The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP) helps small businesses identify prime contracting and subcontracting opportunities within the command. The Office also helps small businesses develop strategies for selling services and products to SOCOM and other DoD agencies.
We talked with SOCOM Small Business Director Chris Harrington to capture his insights about the command and small business contracting trends.
What did you do before becoming SOCOM’s Small Business Director?
I supported acquisition activities at SOCOM for about a year-and-a-half. Before that, I was Chief of Contracts Policy at the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM). I served 20 years in the Air Force, including 15 years in the acquisition career field.
What is the mission of the SOCOM Office of Small Business Programs?
We ensure that small businesses get a fair opportunity to compete for the command’s contracts, either as a prime contractor or subcontractor.
What do you enjoy the most about the Small Business Professional career field?
I enjoy the opportunity to make a difference. My job includes a variety of responsibilities. I’m at events talking with small businesses, providing information, hearing their concerns and teaching them how they can compete for SOCOM contracts. I explain how we operate, how to do business with us, what we look for in contractors and what procurements are coming down the pike.
I’m kind of like an online dating service. I refer small businesses to large businesses and large businesses to small businesses. I don’t say, “You need to subcontract with company X, Y or Z.” I just say, “Here are some small businesses that you should take a look at,” or “Here are some large businesses you should consider for subcontracting opportunities.”
I help develop acquisition strategies to ensure that small businesses get a fair shake. I try to shape acquisitions so that they are either a small business set-aside or have a robust small business subcontracting program. Market research is key to making sound acquisition strategy decisions.
What must a Small Business Professional do well?
Small Business Professionals must understand what their organization buys and how they buy it. We need to understand the acquisition process and how it affects decisions. In addition, we need to be personable and comfortable speaking in front of large groups.
Small Business Professionals also need to be able to compromise because every acquisition isn’t going to be a small business set-aside. The bottom line is to get the right support to the warfighters.
What attributes in government contractors are highly valued by SOCOM?
It’s tough to get into the command because the competition is fierce. Once you get in and do a good job, it’s like a snowball rolling downhill; you’ll probably get more work. We value industry partners that meet and exceed expectations; this is a tough environment so industry really needs to bring their “A” game.
Are there any misperceptions about how SOCOM awards contracts?
A common misperception is that the command has special rules and waivers and doesn’t have to follow federal acquisition laws and regulations. In fact, we have no special waivers and we follow the same rules as all other acquisition organizations.
How is SOCOM unique?
It’s easy to see how what we do affects the warfighter. If you can’t get motivated here, you can’t get motivated anywhere. We have a proactive culture that figures out how to get the job done. We’re not going to say “no” as long as it is legal, ethical and moral.
Because we’re on the pointy end of the spear, speed and agility are important. We are able to make quick decisions because, for the most part, all of our key decision-makers are located in one building: the Commando Center at MacDill Air Force Base. Within 100 steps, you can get approval for whatever you’re trying to do.
Are there any myths you want to dispel about small business contracting?
We do not award contracts to meet goals. I’d rather miss all of my goals and have the mission be successful than meet all of my goals and have the mission fail.
We do not award contracts based on socioeconomic status. We award contracts based on capabilities. If you are a service-disabled-veteran-owned, women-owned and HUBZone-certified small business, that’s nice, but what are your capabilities? Show us how you are going to help us perform our mission.
How can small businesses learn more about how to do business with SOCOM?
That’s easy. We will meet with anybody any day that we’re at SOCOM. In addition, on Thursdays, we hold office hours at SOFWERX, an unclassified building in downtown Ybor City.
If you want to support SOCOM, call us and talk to us on the phone. If you’re going to be in the Tampa area, schedule an appointment and we’ll carve out an hour to sit with you and chat.
In fiscal year 2016, what percentage of small-business-eligible contract spending did SOCOM award to small businesses?
Our goal was 26 percent and we achieved 30.35 percent.
How do you expect small business contracting to change?
Under small business set-asides, small business prime contractors must perform at least 51 percent of the work under the “limitations on subcontracting” requirement in Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) clause 52.219–14. However, a new rule will authorize small business primes to utilize “similarly situated entities” to comply with 52.219–14.
After the new rule takes effect in the FAR, small business prime contractors can use “similarly situated entities” to reach that 51-percent requirement. For example, in a small business set-aside a small business can perform 26 percent of the work and subcontract 25 percent of the work to another small business.
This is a significant regulatory change that will make it easier to justify small business set-aside procurements.
Do you expect more teaming to occur as a result of the rule change?
You may see more teaming, but the bigger point is that the prime doesn’t have to do more than half of the work. The prime can subcontract to one or more companies that are similarly situated entities to meet the limitations-on-subcontracting requirement. It opens up the aperture to increase small business set-aside opportunities.
We are waiting for the FAR to be updated with the new “similarly situated entities” rule.
Are there any SOCOM small business subcontracting opportunities that you want to highlight?
On some of our larger contracts, we use small business mandates instead of goals. For example, our Global Logistics Support Services contract, which is worth about $9 billion, includes a 35-percent small business mandate for work performed in the Continental United States (CONUS). This will equate to a large portion of work being required to be subcontracted to small businesses — we estimate about $2 billion over the life of the contract.
Let’s say a large business is awarded a $1 million prime contract. In our example, the prime contractor subcontracts $100,000 of that $1 million contract. Under a 35-percent small business goal, 35 percent of that $100,000, or $35,000, should be subcontracted to small businesses. It’s a goal. The prime contractor doesn’t have to meet it. Under a 35-percent small business mandate, 35 percent of $1 million, or $350,000, must be subcontracted to small businesses. It’s not optional. The mandate ensures that small businesses get an opportunity to perform and gain valuable experience as a subcontractor to build past performance so they can potentially later compete as a prime.
When you’re not at work, what do you like to do?
On weekends, I take my dog, Bo, to a local dog beach.
Bo, a Chihuahua-Jack Russell Terrier mix, is high energy. He’s either a hundred-miles-an-hour or zero. He’s either sleeping or bouncing off the walls.
What is the best advice you received from a mentor?
Always give your best effort. If you say you’re going to do something: do it. Be a team player with a positive attitude. Attitude in large part will determine your altitude — how high you progress in your career.
Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.
Before I joined the Air Force, I was a Sports Director and DJ for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. We traveled all over the Caribbean. Bermuda and Barbados were my favorite islands. It was a lot of fun to see the different islands and enjoy the great weather and people.
When you were a DJ, what song was most likely to move people to the dance floor?
We’re going back a ways, but Hot, Hot, Hot always got passengers up and dancing. Billy Jean was another winner.
Contact Mr. Harrington
Mr. Harrington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 813–826–9475.
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