Meet MDA’s Small Business Director

Missile Defense Agency Small Business Director Lee Rosenberg speaks at DoD’s 2016 Mentor-Protege Training Week.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP) helps small businesses identify prime contracting and subcontracting opportunities inside the agency.

The Office also helps small businesses develop strategies for selling services and products to MDA and other DoD agencies.

We talked with MDA Small Business Director Lee Rosenberg to capture his advice for small businesses interested in entering the federal government contracting market.

What did you do before becoming MDA’s Small Business Director?

I spent 21 years in the Army. After that, I worked for several defense contractors for more than six years. In fact, I came into MDA as a contractor supporting the Acquisition Support Cadre. I am one of the few of my ilk who has put together a proposal against a government request for proposal (RFP). I have the scars to prove it.

What is the mission of MDA’s Small Business Office?

We enable MDA to access the efficiencies, innovation and creativity offered by small businesses across the United States. We are an integral player and value-added advisor in the development of MDA acquisition strategies to ensure compliance with laws, directives, goals and objectives relating to small business initiatives. We also serve as an advocate for small business utilization in MDA procurements, either as a prime contractor or subcontractor.

Listen to Mr. Rosenberg describe the support his office provides to small businesses.

What must a Small Business Professional do well to be effective?

You have to be a salesman and a diplomat. You also have to be an expert in contracting laws and regulations. When you help develop acquisition strategies, you need to understand what the realm of possibilities is with regard to small business utilization and how small businesses can be used to support a specific mission. Market research is central to this process.

How can small businesses support the market-research process?

Small businesses must participate in the market-research process. Whether that is ensuring that a Program Office is aware of their capabilities or responding to requests for information (RFIs) with meaningful information — not just marketing literature. In RFIs, MDA requests specific information to determine whether certain capabilities exist in the small business community — and that information supports acquisition-strategy decisions.

How much prime contract spending did MDA award to small businesses in fiscal year 2016?

Small businesses captured $426 million in prime contract spending in fiscal year 2016.

Can you help small businesses locate Small Business Liaison Officers (SBLOs) at large prime contractors?

Yes. Roughly 80 percent of MDA’s annual prime contracting spending goes to about six large prime contractors. I meet with the MDA Small Business Advocacy Council, which includes large prime contractors’ SBLOs, about once a quarter.

From a Contracting Officer’s perspective, what is the most challenging aspect of government contracting?

Getting all of the players to agree on a set of requirements is arduous. There is a lot of pressure to get things done quickly, but Contracting Officers need to get them done right. At some point, you have to shoot the engineers and start production, but getting to that phase is a time-consuming process.

The source-selection process is also tough. Contracting Officers need to ensure that recommendations presented to the Source Selection Authority are valid, well documented and can be supported if a third party, like the Government Accountability Office, asks questions.

From a contractor’s perspective, what is challenging about the federal market?

Figuring out what the government wants can be difficult. The government’s requirements aren’t always crystal clear in RFPs.

How has government contracting changed?

I have worked in the contracting field since 1986. Contracting is much more complex.

In the old days, somebody would throw requirements over the transom, a Contracting Officer would pick them up, make decisions, award a contract and fix things with contract modifications. Today, Contracting Officers can’t afford to correct problems with contract modifications. Today, it’s a team effort. Contracting Officers lead a team of experts who collectively understand a procurement’s technical, budget, legal and contracting requirements.

Are there any legislative or regulatory changes that will have a significant impact on small business contracting in the federal market?

In the last five years, there have been more changes to small business regulations than in the last 50. Change is coming fast and furiously. The Limitations on Subcontracting regulation, which is not yet in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), will have a major impact on how small businesses team together.

Are there any common misperceptions about small businesses?

Small businesses are not just mom-and-pop-in-the-garage operations. A lot of small businesses have outstanding capabilities and past performance.

Are there any common misperceptions small businesses have about the federal contracting market?

One misperception is that the federal market is going to change for a small business instead of the small business changing to meet the market.

Some small businesses perceive the federal government as a monolithic organization where everybody operates the same way. They believe that if they did something at the Department of Interior, they can do it the same way at DoD. Well, maybe the requirements are different. You have to understand the market that you’re going into. The Army has different procedures than the Navy and the Navy has different procedures than MDA and MDA has different procedures than the Defense Information Systems Agency. Small businesses need to understand how their service or product can be used in a specific market and how they can penetrate that market.

For example, if you are a small business that manufactures transmit receive modules for radar systems, there are no prime contracting opportunities for you at MDA. I spend a lot of time talking with small businesses about where their market is with MDA so they don’t waste time barking up the wrong tree. In some cases, their market isn’t with MDA. For example, we don’t do construction. We send money to the Corps of Engineers or Navy Facilities Command to do it for us.

What are the benefits of awarding contracts to small businesses?

Small businesses, for the most part, are hungrier than large businesses and pay more attention to customer needs.

Generally speaking, small businesses are flexible. They bring lower overhead to the table and, therefore, lower costs. They are often able to adapt to changing situations. When you’re operating in a high-tempo environment like MDA’s, you have to be able to manage change. Oftentimes, larger businesses are almost like the government — large, ponderous and bureaucratic. Small businesses usually get things done quicker. Now, that’s a generalization because it doesn’t always occur and there are large businesses that can be responsive to change.

What does MDA value in government contractors?

Sterling performance is required. Every contract MDA awards supports an important piece of our mission.

How can small businesses learn more about how to do business with MDA?

They can give my office a call at 256.450.2872 and get on my calendar. I’ll spend up to an hour with any small business that wants to talk with me. You can also meet my staff and me at outreach events.

Where were you born?

I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky.

Did Kentucky shape your values?

I am the product of really great parents. Somehow they took my hard head and put some sense in it.

Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.

When I was slimmer and had more hair, I flew attack- and utility-helicopters for the Army.

Who inspires you?

Theodore Roosevelt’s The Man In the Arena quote guides my outlook. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get in the game. If you fail, it’s not the end of the world. Just get up, dust yourself off and keep going.

What valuable advice have you received from a mentor?

A colonel that I served with had a plaque on his desk embossed with the quote: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

Mr. Rosenberg speaks at DoD’s 2016 Small Business Training Week.

Mr. Rosenberg’s Tips for Marketing to MDA

  • Register your capabilities in the MDA Electronic Small Business Information Exchange (eSBIE) Directory.
  • Schedule an appointment with me.
  • Tailor your marketing literature to your prospective customer.
  • Target your market within MDA and understand your prospective customer’s mission, environment, “landmines” and “hot buttons.”
  • Identify your differentiators — what separates you from other great performers?
  • Don’t try to be everything to everybody.
  • Never promise more than you can deliver.
  • Respond to sources-sought notices and RFIs.
  • Translate the relevancy of your past performance; don’t expect a prospective customer to do it for you.
  • Don’t discount the value of subcontracting opportunities; they can get you in the front door.
  • Provide sterling performance.

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