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A "Ferris Bueller Style" Look at Small Business Contracting at the Department of Energy

November 30, 2010 - 4:14pm


As Ferris Bueller said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss something." At the Department of Energy, the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) has taken Ferris’ advice to heart. We’ve been moving pretty fast over the last few years as we’ve worked to ensure that we're maximizing opportunity for small businesses.  

The work has gotten results: over the past nine years we’ve nearly doubled prime and subcontract achievement. In 2009, we awarded $6.5 billion in prime and subcontract achievement (up from $3.7 billion in 2000). But what’s important is to stop and look at are the actions we took to get here. How do we achieve the results of awarding billions to small businesses? Let me tell you a little about the work our office has been doing this year:  

  • Top-level Attention to Small Business Objectives - We started from the top and asked each Energy Secretary to take on small business achievement as a departmental objective. Secretary Chu has been instrumental in directing offices to look for small business opportunities in all of their acquisitions by issuing policy letters to the entire Department.
  • Increased Outreach - The OSDBU increased outreach in order to identify firms that can meet Department of Energy requirements, and to guide them on doing business with the Department. At our annual conference, departmental and contractor buyers are brought together to make matches between opportunity and small business contractors. Registration opens December 15th for our May 10 – 12, 2011 conference in Kansas City, Missouri. Over at our headquarters, we partner with small business associations to host Business Opportunity Sessions to inform small businesses of available opportunities.
  • APAT Reviews - The OSDBU created a top-level team to review contracts of $100 million and above to ensure small business participation by examining the opportunity for breakouts to small businesses.    
  • New Tools to Prime Contractors - We’ve taken some steps that we think are innovative as we flowed down authorities to major prime contractors to use the same kinds of tools that the government uses, i.e. set-asides for small business, 8(a), HUBZone and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses.  We authorized these major prime contractors, managers and operators of our government-owned laboratories and facilities, to reserve requirements up to $100,000 for small business participation.
  • Expanded Teaming  -  Since some of the Department’s opportunities are sizeable, we focused on and encouraged “small business teams” to bid on Department of Energy projects. Many of these teams have won contracts of $100 million and above.
  • Expanded Mentoring -  We promoted the Department of Energy’s Mentor-Protégé Program to our major prime contractors to encourage them to provide developmental assistance to eligible small businesses through mentoring. In 2000, there were roughly 24 mentoring agreements, now there are more than 100.  

We learned several lessons from these efforts. First, nothing happens in an agency without top-level support. Second, most small business efforts can be helped with tools and policies in place for guidance. Third, opportunities develop in all forms and small businesses must be in a position to quality for them. Finally, the term “it takes a village” is true of small business success as well. It takes a village of small business advocates, internal and external to the agency, working together to maximize opportunities for small businesses.  
For more information about the OSDBU, visit