Federal Allies Institute Interview: Mauricio P. Vera, Part 2

February 20, 2014

Mauricio P. Vera is a career member of the Senior Executive Service and serves as the director of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU). In this role, Vera leads USAID’s efforts to provide maximum opportunities for small, disadvantaged, women-owned, service-disabled veteran-owned and HUBZone small businesses to participate in USAID contract awards through outreach, education and creative procurement initiatives.

By Katia Lind

The following two-part interview published in the January and February 2014 editions of Federal Allies News highlights the work of Mauricio P. Vera, an early supporter for the formation of the Federal Allies Institute.

 

Federal Allies: What trends and changes at USAID should federal contractors anticipate in the future?

Vera: We have done a lot better working with small businesses for our domestic requirements.  In the  six years that I’ve been at USAID, we have almost doubled our percentages, i.e. the percentage of dollars going to small businesses. When I started here, about 8% of our domestic dollars were awarded to small businesses and for the fiscal year we just finished, it was over 15%.  Our goal last fiscal year was 11%, and for FY 2014, our goal is 12.35%.  We are now focusing much more on our overseas requirements, and that’s a much bigger challenge, given the difference in the regulations.  It is much easier to hold our staff accountable domestically than overseas, given the way the regulations are currently written.  So we now have some internal initiatives to encourage our missions to work closely with U.S. small businesses.   We’ve recently set a new metric, an internal target, for international awards to small businesses.  It’s a high level target that is one of our corporate objectives and thus gets the attention of the senior leadership of the agency.  This just started a few months ago and we are trying to promote it to our missions overseas.  And we’ve also started a training program for our acquisition staff overseas, that’s been ongoing for a year and a half now.  Now that we have this internal target, we believe it’s going to really have impact on increasing small business opportunities overseas.

Federal Allies: How are you reaching out to small businesses internationally?

Vera:  We look for countries where our programs are not large, i.e. we have not focused our efforts in countries like Afghanistan, where we have a lot of resources, contracts are large, and where the operating environment is difficult.  Many small businesses do not want to operate in our critical priority countries, where there may be a difficult security situation.  The countries we have targeted for small business opportunities are ones where budgets are not small but are not huge either, e.g. $50 million to $100 million in a particular country.   And if the leader of the mission is supportive of our initiative, then that also helps.  For example, Liberia is an example of a country where we are doing quite well with small businesses, actually on a percentage basis they are doing better than we are doing domestically, because of the commitment of the mission’s leadership. So we try to target those countries.  We also review acquisition plans to ensure that there will be small businesses that are interested in bidding.

 

Federal Allies: For our Veterans, what are you doing to ensure that USAID reaches its 3% SDVOSB goal?

Vera:  All the agencies have statutory rates that are now negotiated for Service Disabled Veterans.  It is 3% and for Women-owned businesses it’s 5%.  Last year was the first time that we met and exceeded our 5% Women-owned small business goal.  And for Veterans we are now at about 2.23%, again a significant improvement from the past for both categories.  We are doing this by focusing specific acquisitions on those groups, doing set-asides in each area and conducting targeted outreach to these groups.  As a matter of fact, we are leading an inter-agency effort organizing the Veterans International Small Business Opportunities conference.  It will take place on February 25 and will include the State Department, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the US Trade and Development Agency.

Federal Allies: Five years ago, Nuclear Regulatory Agency, Smithsonian, and US AID were among 25 agencies and branches of the military that attended the first events of Federal Allies Institute at Fort Myer, Virginia.  Back then Federal Allies achieved its first mention in Congressional testimony by the Architect of the Capitol before a U.S. House Subcommittee on Economic Development, touted as a way to expand their current vendor database of small businesses. FAI has since broadened those relationships with the agencies, scores of congressional offices and travelled to many states to present our unique program and brand before many county, and state economic development program boards, governors’ offices and setting up new chapters.  As FAI grows across the country to promote federal acquisition best practices, do you see value in a privately-funded non-profit association such as Federal Allies making these connections that net federal agencies with more small business competition for federal contracts?

Vera:  We have found these types of organizations and events valuable.  We found a lot of small businesses to work with us around the country.  We do have budget constraints for travel so we try to support these events as much as we can.

Federal Allies: What’s next for you personally?  How will you continue helping the federal government reap the value of small businesses?

