Other transaction authorities, 'Shark Tank-like competition' part of Army's strategy to increase small business contractors

By Dan Schere / March 23, 2023 at 11:12 AM

The Army is using other transaction authorities, as well as a competition under the Defense Department's Small Business Innovation Research program to help increase the number of small business contractors, a service official told the Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee Wednesday.

Senators on the subcommittee asked questions of representatives from the Army, Air Force, Navy and DOD during Wednesday’s hearing about steps they are taking to counteract the recent trend of small business contractors having declined by 40% in the defense industrial base over the past decade.

Kimberly Buehler, the director of the Army Office of Small Business Programs, said the Army is using OTAs to expand the non-traditional vendor base participating in critical technology areas.

“That is a low-barrier-entry program where we can reach those companies that have no experience or limited experience working with the government, so that’s been an effective tool for us in trying to reach new vendor populations,” she said.

When Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), the chair of the subcommittee, asked each panelist about their efforts toward mentor-protégé programs, Buehler said the Army has six active agreements.

DOD’s Mentor-Protégé Program helps eligible small businesses “expand their footprint” in the defense industrial base by pairing small businesses with larger companies.

“We recently changed our process so that we have a yearlong open solicitation, so that mentor-protégé proposals can come in at any point during that year, so that gives industry the ability to come to us on their timetable and not necessarily on ours,” Buehler said during Wednesday’s hearing.

Hirono also asked the panelists about how much the services have used the SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

“At a time where we really need to shore up our ability to be innovative, compared with the near-peer competitor, i.e. China, I would like to know if each of you have fully utilized the SBIR and STTR programs to really push innovation to small businesses,” she said.

Buehler said the Army has been using the SBIR and STTR programs to develop innovation, and the service has developed transition teams along eight lines of effort that are aimed at trying to fill technology and capability gaps.

She added that under the SBIR program, the Army is conducting a “'Shark Tank'-like competition in which companies propose technological solutions.

“We will give them small contracts and take them through a . . . downselect competition over a period of time until we get to a winner. So, we’re utilizing the SBIR authorities to also facilitate that,” Buehler said.