Pentagon wants to be ‘approachable’ for small businesses

Small businesses are entering the defense industrial base at a historically low rate, but the Pentagon wants to turn things around.

Over the past decade, the number of small businesses in the defense industrial base has decreased by 40%. With the first-ever National Defense Industrial Strategy out, the Pentagon wants to turn things around.

The recently awarded defense industrial base consortium agreement, for example, will allow industry partners, including small businesses and non-traditional contractors, to work with the Defense Department on defense supply chain technologies projects and potential research through prototype development initiatives.

“One of the things we want to look at is making sure that we are more approachable for small businesses,” Danielle Miller, acting deputy assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Resilience, said during the Washington Technology event on Feb. 16.

“They can come into the system and not be as overwhelmed by the FAR process. The goal is to make sure that we have access to new ideas as quickly as possible so we can bring them in and drive innovation through the defense industrial base. So we found the [other transaction agreements] are very useful for that because you come into the consortium, and we can take ideas and bring them to fruition faster.”

There are currently no fees to join the consortium, reducing the barrier of entry for businesses. The consortium, however, reserves the right to introduce fees of up to $250 at a later date, which will provide members with access to membership meetings, additional consortium collaboration and industry events.

Additionally, the defense production act program office issued a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to solicit proposals for production technology projects. It allows the industry to submit white papers at any time. While companies can choose the topic of their white papers, it should align with one of the DPA’s areas of focus, including sustainment of critical production, commercialization of research and development investments and scaling of emerging technologies.

“If you have an idea, you can just write a white paper and submit it, and then we’ll evaluate it against our criteria and we can pick it up from there,” Miller said.

Miller said her office has an industry engagement team that has been doing a series of listening sessions to gather industry’s feedback.

“We’ve also been doing some one-on-one meetings with industry so they can provide us with information. Two weeks ago, I met and talked to the different members of the agency and international partners about their thoughts on the implementation plan as well,” Miller said.

Miller’s office is currently working on the implementation plan for the recently released strategy, which will contain metrics, milestones and specific steps DoD plans to take to foster a more resilient defense industrial base.

The implementation plan will be classified, and it is unclear if any of those details will be publicly available.

“We are in the process of building it. The final product will be classified for operational security reasons. But we will be working through different venues to talk about specific components with the appropriate audiences.” Miller said. “In some cases, if we need more feedback, we’ll bring in specific individuals who are cleared at the appropriate level to actually get more feedback from them.”

DoD has various authorities and tools available to move forward with defense industrial base initiatives under the Defense Production Act. While the department has largely relied on grants and procurement commitments, it is now exploring loans and loan guarantees.

While the specific metrics remain unclear, the success of the defense industrial base will be assessed based on its growth in the next three to five years, the investments made, and factories built.

“I think the [Defense Production Act] investments are a good indicator of what we’re doing,” Miller told Federal News Network on the sidelines.

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