Fort Belvoir, Virginia –
The Defense Department’s designation of the Procurement Technical Assistance Program as critical essential infrastructure March 20 proved the program’s vital role in ensuring small businesses could continue meeting routine contract requirements and provide critical supplies needed for the coronavirus pandemic.
Managed by the Defense Logistics Agency’s Office of Small Business Programs, PTAP has over 300 centers in Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and in 48 states that provide contracting-related assistance to businesses, helping them navigate the government procurement process.
Many small business owners are eager to contribute to the pandemic response and want to know how they can sell personal protective equipment like masks, gowns and gloves to state and federal governments, said PTAP Manager Sherry Savage. PTACs serve a critical role in helping small businesses connect with DLA and other government agencies during routine operations and the pandemic, she continued.
Services range from the identification of contracting opportunities and guidance on the bidding process to detailed instruction on registering in federal procurement systems such as the System for Award Management and DLA’s Internet Bid Board System. Counselors also help small-business owners apply for socio-economic programs and certifications.
“If the businesses don’t have any help from the PTACs, the bidders can’t bid on our contracts, DLA can’t issue an award, and we can’t serve the warfighters,” she said.
Small business owners, particularly those in the service industry, are looking for more opportunities than ever to work with the federal sector in hopes of staying viable during the pandemic, Savage added.
“A hotel chain would rather do all its business in the commercial market because it’s much less cumbersome, but now nobody’s going to hotels,” she said.
To draw small businesses toward specific DOD contract opportunities, Savage’s team shares information with the PTACs and their clients along with the offer to help them find more information or assist in submitting an offer.
PTAC counselors can help small business owners understand how the Defense Production Act applies to them, Savage said. The federal law was enacted in 1950 in response to the Korean War to ensure the nation had enough wartime supplies.
DLA’s whole-of-government mission is another area where PTACs can assist small business owners.
“Whether it’s natural disasters or something like the coronavirus, the Federal Emergency Management Agency jumps into action and saves millions of people. If you want to contract with FEMA, you have to register in the FEMA Disaster Response Registry,” she said, adding that PTACs can walk business owners through registration.
Savage said the pandemic has shifted her role from routine administrative oversight of her employees and the awards they issue to constant communication with the PTACs, the Small Business Administration and agencies that want to leverage the PTACs. She’s also participating in more webinars and helping PTACs decipher shifts in rules and regulations.
“With any change, there are 91 PTACs and 91 opportunities to interpret something differently,” she said.
The program also helps businesses find and train subcontractors, but during a time of increasing social distancing, most in-person consultation and instruction are now being done via video and phone conferences.
“That’s freed up time in their schedule to counsel even more people because they’re not planning for in-person events anymore or having to travel to counsel the clients,” she said. “They’re able to keep up with the demand, but it does reflect a change.”
Savage thinks some of the current communication methods will continue after the pandemic ends. Resources that were used for travel could be used to establish more PTACs, she said.
“It’s been seamless and surprisingly easy to transition the PTACs to 100% remote work. I think it’s just like how DLA transitioned to telework,” she continued. “We were prepared and there was little to no lost time.”
The PTAP was authorized by Congress in 1985 to help expand the number of businesses participating in government contracts. DLA administers the program in cooperation with states and local governments, Native American tribes, nonprofit organizations, and colleges and universities. In fiscal 2019, PTACs provided 169,000 hours of one-on-one counseling and assisted 54,000 businesses.