DLA expands Middle East vendor pool with workshop for Omani businesses

By Beth Reece

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Buying goods and services close to customers’ locations allows the Defense Logistics Agency to respond faster to warfighter needs while saving money on transportation and storage. The agency already uses local procurement to provide items such as fresh fruits and vegetables to troops in regions like Europe and Africa, and it’s working now to expand local procurement in the Middle East by focusing on vendors in Oman.

To help potential vendors there learn how to do business with the U.S. government, DLA partnered with U.S. Central Command and U.S. State Department officials in December to host a workshop for about 50 vendors in the Oman port city of Salalah. Oman is on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula and shares borders with Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates.

Although DLA already has contracts there for warehousing services, fuel and food mainly in support of Navy ships, the agency wants to expand its vendor pool so it can continue to support strategic goals of USCENTCOM, said Mike Heidbreder, DLA liaison officer with the U.S. Embassy in Muscat.

“U.S. defense contracting is relatively new in Oman, and the process for registering online and finding solicitations for new business deals can be a bit daunting to new vendors. The workshop provided Omani vendors with the knowledge they need to do business with us,” he added.

The one-day workshop helped potential new vendors understand the intricacies of contracting with the U.S. government by providing instruction for registering on U.S. government contracting websites, as well as the process of bidding for and winning government contracts. Kevin Burke, chief of DLA acquisition operations, also gave vendors an outline of contracting regulations followed by DLA and the U.S. Department of Defense.

“It’s important for potential vendors to understand how our processes work and how to then compete on our acquisitions.” Burke said.

The experience of setting up new contracts with vendors in places like Djibouti and Central Asia has taught DLA representatives the value of meeting face-to-face with potential vendors, he continued.

“The Omanis really appreciated that we made the effort to be at their location. It allows them to interact with us directly. The other part of that is having a training component that shows them exactly, step-by-step, what they need to do to be able to provide us with the goods and services they specialize in,” Burke said.

Vendors also received an overview of USCENTCOM’s mission and DoD’s history of contracting in CENTCOM, with a focus on Oman. 

“We took a very practical approach by providing names, email addresses and phone numbers for people at specific contracting activities that vendors could reach out to,” Burke said. “We even brought in four of our DLA prime vendors to talk about subcontracting opportunities that are available.”

Prime vendors are large businesses that have overall responsibility for a particular commodity, such as subsistence, which includes everything from meat and produce to baked goods and bottled water. PVs frequently rely on local vendors like those in attendance to provide a subcategory of items.

“A classic example is eggs. The prime vendor is responsible for providing overall food service and in that process enters subcontracting agreements with farm owners who can provide eggs,” Burke explained. “These subcontractors may deal with us on a less frequent basis, but they still have to meet our health and safety requirements. The major benefit for local or specialized vendors is that the PV subcontracts have a more streamlined process and they can then focus on the product or service that they do best.”

Prime vendors that participated in the workshop included two in subsistence and two in maintenance, repair and operations. Subsistence PVs described juice, milk, ice cream, yogurt, eggs, bakery items, and sports drinks as some of the areas Omani vendors could participate in via subcontracting.

Trucking services for dry and refrigerated goods are another opportunity. Items needed to support MRO requirements include force protection barriers, containerized housing, water purification kits, and plywood and lumber.

DLA’s goal is to provide top-notch supplies and services to service members throughout USCENTCOM regardless of their location, said Army Col. Jose Valentin, DLA CENTCOM & SOCOM military deputy (forward).

“DLA’s top priority is to provide logistical support to our warfighters, and one of the ways we do this is by leveraging support from contracted vendors within the region. That’s why events like this are so vital,” he said.

DLA Foreign Policy Advisor Delores Brown described the relationship between the United States and Oman as a strong one that goes back 200 years. “We continue to collaborate closely on regional security and stability, as well as economic prosperity and trade,” she said, adding that DLA’s participation in the one-day workshop reinforces relations between the U.S. and Oman by exploring business opportunities that are mutually beneficial.

“Local sourcing is an additional tool we can use to support our positive relationship with the Omanis,” Burke noted. “From DLA’s perspective, it’s a winner for both sides because it supports the local economy and enables us to respond quickly to warfighters needs. We’re also able to provide fresher products faster and, in some cases, cheaper,” he added.

Navy Capt. Gerald Raia, DLA Troop Support’s director of Procurement Process Support and its chief contracting officer, praised the longer-term benefits of the workshop.

“The Workshop opened up dialogue between DLA, local business owners and contractors DLA already has contracts with,” he noted.  In addition, “current DLA partners spoke of potential business opportunities by way of government requirements,” Raia said.

Other vendor workshops in 2017 include CENTCOM support in Muscat, Oman, and Islamabad, Pakistan, and AFRICOM support in Djibouti.