Vera:  I always tell people that I consider myself very lucky because I have a job that I love and work for an agency that I love.  Our mission is very special and I’m honored to work with incredibly bright and talented people every day.  Our mission is truly special: to end poverty and improve the lives of people around the world.  I’ve always been very passionate about helping small businesses and I continue to wake up every morning excited about doing this work every day. As I mentioned before, we’ve improved a lot domestically and our challenge now is to do this overseas.  So I plan to do this as long as I can continue to be successful at it.  Maybe in a few years, when I retire, I will try to start my own business.  I thought about doing that many years ago, but decided against it so I could help raise a family.


Federal Allies News February 2014

February 17, 2014

Letter from the Executive Director

Corporate Ethics Certification

Federal Allies Institute Corporate Ethics Certification Winter Sessions begin February 11, 2014 in Reston, Virginia.  Program sponsors include C2 Solutions Group.  The Federal Allies Institute Scholarship Program enabled participation.  Federal Allies Institute can be your ally in helping you establish your credentials as an ethical business partner, by reviewing your corporate ethics program and awarding you the Federal Allies Institute Certified Ethical Company Designation.

If you would like to certify your business or become a financial sponsor of the program on behalf of the small business federal contracting community, please contact CEC@FederalAllies.org.

The Federal Allies Institute Scholarship Program

The Federal Allies Institute Scholarship Program enables deserving entrepreneurs and students to become active in the field of federal contracting and has been mentioned by The Washington Post.  Scholarship financial endowments are sought.  Benefits include naming rights and recognition of your support of America’s federal contracting community.  Contact Scholar@FederalAllies.org.

Welcome New Members

2014-anne-marie-finley-036d.

Welcome new FAI member Anne Marie Finley, President Biotech Policy Group, LLC, recruited by FAI Founder & Executive Director David T. Boddie  at the annual Ronald W. Reagan Alumni Association February 6, 2014 Washington, D.C. birthday reception held in honor of President Ronald W. Reagan at Heritage Foundation.

Affinity Programs

Federal Allies Institute Affinity Programs include discounts to help reduce cost of operations for members only.  A wide variety of member-firms offer these services including American Airlines, CSG Affiliates, Dell, LaQuinta Inns & Suites, Management Concepts Press, Retirement Planners and Administrators, Zipcar and more.

Join Federal Allies

If you would like to join Federal Allies Institute, contact any member of the board of directors.

Join Federal Allies Committees

If you are a member and would like to get involved in any number of FAI committees and task forces, please contact Member@FederalAllies.org

Sincerely,

David T. Boddie

Executive Director

Federal Allies Institute


Federal Allies News January 2014

January 4, 2014

Happy New Year to Federal Allies Institute members everywhere! Welcome 2014 Federal Allies Institute Board of Directors!

2014 Board of Directors Orientations

Training for all board members is to occur January 21 and 29 in the Metro Washington D.C. area at KLSL Consulting and City Club of Washington.  All board members, committee and task force leadership are provided volunteer “job” descriptions to fulfill.  For all board members this includes commitment to a year round fundraising drive on behalf of the Federal Allies Institute that is led by the Chairman of the Board.  Access to the orientations by conference call is available.  The board meetings are open to the public.  Orientation lunches are sponsored by Eurasia Center.

Welcome New Members

Welcome new members SINTEL Group, eBITS Corporation, From Car To Finish, Col. Herbert H. Kamm, HRD, Inc., Distinctive Homecare, Inc., SupreTech, Inc., NeoSystems Corporation, and Dimensional Concepts, LLC.

Government Relations

Federal Allies Institute’s Government Relations Committee receives input from the membership year round.  The following is a bill suggested by Lynn Petrazzuolo, President & CEO, Avanti Corporation, which is under consideration for support by the FAI Board of Directors at the March 2014 meeting.

HR 2452 – Women’s Procurement Program Equalization Act of 2013

Summary

Amends the Small Business Act with respect to the procurement program for women-owned small businesses (providing a federal procurement contracting preference to such businesses) to condition a government contracting officer’s authority to restrict competition for any such federal contract upon the Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA) certifying each of the businesses as a small business concern owned and controlled by women. (Currently, the small business concerns themselves certify to the contracting officer that they are such a business according to SBA standards.)

Allows a contracting officer to award a sole source contract to any economically disadvantaged women-owned small business if: (1) the small business is determined to be responsible and the contracting officer does not expect two or more of such businesses to submit offers; (2) the anticipated contract price will not exceed $6.5 million in the case of a manufacturing contract, or $4 million in the case of all other contracts; and (3) the contract can be made at a fair and reasonable price. Provides identical contracting authority for women-owned small businesses in substantially underrepresented industries.

