When the Navy’s Office of Small Business Programs fell short of its small disadvantaged business (SDB) goals in fiscal 2022, it made a decision to aggressively reach out to potential companies. With the numbers in for the first half of 2023, the agency said it still has some work to do.

“We missed the small disadvantaged business goal by a little over 1% [in fiscal 2022]. The Department of the Navy had a goal of 8.3%. And I believe we came in about 7%, a little over 7%. We missed the goal just slightly in bringing in 8(a) firms,” said Arveice Washington, deputy director of the Navy’s Office of Small Business Programs in an interview with Federal News Network after she spoke at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Expeditionary Warfare Conference on Feb. 23.

So far this year, Navy prime contract awards through Feb. 14 show SBDs awards coming in at 4.5% of the total, with a year-end goal of 7.44% of total contracts. Overall, the Navy spent $31.91 billion on contract awards by Feb. 14, with $4.14 billion  going to small businesses. Washington said the second half of the fiscal year tends to have more small business contracts, but she thinks the Navy needs more outreach to attract small companies.

A White House executive order released in December 2021 raised the goals for governmentwide contract spending on SDBs from 5% to 11% in 2022. That changed the Navy’s goal from 5% to 8.3% of contracts going to small disadvantaged businesses last year. It proved to be too quick a time frame to ramp up the number of contract awards to 8(a) companies and other SDBs.

Washington said communication between acquisition officers and company representatives will improve their ability to work together.

“What we hear from small businesses is that with the Department of the Navy contracting officers, we don’t talk enough, we don’t share enough information. We’re educating our workforce and being open to talking to small businesses, talking to industry about upcoming procurements and opportunities so that we can draw in that industrial base that we need to respond to our requirements,” Washington said.

Beyond the Navy, the Defense Department as a whole pushed forward programs to help small businesses. In January, the DoD Office of Small Business Programs released a small business strategy that laid out a series of objectives including a unified management structure for DoD small business programs, and ensuring the department’s small business activities align with national security priorities. The plan aims to strengthen the department’s support of small businesses by providing training and other resources, helping companies resist cyber threats, IP infringement and foreign ownership-and-control that pose threats to DoD’s supply chain.

While the Navy small business office has a busy calendar scheduled for outreach events, it also looks to companies to get involved in the process as early as possible.

“We’re providing contact names for the contracting officers, the anticipated quarter and fiscal year when the request for proposals is going to come out and when we’re planning for award. So this is your entry point, this is going to be valuable for you. If you’re looking to do business with the Navy or Marine Corps, you should be tracking these procurements. You have an opportunity to influence that acquisition strategy,” Washington said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Expeditionary Warfare Conference.

The Department of the Navy has 10 major buying commands, and each one has an appointed small business director. Washington said she advises small companies who want to do business with the Navy to use those small business directors as a starting point. She also said 8(a) companies need to respond to requests for information (RFI).

“If they don’t get the receipt from the RFI, that they have two or more small businesses that can do that work, that organization is not going to set that contract aside for small business. So you’ve got to be able to respond to those RFIs. I also encourage you, when you’re talking to the small business professionals, and you’re utilizing their long range acquisition forecasts, before it hits the street, you can influence that acquisition strategy, ‘Hey, I can do this work,’” Washington said.