Chairman Chabot in Defense News: Look to US Small Businesses to Supply War Fighters

Look to US Small Businesses to Supply War Fighters

By Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH)
Defense News
May 16, 2016

For 55 years, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has been the primary way Congress meets its constitutional responsibility to “provide for the common defense.”

As a vital national security policy bill, the NDAA has always provided our war fighters with the resources they need to defend the United States from the great and varied threats we face from adversaries around the word.

However, in the face of recent drastic defense cuts, known in Washington as “sequestration,” policymakers have had to look for new ways to meet our national security needs.

As chairman of the House Small Business Committee, I firmly believe that our nation’s 28 million small businesses can play a key role in meeting these needs in this era of declining defense resources.

Very often, small companies can provide better products and services to our military, faster and at lower costs.

Congress’ ongoing effort to improve acquisition and modernize procurement at the Pentagon is particularly important to small companies because it will enable them to deliver real benefits to our war fighters.  

At a recent Small Business Committee hearing, we heard from a top official at the Office of Naval Research about two examples of life-saving technology developed by American small businesses that are now used by the US military.

“The Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard — called EMILY — is a robotic lifeguard deployed worldwide by Hydronalix, a rural Arizona company,” Robert Smith explained to our committee. “The tracking system, reconfigured as the Silver Fox Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV), was deployed in 2007 to provide convoy protection to Marines in Iraq, saving three lives. The same basic technology package, reconfigured as EMILY, is supporting first responders throughout the US and other nations, and saving lives today in the Mediterranean Sea refugee crisis.”

Smith also pointed to Trek Enterprises’ Automated Celestial Navigation (ASN) system as another example of technology developed by a small company now used by the military.

“(ASN) provides a solution in GPS-denied environments through a fully automated star tracker for imaging individual stars both day and night to enhance navigation capability,” Smith testified. “Initially focused on Navy challenges, ASN attracted attention across the government: The result being a fellow agency ordering 15 systems, with applications in crime fighting and drug interdiction."

Success stories like these are a big part of the reason why promoting competition has been the guiding principle for defense acquisition and procurement policy.

We must allow companies of all sizes and expertise to compete for defense contracts in order to get the best possible products to the war fighter.

Contracting reforms such as those included in this year’s NDAA help us achieve this important goal for our military. They also benefit the taxpayers footing the bill, making sure they get more bang for their buck.

You don’t need to be an economist to understand that when the Defense Department has fewer offers, there is less competition, costs go up and choices are limited.

Unfortunately, we continue to see the number of companies competing for federal contracts declining, which threatens innovation and harms readiness.

Within the last three years, we have lost over 25 percent of the small firms registered to do business with the federal government.

Within the Department of Defense, the number of small business contract actions fell 47 percent from 2011, but the size of the average individual small business contract action more than doubled.

Not surprisingly, during the same period, the percentage of taxpayer dollars spent without competition has increased.

With this thought in mind, members of our committee introduced a series of bipartisan contracting bills this year.

Our committee approved these measures unanimously and we are pleased they were incorporated in this year’s NDAA, which was approved by the House Armed Services Committee by a bipartisan vote of 60 to 2 last month.

Specifically, here are five ways this NDAA helps small contractors compete:

First, it modernizes the Small Business Act to ensure clear and consistent language is used in federal procurement programs.

Second, it strengthens the small business advocates within SBA, DoD and other federal agencies, to promote competition and make sure the laws on the books, including the NDAA, are followed.

Third, it improves opportunities for small businesses to compete for subcontracts, and then to build on that experience to compete as prime contractors.

Fourth, it improves coordination between the SBA and DoD mentor-protégé programs, which help small businesses better serve our military.

Finally, this NDAA implements reforms to promote integrity and accountability in small-business programs, such as veterans contracting programs and contracting officer training programs.

This NDAA gives our troops the resources they need to defend the United States while providing meaningful contracting reforms that help our small businesses and our national security.

Rep. Steve Chabot represents Ohio's 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House where he is chairman of the Small Business Committee. He is also a senior member of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees. You can follow him on Twitter @HouseSmallBiz.