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Doing Business with MDA: The Small Business Perspective

 Day 1 (8 August 2017) SMD Symposium Report

MONS US correspondent Marty Kauchak completed a wide-ranging, exclusive interview with , Lee Rosenberg, director of the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Office of Small Business Programs from the Space and Missile Defense (SMD) Symposium, Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The interview is provided below in its entirety.

MONS (M): Thanks for taking time to speak with me at this very busy time for you. My interest in this interview was to go beyond the technologies of the MDA architecture, and briefly, examine how companies, and specifically, small businesses, contribute to the agency’s mission. As an initial calibration point, please provide your definition of a “small business.”
Lee Rosenberg (LR): Small businesses have a specific definition in US government contracting.
It’s defined by the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) Code that is assigned to any procurement. Each NAICS Code has a size standard that’s associated with it, that defines for that activity, what is or what is not, a small business. The businesses can range from smaller, small businesses up to well over 1,000 employees. It depends on what commodity or service you are buying, and the associated NAICS code with that particular acquisition.

M: Why is MDA interested in small business support for its acquisition programmes?
LR: All sizes of companies are valuable to us. Small businesses, in particular, bring innovation, flexibility, and often bring lower cost. They are much more agile. The environment we are in with missile defense is a constantly changing environment – there is nothing static about what we do. The ability to adapt to that changing environment, to be innovative and flexible, are key to being successful in supporting us. Small businesses often times provide that sort of flexibility, and particularly that innovation and leading-edge technology, we so desperately need in order to stay ahead of the constantly evolving threat we face.  

M: Please provide the names of several small businesses that support the MDA enterprise.
LR: I am a bit reluctant to name names. I will tell you that just about everything we do across the enterprise: from our major weapon system development; providing advisory and assistance services in a variety of businesses and technical areas; supporting innovative technology that we are using; or even infrastructure support for a large agency covering multiple locations, has small business support.

M: What’s the contribution of small business to the MDA enterprise?
LR: About 30% of all monies we spend on procurement in any given year goes to small business, either as a prime contractor or as a subcontractor somewhere in the supply chain. When you are dealing with those numbers you are dealing with a very important part of our industrial base without which we can’t do our business.

M: What are the emerging technologies and other areas of focus for which MDA needs small business support in the next 12-18 months?
LR: Some major areas include: directed energy; space applications we can use for ballistic missile defense; and cyber security are all areas critical to us. These permit us to stay ahead of the threat and do things in a more economical and innovative fashion.

M: And you also publish other, more specific emergent, new opportunities.
LR:  Yes, we regularly publish requests for information (RFIs) and sources sought notices on Federal Business Opportunities https://www.fbo.gov/. Those are critical for any business, in particular, small business, to get a glimpse into the future of what we are looking for and to help us develop our market research as far as what capabilities are out there – in particular, within the small business community. Using this market research, we develop acquisition strategies that maximise the utilisation of those small businesses.                                     
M: You have quite a virtual communication process in place between small businesses and your office. Working through RFIs and other vehicles appears to be the preferred way for a small business to advise you of their capabilities and other resources they can bring to the enterprise.    
LR: Not necessarily. Our RFIs are focused on particular things we’re looking for. But we also have the fourth largest small business innovation research (SBIR) programme in the Defense Department. That is one way companies can come directly to us with their ideas against the topics we publish in those solicitations. We have a standing broad agency announcement – Advanced Technology Innovation (ATI) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) – https:// www.mda.mil/business/ati_baa.html. This is another way companies can come directly to us with a White Paper about their newest technology. We can award contracts directly off that BAA if we like what comes in against it. We have topics under the Rapid Innovative Funding Program https://mda.mil/global/documents/pdf/osbp_14conf_BAA.pdf that we participate in. If a small business has a more mature technology that can be fielded within three years they can come in against those BAAs. There are a number of ways that small businesses can come into us. The primary use of RFIs is for us to gain broad perspectives on what capabilities are out there as we plan our future acquisitions, and help us in our market research when it comes to small business capability.

