. Something as simple as, "Who's the incumbent contractor?" becomes a mind-bending chore, a trip to the FOIA-Office. On a recent AF FBO announcement I asked for incumbency information and was told that would be released with the solicitation; too late to be useful. I called the activity's small business specialist and never got a call back. I discovered that person never calls anyone back (helpful? -- probably not). Because of my contacts I found another avenue and discovered the incumbent. But, when I tried to get technical points of contact, I was told that such contact would give me an unfair competitive advantage. When I asked if they realized that they were breaking their own rule since the incumbent has instant and constant contact, there was a lot of hemming and hawing about "we will have to let everyone meet them." That's called doing their job. Now I'm using other back door methods to try to find the technical POC.

Of course there are some DOD organizations that are willing to step up. But, for the most part the SB Office has become a place for recycled COs or others who are ready to retire. And most have no appetite for the small business fight. When assisting my small business clients with contracting issues, I find that COs are ill-trained and don't want to discuss small business or contractual problems. Recognizing they are dealing with a small business, it's their way or no way with threats of termination thrown around freely. Are SB Advocates helpful? Probably not (with some exceptions).

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