A few of us from AEGIS attended the 2014 Small Business Conference (SBC) last week hosted by ACT-IAC. This was our sixth year attending and, if I recall correctly, our third year as a proud Platinum Sponsor. The media covering the conference have written about a theme of how contract consolidation, also known as contract bundling, is impacting small businesses. The short answer from small business’s point of view is: not in a good way. Based on AEGIS’ experience trying to engage with the Departments and agencies who push most of their contracts through large IDIQs having a small number of prime contractors, I can say that the problem is real even if some in the government disagree. In my opinion, the government, through these consolidation efforts, has effectively established a handful of gatekeepers from industry who decide which small businesses’ services and innovations get to see the light of day. But I’ll save my full commentary on that topic for another time. Meanwhile, a topic that did not come up probably because we’d all like to forget about it is the effect of last fall’s government shutdown on small businesses, effects that continue to be felt. Hopefully our government leaders on both sides of aisle understand by now what a bad course of action that turned out to be. But I digress….
Our team took away several other nuggets of knowledge from the conferences besides those that made the headlines. Natalia Olson-Urtecho from SBA spoke the need for small businesses to look outside our borders for opportunities. She noted that the U.S. gave $500M each to Jordan and Egypt last year but the work resulting from those investments was bid for and won mostly by European companies. That represents a missed opportunity for U.S. small businesses. As a goal, SBA would like to see small business services exports double.
The Lunch with Leaders portion of SBC is always an enjoyable time allowing for some of the most frank dialog between government and industry. I served as the Industry Host for a table this year and was honored that the Government Host was Sandra Broadnax, Director of the Small Business Office at NGA. During lunch, Sandra was presented with the first annual ACT-IAC Small Business Advocacy award, along with Deborah Jackson-Hamilton from AEGIS’ longtime partner, HP Enterprise Solutions. Congratulations Sandra and Deborah!
The afternoon breakout sessions with individual agencies provided more opportunities to hear directly and fairly openly from government. As conference attendees started slipping away after lunch, these sessions became even more intimate. The HHS session I attended was very informative. Robert Coen, the Acting Program Director at NITAAC, provided some great insight around the CIO-SP3 program. There was a lot of buzz around that vehicle at the conference. It seems to be turning in to the go-to GWAC for IT, particularly as some agencies have decided to stop administering their own vehicles – or because some programs within departments that do run their own IDIQs have become dissatisfied with its performance.
The closing keynote was delivered by Kevin Plexico from Deltek. He offered an overview of the budget from a small business perspective. As it stands, 39% of the government’s awards to small business will occur in Q4 this year. That suggests a busy proposal season for many of us. While the room was considerably less full for this final session than it was during lunchtime, those folks who stayed were treated to some of the best content of the day.
Overall thoughts in the conference? Well, the negatives for me were that attendance was a little off from past years. More significantly, the content continues to emphasize disadvantaged small businesses. When you are ‘just small’ like AEGIS, that means a good bit of the agenda is simply not applicable. On the other hand, positives included the great keynote speakers and excellent panelists and their willingness to be so open and accessible for this kind of dialog.
Congratulation to ACT-IAC and the many volunteers who were responsible for this year’s conference on a job well done!