DoD Promoting Businesses Owned by Wounded Vets

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2006 - In an effort to increase the supplier base in key acquisition areas and smooth the transition of wounded veterans into the civilian business world, the Defense Department is showcasing its program aimed at small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans.

DoD's Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program, developed in response to a 2004 executive order and subsequent legislation, helps wounded veterans start their own businesses, get certification to bid on DoD contracts as a prime or subcontractor, and network with other DoD prime and subcontractors. The organization is sponsoring a conference to showcase what they do in Dallas Dec. 4 to 7.

"I think that if there's any program that I have to manage here that has the greatest amount of job satisfaction and purpose of being in this position, it's the service-disabled veterans program," Frank Ramos, director of small business programs for DoD, said in a media roundtable yesterday.

Ramos, whose family has a rich history of military service, said the veterans of today's conflicts come home to a much more welcome reception than those of other decades, and DoD is trying to make sure they have business opportunities as well.

"When I reflect on what we're trying to do with the service-disabled veteran program, there's a vast difference in terms of how the country, and the public, and the Department of Defense, and the federal government, and the Congress, and the president are seeking to find innovative and fresh approaches to giving these warriors a sense of a transitional role for them to come back into the mainstream community," Ramos said. "We're trying to find niche industries that this new era of service-disabled veterans can come into the entrepreneurial mainstream."

Under this program, DoD drafted a five-year plan to reach a goal established by Congress to have 3 percent of DoD contracts go to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. The plan was stretched over five years because DoD officials knew it would take time to build a base of veteran-owned businesses with the expertise and knowledge to supply to DoD, said Charles Cervantes, director of the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program.

To qualify for the program, businesses must be at least 51 percent owned and controlled by a service-disabled veteran.

Since its inception, the program has achieved some significant accomplishments, Cervantes said. In the past year, the organization grew from 5,000 member businesses registered in DoD's centralized contractor registry to more than 12,000. The contracts landed by these companies grew from $513 million to $1.1 billion, he added. This is still only a fraction of the 3 percent goal, he noted, but is still strong progress.

Another notable accomplishment in the first year was the beginning of the Mentor-Protege Program, in which a small, veteran-owned business is matched with a large corporation, Cervantes said. In the first year, two small businesses -- one in information technology, the other in construction -- participated in this program. Their success stories will be on display at the conference to encourage more participation, he said.

Also under this program, DoD is encouraging teaming agreements, which are partnerships between multiple small businesses to increase capacity and capabilities, Cervantes said. Army Materiel Command recently took a $1.2 billion contract for bullets and split it between five small service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses, he said.

At the conference in Dallas, DoD plans to focus on the three major niche areas for service-disabled veterans: information technology, manufacturing and construction. Many veterans bring unique expertise to these fields, and DoD has a large need in these areas, Ramos said.

The conference will feature many high-level experts in procurement and acquisition, Cervantes said. "This is a terrific faculty, and it shows the commitment of our director ... to make these numbers go up dramatically within our five-year plan," he said.

For those small-business owners who can't make it to the conference, the eight key training modules will be taped and put into the Defense Acquisition University's online catalogue, Cervantes said. All of this is part of the effort to educate more service-disabled veterans about how to do business with DoD, he said.

"We want people to know that they can come back, they can have a serious disability and do business," he said. "This statute, this executive order, this plan is not going to go away. It's here for the long term; it's here for people that haven't even been born yet that will fight wars that we haven't even conceived of yet, and they will be beneficiaries of these programs."

In addition to the conference, DoD is working with other agencies and veterans service organizations to promote the service-disabled veteran-owned small business program, Ramos said. Each of the military services has a robust program to educate veterans and servicemembers about their opportunities in doing business with DoD, he said.

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