Expands the reporting requirements with respect to small business procurement contracts to require federal agencies to submit annual reports to the Administrator regarding such sole source contracts as well as the industries within which various contracts were awarded.

If you have legislation for Federal Allies to support, please send them to Government Relations Committee Chair Ralph E. Winnie, Jr. at GovRels@FederalAllies.org.

David T. Boddie, Executive Director

Federal Allies Institute


Federal Allies Institute Interview: Mauricio P. Vera, Part 1

January 1, 2014

Mauricio P Vera USAID Federal Allies Institute 400 px

Mauricio P. Vera is a career member of the Senior Executive Service and serves as the director of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU). In this role, Vera leads USAID’s efforts to provide maximum opportunities for small, disadvantaged, women-owned, service-disabled veteran-owned and HUBZone small businesses to participate in USAID contract awards through outreach, education and creative procurement initiatives.

By Katia Lind

The following two-part interview published in the January and February 2014 editions of Federal Allies News highlights the work of Mauricio P. Vera, an early supporter for the formation of the Federal Allies Institute.

Federal Allies: Tell us about the OSDBU Conference.  We understand the outreach and public relations aspects that help to establish and build relationships and that it is a great annual resource for all agencies especially the smaller agencies.  How do the smaller agencies reach out across America to small businesses that for one reason or another cannot travel or afford fees associated with a major exhibition in Washington, DC?

Vera:  We recognize that small businesses do not have enough resources or time to attend a lot of conferences, what we do in my agency is monthly Vendor Outreach Events.  Many other agencies do the same thing.  Basically, about once a month, we invite small businesses to spend half a day with us to learn the basics of doing business with USAID.  We usually structure these sessions around different themes.  For example, we are doing one next month related to infrastructure projects around the world.  We’ve done them on health, agriculture, and a lot of technical areas that USAID works on.   Sometimes we do them with a different focus – targeted to Women Owned Businesses, Veteran-Owned Businesses, or whatever it might be.   In addition to monthly Vendor Outreach Events held in Washington, DC, we also have an annual Small Business conference, which in the coming year will be our 7th annual conference and that’s on May 22nd, 2014.   This is a one day event; and we do our best to keep the registration fees very low.  We invite our senior leadership as well as the working levels.  We have business match making.  Last year we had a Congressional member as well as our Administrator provide remarks; we also had the Administrator of OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy, and we have panels and workshops to assist the businesses.  You can find details about these events through the internet and our websites.  People should know about www.osdbu.gov that has the links to all the agencies OSDBU offices and this is a good way to find out about many upcoming outreach events.

Federal Allies: For our beginners, many businesses utilize inside-the-beltway federal contracting consultancies.  When are advisors necessary and when are they not?  If someone wanted to become a federal contractor by themself and stay abreast of current trends, procedures and rules, is the information all available for free and how much time do you estimate that it takes to become proficient at federal contracting?

Vera: Most of the information out there is free.  I would recommend businesses not immediately hire the consultants, you can do a lot of research on the internet, go to the agency websites, there are a lot of organizations like U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as well as Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs), which we all recommend particularly for startup firms – it is a very inexpensive way to learn the ins and outs of the federal contracting world.  What I always tell businesses when they come to me is that I think they should target a specific agency.  Do not target everybody, depending on what type of services they provide they should target a small number of agencies and then really try to learn what the needs are of that agency by looking at the business forecast, by attending those agencies Outreach Events, getting to know some people, networking, all of which are critical.  You cannot just wait for the opportunities to be posted on http://www.fbo.gov and then just respond, you really have to learn what the agencies are looking for and meet some of the current contractors, because small businesses that are successful usually start out as subcontractors.  The best way to get on the teams is by getting to know some current players who have been already successful marketing to the agency.  And lastly, joining a trade association can sometimes be helpful.  For example, at USAID, many of our contracts are for technical assistance in the technical areas that we work in.  So to help us identify those niche firms that work in international development, we work closely with the Small Business Association of International Contractors (SBAIC).  This is a group of about 100 small businesses that mostly specialize in international development work.  For other agencies there may be other specialized types of associations that they work closely with.

Federal Allies: Your career includes work at Smithsonian, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and for the past six years at USAID.    Care to weigh the differences of working at one agency versus the others?

