Government Contracting Program/Project Management is where most of my 33+ years as an employee of the Department of Defense were spent. As a result, I’ve logged a lot of time working with contractor employees as well as Government employees. I have, on occasion, been the Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR), which put me into the position of having oversight responsibility for contractor performance and their employees. I’ve worked with some companies that performed well and some that failed completely. I’ve worked with companies that became true partners and some companies that made appearances only when required. I’ve worked with companies that identified risks early on and some that hid the bad news until a crisis was unavoidable. I’ve seen varying degrees of quality in deliverables and all sorts of hits and misses on due dates. The only constant I’ve found in government contracting is humanity, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the variable is corporate culture.
In the 1980s, small businesses were not the buyer’s favorite choice in government contracting. When a contract specialist got an 8(a) project, they had metaphorically drawn the short straw. What a contract specialist truly wanted—the true gem of gems—was a procurement with two competitive large businesses. Yes, that was the one! Small businesses gradually became okay for cafeteria contracts and janitorial services, but with the Government’s 1990s shift to contractor support versus employee labor dollars, combined with aggressive small business goals, uncharted territory in government contracting had to be explored.
Amazingly—a term I don’t use lightly—for once the regulators got it right. All those new rules, new designations and impossible goals from the 1990s and beyond have contributed to the emergence of small businesses in every category of government contracting. I can attest that many businesses are knock-your-socks-off good! For the last 15 years of my Federal service I was perpetually a COR on at least one contract dealing with everything from software development, training and education, administrative support services, system operations, and documentation, to audits and events management. For the last five years of that portion of my career, my credo was, “Show me the small businesses!” And that credo served me well.
It’s true that large businesses have deep pockets and can afford to march in place when the government fumbles funding. The common perception is that they can attract talent by offering benefits and the likelihood of long-term employment in government contracting where small businesses cannot. However, unless your project is a mainstay of their annual statement, you can also expect to beg for attention when something isn’t going right. I have found that small businesses treat every project, no matter the size, as an important project. Small businesses are not bound by corporate policies that can hinder larger, more bureaucratic organizations. Small businesses are also more open to custom fitting their services to their customer’s needs. In fact, I know of many small businesses that are well into the second decade of providing services to the Government on complex, long-term projects.
When it comes to doing business, I encourage you to think about small businesses when you’re looking for support on big projects. Do you agree? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section below.