WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- In the midst of a $130 million budget, the arsenal contracting office found itself caught between bureaucracy and speed dating in the awarding of more than $42 million in U.S. contracts last fiscal year. Please do not jump to the wrong conclusion, because the 20 folks who work in the contracting office are not engaging the social scene on government time. If they were, that would be a front page story. Nevertheless, some of the attributes of dating are alive and well at the arsenal.

First, the bureaucracy.

To support our warfighters, the arsenal's higher headquarters, the TACOM Life Cycle Management Command, is the manager for nearly 3,000 end items that fall into categories such as combat vehicles, small arms, artillery, and watercraft. The arsenal's mission to manufacturer cannon, artillery, and mortar tubes supports the fulfillment of some of the end items that TACOM manages.

Arsenal Small Business Specialist Beth Myers said there are stringent contracting rules that direct how the arsenal procures the resources to support our mission. And the resources to support our mission is more than procuring just the steel that goes into cannon or mortar tubes, it may also mean to provide the infrastructure and equipment that give the arsenal the capability and capacity to support its mission.

"So, everything from the purchasing of a metal forging for a new tank barrel to the installation of a new paved road to the procurement of a new lathe machine is processed through a tough, bureaucrat system of policies and regulations," Myers said.

But as stringent as Federal Contracting rules are, the arsenal contracting office does have some flexibility in how it administers and or awards contracts, and this is where the "dating" comes in, Myers added.

Within this degree of flexibility, Myers said, is where the arsenal deviates from the norm to reach out to or "date" small and disadvantage companies.

Congress mandated that a certain percentage of federal contracts go to small businesses, and there are many types. Therefore, every year TACOM directs the arsenal, as well as the other installations, to award a percentage of all contracts to small businesses.

Why is courting small business important' According to the Small Business Administration or SBA, small businesses generated 65 percent of all new jobs over the past 17 years. Given this period of prolonged recession, job creation is priority number one for the country.

The good news for the arsenal is that for Fiscal Year 2010, the arsenal exceeded its goal of awarding 35 percent of its contracts to small businesses by more than 75 percent. The SBA defines small businesses as being independently owned and operated, for profit, and not dominant in its field.

Now, the confusing part of dating small businesses. Within the umbrella of small business, there are several sub-sets that range from a Small Disadvantaged Business to a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business. To qualify in these categories, a business must be at least 51 percent owned by one or more individuals who are socially, physically, or economically disadvantaged. Additionally, these owners must be active in the daily management of their businesses.

Many times, the dating process makes the arsenal look like the pursuer. This happens because most small businesses do not have the experience or expertise to work through the maze of federal contracting laws. And so, the arsenal contracting folks take extra steps to solicit and explain a contract to small business concerns.

One way the arsenal helps small business concerns is through a process called, speed dating. Speed dating is like a regional government job fair. But instead of helping attendees find a job, the arsenal works with small business owners to assist them navigating through the maze of federal contracting rules and regulations. Each small business is given 10 minutes with the arsenal contract representative to discuss capabilities, process, and opportunities.

"During the last two speed dating events, the arsenal engaged more than 65 small businesses," Myers said.

Although it may not be politically correct, Myers said she enjoys speed dating because it helps the little guy.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16