Vera:  There are a lot of differences. Obviously the requirements are very different.  At the Smithsonian, most of the contracts were for exhibit design and construction, and we awarded many engineering and constructions projects, because the buildings were constantly being renovated.  At the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there were a lot of engineering and IT type projects, so we looked for those kinds of firms.  Both of these were much smaller agencies; each had procurement budgets of about $150 million to $200 million a year.  USAID has a much bigger procurement/acquisition budget and of course the biggest differentiator is that USAID is a world-wide agency.  USAID currently has missions in over 80 countries around the world.   For contracts that are awarded overseas, the regulations are very different, particularly when it comes to the use of small businesses.   The requirements are also very different, most of our dollars go out as technical assistance projects related to the areas that we work in– health, agriculture, democracy and governance, economic growth, there are about eight to nine different particular areas that we work in.  As far as our domestic awards, most of those are to support our administrative functions here in US, where we have our headquarters.  Our overseas requirements are usually about the implementation of our work.

Federal Allies: What security levels are required for your acquisitions, if any?

Vera: Most of our contracts are sensitive in nature and require personnel security clearances and facilities clearances consistent with clearance and access requirements of the contract. The security level required really depends on the requirement.  On occasion we encourage our prime contractors to sponsor subcontractors for their clearance, especially with the small businesses, because when the small businesses outgrow their size status we encourage them to mentor smaller firms, and one thing they can do is to sponsor them for the security clearance.

To be continued in the February 2014 edition of Federal Allies News.

2009 061709 Washington's DC Metro Expo Fort Myer Daisy Matthews 700 px

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Daisy Matthews consults one-on-one with Small Business Owner at a Federal Allies national conference “Washington’s DC Metro Expo” held at Fort Myer, Virginia in 2009.  Ms. Matthews serves USAID as Small Business Specialist, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance POC, Bureau for Global Health [except Supply Chain Management) POC, Bureau for Europe & Eurasia, Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs POC, Office of Civil Rights and Diversity POC, Office of Human Resources POC, and Woman Owned Small Business POC.

2009 061709 Washington's DC Metro Expo Fort Myer Kent Menser 700 px

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Col. Kent Menser USA (Ret.) of the Fort Meade Regional Growth Management Committee discusses federal contracting in Howard County, Maryland at the 2009 Federal Allies national conference, Fort Myer, Virginia. advises Small Business Entrepreneurs on how to do business with Howard County, Maryland.  Col. Menser recently announced his return to the private sector March 31, 2014.


Federal Allies News December 2013

December 8, 2013

2013 In Sum

Federal Allies celebrates a 5th year as a platform on which to build success stories of both entrepreneurs and federal government contracting staffers.  During 2013 we obtained even more resources and participants that can help the collective federal contracting community.  We look forward to working with you in 2014!

Federal Allies Institute is dedicated to federal acquisition best practices and has received many comments on the Affordable Care Act website HealthCare.gov.  One from California went on to say, what cost well over $600 million inside the beltway, would have cost $5 million to build correctly in Menlo Park as a private sector initiative.

The lack of project leadership, real-time oversight, delay of rulemaking, and other issues, enabled a man-made perfect storm for waste about a law that is projected a decade hence to result in an uninsured American population of 10%.  Back to where we started?

Federal Allies Institute’s Board of Directors was an early supporter of National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, also known as Bowles Simpson and Simpson Bowles.  Yes our business members would like to sell to the federal government, but not if the American taxpayer cannot afford it or does not need it.

On behalf of our incoming board, we welcome all new members that have signed up and joined Federal Allies Institute over the past 30 days.  And we appreciate members who took the time to renew their annual memberships during the busy holiday season.

We appreciate all who voted in our two board elections held during 2013.

We have many new and exciting programs planned for 2014!  And as always, our door is open to you.

David T. Boddie, Executive Director

Federal Allies Institute


Federal Allies News November 2013

November 4, 2013

Letter from the Executive Director

Federal Allies Institute Board of Directors Election November 4 to 13, 2013

If you have not received your ballot, please call 571-217-0823.

How to Provide Guidance to the 2014 Federal Allies Institute Board of Directors

If there has yet to be a chapter established in your region, please send your comments to Guidance@FederalAllies.org today.  Your input will be championed by the Office of the Executive Director.

