Small Businesses Causing Big Headaches for SOCOM Acquisition (UPDATED)

By Stew Magnuson
The head of U.S. Special Operations Command’s acquisitions organization, speaking before a crowd of industry leaders, had some blunt words for small businesses: “You guys make my life miserable.”
The problem, said James F. Geurts, acquisition executive at Special Operations Command, is the number of protests that follow every contract award that was set aside for small businesses.
“I can’t think of a small business award I have done that hasn’t got at least one or two protests,” he said at an April 1 National Defense Industrial Association breakfast in Washington, D.C.
“You guys protest each other more than anybody,” he said. Every time this happens, it can take three months to sort everything out, he added.
SOCOM needs a large variety of technologies in small quantities, which, should be the strength of small businesses. He said he believes in the goal of ensuring that not all contracts go to the big primes. “We’re working hard for that,” he said.
“But I’ve got to tell you: the protest rate for small businesses is exponentially higher than on other awards. That’s a challenge for us. That’s a challenge for us to want to keep doing it. I believe in it, but we have got to work together on that,” he said.
SOCOM will eventually ask what the advantage is of going to a small business, Geurts said. “So you got to be careful that you’re not purposefully just fragging each other and overall giving yourselves a bad name,” he added, referring to the Vietnam war era slang for tossing fragmentation grenades into a the tents of officers who were unpopular with troops.
Geurts at the same time touted SOCOM’s Small Business Innovation Research achievements. SBIR awards are used to foster innovation and support small companies that have ideas that have the potential to become commercialized. The knock on the program is that many of the funded technologies never transition the so-called “Valley of Death,” where good ideas never make it out of the experimentation phase.
SOCOM is the leader within the Defense Department for funding SBIR programs that make the transition to products used in the field, he said.
Not everything is a small business set aside, he said. “We try to find the right balance between them and the primes,” he added.
Read more about SOCOM’s acquisition plans in the May issue of National Defense Magazine.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled James F. Geurts' name.

Topics: Business Trends, Business Development, Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict, SOF Weapons Systems

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