M: And the responsiveness from small businesses to these outreach efforts?
LR: The frustration always is many small businesses don’t respond to them, or respond with marketing literature as opposed to “answering the mail” to the questions we’ve asked. It has a materiel effect on the subsequent acquisition strategies we come out with. When small businesses do respond, we’re able to set aside a lot more work for them. When they don’t respond, work doesn’t get set aside and that is sometimes frustrating for small businesses.  

M: Update us on your office’s face-to-face meeting process with small business.
LR: This June we had more than 500 participants at our annual MDA Small Business Conference here in Huntsville. This included government attendees, representatives from more than 200 small businesses, and representatives from more than 19 larger companies that do business with us. Attendees at the two-day event had an opportunity to hear about upcoming activities that are going on, and to network with those who were there for additional opportunities – subcontracting opportunities. It’s a “one stop shop” we annually host to help small businesses interact with those in the community, and get in the business as a prime contactor or subcontractor.

M: You and your office representatives have a proactive outreach effort beyond the annual summit, correct?
LR: Oh, yes. My office attends in excess of 40 outreach events to industry each year. We’re all over the US. The locations include Maryland, Texas, Florida, Virginia, Alabama and well beyond.

M: How can non-US, small businesses participate with MDA – as a prime contractor or subcontractor?
LR: Overseas companies have more hurdles because of some of the laws the US government has in place about dealing with overseas entities. It is much more difficult, just in a general sense, to break into the US military market, specifically with the types of technologies we are looking at. It becomes difficult sometimes for an overseas small business to directly come in. It’s probably best that they partner with one of our large prime contractors to bring that technology in. They are normally vetted through their processes, and that technology is more easily brought in through a US company than directly to us. And when we talk about the small business programme in MDA, and even across the US federal government, small businesses are defined as domestic companies, among other things. So, being a small business overseas doesn’t give you any particular advantage in moving into the federal marketplace.

M: Are you aware of any non-US small business that has taken the route of entering this market through a larger US prime contractor?
LR: I’m not familiar with any specific ones, although I know that has occurred. We have had outreach to various companies. For example, we’re co-producing one of our SM-3 series of missiles, the latest version (SM-3 IIA), with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japan). My assumption is there are Japanese small businesses that participate on the Japanese side. We have an Israeli programme that deals with our domestic small business infrastructure with the prime contractors, but I am sure there are Israeli small businesses that participate on their side on those programmes. There are examples of where we have incorporated international companies in the production and development in some of our systems.

M: David’s Sling may be one Israeli programme you referred to?
LR: Yes, and there’s the Arrow and Iron Dome programmes. And you know we’ve fielded Aegis Ashore in Romania and are building a systeme in Poland. Certainly, there were Romanian companies that helped us build that base and there are Polish companies that participate today with the base we’re building in Poland.

M: Your closing thoughts for MONS readers?
LR: Yes. Answering RFIs is critically important to our market research. It’s the ability of any small business to help shape our acquisition strategies. I would encourage these companies to look at their RFIs and do their homework about MDA. On occasion, I get businesses coming in wanting to do something we don’t do. It wastes their time and ours – they need to do their homework up front.

M: And you’re available to meet with small businesses?
LR: Yes. I meet with four to five small businesses a week on average. All they need to do is contact Nancy Hamilton, my administrative assistant and get on my calendar: nancy.hamilton.ctr@mda.mil. Either way, that’s another opportunity to do upfront homework to learn where they may want to put their efforts to get into our market place. And my closing thought – this is not empirical but more emotional. Doing business with MDA is an extremely rewarding job to have, whether you are a contractor or a government employee. You see the results and you know you are defending the homeland, our deployed forces, and our allies and friends around the world from ballistic missile threats. That is something that is very rewarding. You know you are playing in current events of the day, and it’s a way to contribute to the country.     

M: Thank You      

Marty Kauchak


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