By Patricia Guadalupe
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced more than 250 contracting opportunities in the areas of environmental quality, energy resources, and national security at a recent small-business conference in Denver. More than half of the contracts, worth more than $2.4 billion over 3 to 5 years, are earmarked for small companies, including those firms participating in the 8(a) program.
Mr. Richardson hailed the conference as an opportunity to help educate the small-business community about contracting opportunities with the Energy Department. Like other federal agencies, the DOE reports a modest number of small firms and small, disadvantaged firms that participate in contracting opportunities. (For fiscal year 1998, for instance, out of a total of approximately $16 billion in contracting opportunities, $224 million went to "disadvantaged" firms).
"We have already provided over $3 billion annually in opportunities for small businesses [including disadvantaged firms], and I think we can do better," Mr. Richardson said. "This sends a strong message that the Energy Department wants to do business with small businesses and companies."
Mr. Richardson also announced the establishment of a mentor-protégé program to help minority businesses learn from companies already participating in Energy Department programs. Under the program, DOE "prime" contractors will assist energy-related small firms increase their capabilities as they do business with the DOE. Mentor companies, which work with their protégés for up to two years, receive subcontracting credit from the DOE, among other incentives to participate.
Protégé firms may be eligible for noncompetitive subcontracting procurement opportunities within DOE, in addition to receiving technical and developmental assistance. Mr. Richardson says he hopes to increase the participation of organizations that work with minority students, including the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.
Also like other federal agencies, the Department of Energy has adopted new procedures and policies aimed at increasing the participation of small, minority-owned businesses. These include a requirement that contractors offering services include small and disadvantaged businesses as part of the prime contract team and not just consider them as subcontractors.
Another DOE policy directs contractors against the bundling of contract services and requires procurement personnel to review contracts whose consolidation excludes small businesses and 8(a) contractors.
Some of these new policies and procedures are part of a larger, agency-wide mandate not only to increase opportunities for small and disadvantaged firms, but also to monitor the impact of such programs on minority communities. A little-known department within the DOE, the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, is charged with advising Mr. Richardson on the effect of agency policies, programs, and regulations on small businesses and underrepresented groups, including Hispanic-owned firms.
For more information on agency programs for small businesses and contracting opportunities with the Department of Energy, log onto the DOE's user-friendly Web site, www.doe.gov. An entire section, titled "Doing Business with DOE," is devoted to contracting opportunities.
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