The inaugural awards went to eight businesses owned by service-disabled veterans; five prime contractors that exceeded the statutory goal of awarding at least 3 percent of their subcontracts to SDVOSBs, and six Defense Department procurement officials or departments influential in advancing the program's goals.
The awardees also were recognized for their outreach to veterans, including visits with wounded soldiers and supplying educational and health care assistance to the families of returning soldiers.
"This ceremony is a testament to the amazing talent of these men and women," Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said in prepared remarks to the crowd at the Pentagon Library and Conference Center. "They have given greatly in defense of this nation, and now continue to support our national defense through their innovative small businesses."
All the small business awardees employ a high percentage of veterans on their staff, helping to institutionalize much of the knowledge ex-soldiers now bring to the private sector.
For example, at M1 Support Services, a Denton, Texas-based firm that specializes in aircraft maintenance and logistics, 56 percent of the employees are veterans and 12 percent are service-disabled. "They bring a dedication to the mission," explained the company's managing director and owner, Kathleen Hildreth. "And they're really good employees."
M1 Support Services was nominated for the award by Ron Poussard, director of small business programs for the Air Force. Poussard said although service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses bring unique capabilities to the job, military service alone will not guarantee success.
"This is not a handout program," Poussard said. "It's about awarding contracts to the best qualified firm."
Established in 1999, the set-aside program directs federal agencies to award at least 3 percent of their prime contracts and subcontracts to small businesses owned by veterans who were wounded while in military service.
While Monday's ceremony highlighted some of the program's success stories -- the average growth rate in the past year among the small businesses that were honored was more than 150 percent -- recent data indicates that federal agencies, including the Defense Department, are failing to meet the initiative's goals.
According to the most recent score card released by the Small Business Administration, in fiscal 2006, federal agencies awarded an average of 0.87 percent of their contracts to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. Figures for Defense, far and away the government's largest buyer of goods and services, were even more lackluster, at 0.67 percent. Only eight federal agencies met the 3 percent goal.
Prior to the ceremony, top military procurement officials outlined some of the difficulties they face in awarding contracts to SDVOSBs.
Anthony Martoccia, director of Defense's Office of Small Business Programs, told Government Executive that the Pentagon needs to focus more on market research, improve its database of qualified companies and better track the performance of its contractors. And, although he sees signs of progress, Martoccia recognizes that Defense may not meet the 3 percent goal for at least a few more years.
"Hopefully it will be soon; maybe in three to five years we could come close," he said. "But, I don't know when we will be able to reach the 3 percent goal."
The Air Force's Poussard said the disappointing figures did not stem from a lack of effort. Of 60 Air Force installations, 23 met the 3 percent goal last year. "They're out there beating the bushes," Poussard insisted.
The Pentagon may get a helping hand in its efforts from Congress. Last week, the House passed the Small Business Contracting Program Improvements Act (H.R. 3867). The bill would place service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses at the top of the priority list for receiving federal contracts and provide greater financial assistance, education and training to program participants.
Charles Baker, president of MCB Lighting and Electrical, a service-disabled veteran-owned small business in Owings, Md., worked with the American Legion to lobby Congress on the legislation. He said changes are urgently needed because veteran-owned businesses face a twofold struggle for contracts: a stigma that they lack the capability to handle the work and a dearth of opportunities at Defense, which relies almost exclusively on big business for the procurement of complex weapons systems.
"We deserve to be at the front of the line," Baker said. "It's not based on anything like race or gender. It's based on we were defending our country and now we have a disability."
The full list of winners is as follows:
- HMS Technologies Inc., Martinsburg, W.Va.
- J.M. Waller Associates Inc., Burke, Va.
- Lanmark Technology Inc., Fairfax, Va.
- M1 Support Services, Denton, Texas
- New World Solutions Inc., Chantilly, Va.
- Oak Grove Technologies, Raleigh, N.C.
- Oberon Associates Inc., Manassas, Va.
- Quality Support Inc., Landover, Md.
Golden Talon Awards (for Defense Department acquisition officials)
- Jack Beecher, Army Corps of Engineers
- DCMA Procurement Center, Defense Contract Management Agency
- Laverne Johnson, Defense Logistics Agency
- Kathleen Lockhart, Navy
- Carol Ann Reichling, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
- Reggie Selby, Air Force
- Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., McLean, Va.
- CACI International Inc., Arlington, Va.
- Electronic Data Systems Corp., Herndon, Va.
- Environmental Chemical Corp., Burlingame, Calif.
- L3 Communications Titan Group, Reston, Va.