Procurement assistance centers help small-business owners, government buyers

By Beth Reece

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Jane Dowgwillo knows hundreds of small businesses and how they could support the Department of Defense’s worldwide mission. As the manager of 10 Procurement Technical Assistance Centers scattered throughout Florida, she leads a team of 13 government contracting specialists who help small-business owners understand the requirements of working with the government.

“We’ve got a lot of small manufacturing and spare-part businesses here that we provide specialized advice and training to. Any time we offer sessions on how to do business with DoD, it’s very well received,” Dowgwillo said.

The Procurement Technical Assistance Program was created in 1985 to increase the number of small businesses capable of participating in government contracts at local and state levels, as well as with the DoD and other federal agencies. The program is administered by the Defense Logistics Agency’s Office of Small Business Programs.

Today there are centers operating in Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and all 50 states. They provide a variety of services, from identifying contracting opportunities to providing guidance on the bidding process and detailed instruction on registering in or using federal procurement systems, such as the System for Award Management and www.fbo.gov, which is the website where DoD and other federal agencies post opportunities for contracts. Counselors also ensure small business owners have proper licenses and certifications.

The training and assistance PTACs offer are usually free and well appreciated by small businesses, which may lack the time and staff to explore the ins and outs of government contracting. Adino, Inc., a service-disabled veteran-owned small business, described the PTAC in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, as “a highly specialized and hands-on resource to tackle the overwhelming and intimidating sector of government contracting.”

Government contracting officers and buyers can also benefit from the program, said Christopher Hall, who oversees the program for DLA.
“By supporting new suppliers, the PTACs promote a stronger industrial base, which results in greater competition and higher quality goods at a lower cost. The Department’s acquisition professionals are striving toward these goals as they work to create competitive environments and increase small business participation, which is part of DoD’s Better Buying Power 3.0,” he said.

Kevin Scoles, a DoD business opportunity specialist, recently taught small business owners serviced by Washington PTACs how to use a web-based application that allows users to search for contract opportunities and securely submit quotes. While meeting with PTAC clients, Scoles was also able to share with prospective suppliers information on areas with low competition.

Although government representatives frequently partner with PTACs to provide training and have sought input from PTAC counselors during market research for specific commodities, the partnership could be stronger, said Tiffany Scroggs, manager of eight PTACs in the state of Washington.

“I think there’s opportunity for growth. There’s an upcoming Meet ‘n Greet with Industry Day in our backyard, for example. When I discovered it, I instantly asked if we could help promote the event and have 5 minutes to talk about all the great things that PTACs can do to help businesses connect,” she said.
 
Federal agencies should include PTACs in the early planning stages for marketing events like industry days, Scroggs added. PTAC counselors can also help identify qualified suppliers for hard-to-source parts.

“If buyers are seeing trends or have areas with really low competition, we’re more than happy to help promote that to our firms,” she said. “A lot of PTACs have newsletters where we can include articles on needs, or we can get the details out through social-media campaigns.”

Market research is another step in the acquisition process where PTACs can contribute, Hall added.

“They have an in-depth knowledge of local small businesses and their capabilities and can identify potential suppliers that have demonstrated their capability to deliver,” he said.
Though PTACs do host “matchmaking” events to connect small businesses with government officials, counselors don’t do the legwork or place bids on behalf of their clients, Dowgwillo said. And just because PTAC services are usually free doesn’t mean they’re inferior.

“Most of my counselors and those around the country have been contracting officers themselves, or they came to us from a state or local agency purchasing area. They have a wealth of experience and hands-on expertise,” she said.

Winnie Cichosz runs a small, woman-owned janitorial business in Alaska. “Federal contracting is overwhelming for a small business like mine,” Cichosz said. “The PTAC helped me along the way.”

Find your local PTAC at http://www.dla.mil/HQ/SmallBusiness/PTAP.aspx.