EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
While a lot of attention is garnered by large Defense contractors’ newest and greatest weapons systems, the Air Force Test Center’s Small Business Office provides a way for small businesses to showcase their innovative ideas amongst the giants of the industry.
Additionally, with the current COVID-19 situation impacting businesses, supply lines and Americans’ daily lives, the AFTC Small Business Office is doing its part to ensure the test enterprise continues.
“The Small Business Office provides resources, training and a myriad of support to small businesses,” said Cynthia Randall, AFTC Small Business Programs Director. “We assist small businesses through the contracting process from pre-solicitation to post award activities. “We also conduct Small Business Conferences to bring new small business capabilities to meet our mission requirements.”
The Small Business Office is based out of Edwards Air Force Base, California, home to the AFTC headquarters. Randall said that she has seen an increase in interest from the small business community about providing COVID-10 related services or products to the AFTC, Air Force and Department of Defense as a whole.
“We receive several emails a day from companies promoting their capabilities and interest in assisting the government to meet these urgent needs,” she said. “One company stated, ‘we are here to help fight this invisible threat to Americans and would really like to do our part as a small business.’”
The Small Business Office contributes to the Test Center enterprise by maximizing small business opportunities within Air Force acquisitions, thereby promoting efficiencies and innovation, fostering competition, and expanding the defense industrial base. This helps foster a culture that looks to small businesses first for innovative, agile, and affordable solutions to meet Warfighter needs, Randall said.
“We seek out innovative small business capabilities to meet Test requirements. We engage early in the acquisition process by identifying new small business sources, market research, Small Business Administration coordination, solicitation, and negotiations through closeout of the contract,” Randall explained. “We provide training for Contracting and Government Program Managers on the latest small business policy and regulations to ensure a solid foundation for contract award.”
On top of their regular Test-related work, Randall’s office has also joined the fight against COVID-19, coordinating and conducting market research on related products and services.
“Our office has received requests for small businesses capable of providing hand sanitizers, body temperature scanning services, N95 and cloth face masks, janitorial services and touch-surface disinfecting services,” she said. “The requests not only come from our Contracting office but from local area businesses such as Hyundai Proving Grounds, other AFMC bases and NASA. We’re all it in together sharing information.”
The definition of “small” varies by industry. Depending on the requirement, a small business could be defined as business with a maximum of 250 employees or a maximum of 1,500 employees. They're privately owned corporations, partnerships, or sole proprietorships that have less revenue than larger businesses.
Contracting determines the applicable North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code for a specific requirement. They then match the NAICS to the applicable size from the SBA who sets size standards through the Table of Small Business Size Standards. A size standard represents the largest size that a business may be to remain classified as a small business for SBA and federal contracting programs.
Depending on the requirements, small businesses may be able to provide a benefit that a large corporation may not and can add great value to the Air Force. Last year, the AFTC awarded more than $732 million to small businesses from almost $1.6 billion total procurement dollars.
“The government wants to buy from small businesses for several reasons including: to ensure that large businesses don’t ‘muscle out’ small businesses, to gain access to the new ideas that small business provide, to support small businesses as engines of economic development and job creation, and to offer opportunities to disadvantaged socio-economic groups,” Randall explained. “By being responsive to the mission, by being innovative, and by being flexible in ways that cannot be matched by large enterprises, small businesses are critical partners. We work to champion solutions for Airmen that cannot be realized through any other means in the marketplace.”
During the base’s modified work schedules, the Small Business Office has managed to conduct their business away from the office and still manage to meet their requirements and to help small businesses obtain information regarding the recently-passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“Information is coming down almost daily from the Small Business Administration. The CARES Act provides loans, paycheck protection, entrepreneurial development programs and emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EILD) to businesses,” Randall said. “It includes the opportunity to get up to a $10,000 advance on an EIDL. This advance may be available even if a business's EIDL application was declined or is still pending, and will be forgiven.”
“The CARES Act helps ease the impact of the COVID-19 restrictions on businesses so they may continue to perform the AFTC mission successfully,” she added.
Randall explained that the Air Force has encouraged contracting officers to make every effort within existing contract structures to maintain the Defense industrial base during the COVID-19 situation. One way this can be done is with the DoD’s increase in the progress payment rate. The Progress Payment Rates for current contracts increased to 90% for large business concerns and 95% for small business concerns.
“It is extremely important for the Small Business and Contracting Offices to quickly ensure the current contracts are continuing to perform, as well as, the ability to award new contracts in support of any new COVID-19 related requirements,” she said.
While the COVID-19 situation is currently evolving, it is imperative that the AFTC’s missions continue.
“The global situation concerning COVID-19 is rapidly evolving, as a result, contracting officers are strongly encouraged to engage with their government program managers and requirements owners to determine what, if any, measures should be taken to ensure the welfare and safety of the total force, while ensuring mission continuity,” Randall said. “Contracting officers, in consultation with government program managers and requirements owners, are the authority in the event contract performance is affected due to the COVID-19 situation.”
Small businesses, government program managers and contracting professionals may contact the AFTC SBO at (661) 857-3734 or email Cynthia Randall at firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information. Businesses can visit www.SBA.gov/Disaster to apply for an EIDL advance. For more information about the SBA, go to www.SBA.gov or call 1-800-659-2955 for local assistance.