FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii - The challenges that face Native Hawaiian businesses while procuring federal contracts was the topic of a unique panel discussion at the Aug. 18 meeting of U.S. Army Garrison's Native Hawaiian Advisory Council, here.

Local business owners and representatives of federal and community organizations, designed to assist Native Hawaiian businesses, joined Army contracting officials on the panel to explore the issue.

"One of the objectives of the Army's recently signed Native Hawaiian Covenant is to promote opportunities for business and employment with the Native Hawaiian community, in accordance with applicable laws and regulations," said Col. Douglas Mulbury, commander, USAG-HI. "This forum provided excellent dialogue and gave our Native Hawaiian Advisory Council a better understanding of the situation."

The U.S. Army in Hawaii has been working to find common ground with the Native Hawaiian community as economic self-sufficiency for the Hawaiian community and skilled workers for the Army community will create a foundation of commonality.

The panel examined ways Native Hawaiian businesses can take advantage of available federal opportunities and shared experiences of Army contracting officials with Native Hawaiian business owners.

"There were 32,000 contracts issued by the Army last year, worth $300 million - 60 percent of which were procured in Hawaii," said Annelle Amaral, Native Hawaiian liaison, USAG-HI. "But there are only 12 Native Hawaiian organizations and 16 Hawaiian-owned 8(a), small or disadvantaged firms, that can compete for these contracts. So, the vast majority of the contracts go to non-Native Hawaiian businesses. We need more qualified 8(a) firms and NHOs."

An 8(a) business is a company under the Small Business Administration's business development program, created to help small businesses compete in the American economy and access the federal procurement market.

Panel members Sandra Kim and Sharon Oishi, both from the Army Regional Contracting office, discussed how a business should prepare itself before seeking a contract, the various types of contracts Native Hawaiians have successfully procured in the past and how to find the best fit for a business.

Michael Youth, U.S. Small Business Administration, spoke on the criteria for special designations and the roles and responsibilities of Native Hawaiian organizations and Hawaiian-owned 8(a) firms, and Catherine Yoza, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Contacting office, described the challenges procuring local construction contracts.

Panel member Ron Jarrett, of Joint Tech Services Inc, and Na Oiwi Kane, the first Native Hawaiian organization, emphasized the importance of adequate staffing and capitalization for a successful new business venture.

Tracy Poepoe, owner of Trace Industries, a new Native Hawaiian contractor, spoke on the challenges of getting bonded for federal work and finding qualified staff, while panelist Wailana Kamauu, a Native Hawaiian businessman, discussed the difficulties in obtaining required qualifications when applying for federal contracts.

In addition to the panel members, Dana Hauanio, with the Honolulu Minority Business Enterprise Center, and Claus Prufer, with the Hawaii Procurement Technical Assistance Center, provided information on how their organizations can support Native Hawaiian businesses seeking government work.

Dirk Soma, Office of Hawaiian Affairs and president of the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, noted the publication of a Hawaiian Economic Development Asset Grant Map used to identify where economic development entities exist and an OHA low-interest loan program that is available to start-up businesses.

Ann Murata, U.S. Small Business District Counsel, clarified recent litigation and its potential impact on federal contractors, including 8(a), woman-owned, and disabled veteran-owned companies.

"We thank all those that came out to this meeting from both the Army and the Native Hawaiian community for sharing your manao (thoughts) with us," said Bruss Keppeler, USAG-HI Native Hawaiian Advisory Council member. "The council now has a better understanding of the issues, which allows us to identify possible solutions and develop opportunities for our Native Hawaiian businesses."

At the meeting's conclusion, the USAG-HI Native Hawaiian Advisory Council supported a proposal to sponsor a future public workshop, using the panel's information, to inform new Native Hawaiian business owners how to secure credentials needed to compete for federal contracts and provide more opportunity for economic self-sufficiency.