By Tom Ewing
In a recent column I mentioned an important resource document for businesses just starting to investigate federal contracting opportunities. That document was from the Coast Guard with the very straightforward title: “Doing Business with the Coast Guard.” I hope you were able to give it a close read and that (most importantly) you found it helpful, that it really does help with next steps. (If not, send me an email; I’ll summarize – and “anonymize” – your comments and forward them to the CG.)
In this column I return to an important program introduced on page 16 of the Doing Business document: the DHS Mentor-Protégé Program (MPP) (recall that the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security). The MPP is designed to motivate and encourage large business prime contractor firms to provide mutually beneficial developmental assistance to small business, veteran-owned small business, service-disabled veteran-owned small business, HUBZone small business, small disadvantaged business, and women-owned small business concerns.
There are incentives for MPP participation. A mentor may receive additional evaluation points toward the award of contracts during the evaluation of competitive offers. A mentor may also receive subcontracting credit by counting protégé developmental assistance for approved subcontracting plans. Both partners can qualify for an annual award linked to teamwork and most effective mentor support.
Mentors establish a three-year partnership with their proteges. The CG doc provides a link for further information: https://www.dhs.gov/mentor-protege-program. The mentoring program is not the same as the opportunities for small businesses within “Prime Contractor” partnerships. The MPP is more formal, with specific requirements for both partners. To a certain extent it has more of a developmental progression, moving toward a “graduation” type endpoint for the protégé business, i.e., after three years of tutelage, that business should be well prepared to move more independently and more sure-footedly into larger and more complex contracting opportunities.
Hard to pass this up, right? To participate, all firms must be in good standing with the federal government. The program excludes firms that are on the “Federal List of Debarred or Suspended Contractors.” Here’s how you get started.
First, mentors and proteges have to find each other. DHS does not work as a matchmaker. However, the Department does hold annual “Vendor Outreach Sessions.” This 10-Session schedule follows the Government’s fiscal year calendar, i.e., from October 1 to September 30, which means the current Session schedule is well underway. But still, there are five Sessions left for 2020 and, of course, watch for the new schedule this fall, when the current federal FY closes in September.
Importantly, these Sessions are more than just a meet-and-greet. A key provision is the chance to arrange individualized appointments with DHS Small Business Specialists and prime contractors currently working with DHS. These are 15-minute meetings, which, of course must be arranged in advance. Go to https://vos.mybusinessmatches.com. Like other government websites, you must first create a profile in the system.
Scheduling starts at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on the designated day. (The system is timed to the clock at the Naval Observatory.) DHS advises that appointments fill very quickly, generally within minutes after the scheduling system opens. You will be competing with other vendors accessing the system simultaneously.
Once in the scheduling system, you will be able to select appointment times with specific DHS components and large prime contractors. You can request three 15-minute sessions and request to speak with up to three counselors. If you successfully make an appointment, the confirmation is set as soon as you click on the schedule button. You will receive a pop-up header that says “Your Meeting is Confirmed.”
Importantly, all Vendor Outreach Sessions are in Washington, at a DHS facility; likely, you will need to factor in travel costs. But unless you have other business in the Capitol, you can’t take too many people anyway because meeting space is limited, allowing just two people from each company to participate. Another caution – it’s rare, but if the federal government has to shut down or it’s on a delayed opening (think nasty weather) all Vendor Outreach Sessions are cancelled.
It’s worth a quick look at some of the work elements that make up the MPP relationship. This is a program with rigor, requiring a detailed work agenda to be included in the program application. Mentor and protégé have to describe the type of developmental assistance that will be provided. The application has to include milestones that correspond to mentor-protégé interactions. This work has to be summarized in a mid-term, 18-month Progress Report. There needs to be criteria to evaluate and measure the protégé’s development, and, just as important, to show how the mentor has helped the protégé and increased its chances for contracting success. A “Lessons Learned” report is due at the close of the three-year contract. The protégé must submit a post-MPP report annually for the next two years.
Sharon Davis is DHS’ Mentor-Protégé Program Manager in the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. She was asked how a mentor-protégé relationship might come about – what is its genesis? Davis said MPPs frequently evolve from companies that are already working together, or at least have some history of working together. One or both companies might see the need for business development, and then arrange to provide that via the mentoring program. She said the number of MPPs varies from year to year – last year, for example, there were nine; in 2018 there were 15.
MPP participant reports to DHS are not publicly available. When asked, Davis said that most participants find the partnerships to be a rewarding and beneficial experience. An upcoming column will focus on subcontracting opportunities. Keep this mentorship program in mind: you could find yourself working with a company eager to build and strengthen its own base of suppliers. And, recall that there are incentives that could be very helpful to a larger company. Might be the start of a win-win apprenticeship.
Tom Ewing is a freelance writer specializing in energy, environmental and related regulatory issues.