Members Acting on Behalf of Members

On behalf of Federal Allies Institute we appreciate efforts made by Patricia Driscoll and New York Chapter Chairman Charles Freeman to advance the FAI program in the Empire State.  We appreciate Federal Allies member Lynn Petrazuollo’s October 15 Fox News appearance On The Record with Greta Van Susteren during the government shutdown  speaking  on behalf of small business contractors.   The recent crisis over the shutdown and debt limit ended October 16.   The interview is posted at FederalAllies.org.

2014 Midterm Elections

Future shutdowns are less likely over the next 12 months until after Tuesday, November 4, 2014.  The midterm elections will offer a referendum on ACA, including the 15 or more provisions that have been delayed or revised, and the pending lawsuits to challenge the administration’s ability to tax, borrow, and spend $700 billion.

It would behoove those without the political strength to defend themselves and their views to join the Federal Allies Government Relations Committee so that your voice is heard.

Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, CISPA

The cybersecurity bill would remove legal barriers that prevent companies from sharing information with each other and the government about cyberattacks.   The stated aim of the bill is to help the U.S. government investigate cyber threats and ensure the security of networks against cyberattacks.  The legislation was first introduced on November 30, 2011 by Representative Michael Rogers (MI) and 111 co-sponsors. If you are interested in pursuing this issue at Federal Allies, please contact GovernmentRelations@FederalAllies.org

David T. Boddie, Executive Director

Federal Allies Institute


Federal Allies Series on Health Care Reform

November 4, 2013

Federal Allies Series on Health Care Reform

Nuts and Bolts in Response to Members’ Requests

By Ralph E. Winnie, Jr.

To ensure compliance with the Affordable Care Act, it must be determined whether the law treats a company as a large employer or a small employer as there are notable financial benefits available to small businesses that comply with the new ACA rules that every member company of Federal Allies should be informed about. Large employers are defined as employing on average 51 or more full-time workers in a given year which is projected to rise to roughly 101 or more employees in 2016. Small employers are defined on average as 50 or fewer full-time workers which could rise to roughly 100 employees or less in 2016. Starting in 2014, employers with up to 50 employees will have access to the new health insurance marketplace through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).

At this time, small businesses can pay on average roughly 18% more than big business for health insurance because of administrative costs. Therefore, it is argued that SHOP will offer small businesses purchasing power and the ability to pay a lower cost. The eligible small business employer must have an office within the service area of the SHOP and offer SHOP coverage to all full-time employees, in 2016, employers retaining up to 100 employees will also be allowed to participate in SHOP. Given the uncertainty in the effective implementation of the Affordable Care Act, many small businesses have decided to keep their existing plans through 2014 when they chose to change the renewal dates to November or December which effectively delayed implementation of the Affordable Care Act for 2014.

Federal Allies would ask its member companies to do an assessment of the risks and benefits of the impact of the implementation of the ACA on small businesses and make a decision whether or not to change the renewal dates in 2013 to delay any negative impact that the ACA may cause to employee retention and productivity in the upcoming business cycle. According to information discussing small businesses and the Affordable Care Act outlined by the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace, it is worth noting that while part-time employees count toward determining whether a business has 50 or more full-time employees, the penalty itself is only applied if a full-time employee is not offered affordable, quality coverage and receives financial help on the Marketplace to purchase a plan that meets the minimum standards under the Affordable Care Act

It has been alleged by Sarah Charles Wright and Doug Martin of Business Lexington of Lexington, KY that small employers are not penalized if they do not provide group health insurance for their employees because the ACA provides tax credits as an incentive to “offset a portion of the contributions made by certain small employers for group health insurance premium. To be eligible, a small employer must have less than 25 full-time equivalent workers (FTEs), pay average wages per FTE of less than $50,000 per year and contribute at least 50% to their employees’ total group health-insurance premiums. The lower the average annual wages paid and the fewer the workers, the bigger the tax credits available to the employer.”

It is worth noting to member companies of Federal Allies that eligible small business employers are allowed to carry forward the ACA tax credit for up to 20 years as well as apply the tax credits to the previous years’ tax return and deduct excess premiums as expenses according to Business Lexington’s annual report on the application of the ACA to small business.

Finally, according to the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace, for tax years 2010 through 2013, the maximum credit is 35% of premium contributions for small business employers and 25% of premium contributions for tax-exempt small employers. For tax years 2014 and beyond, the maximum credit will increase to 50% for small businesses and 35% for small tax exempt organizations. Beginning in 2014, the tax credit will be made available exclusively to employers purchasing coverage through SHOP and may only be claimed for two years.

According to Jim Fuss, District Manager of the Maryland branch office of Insperity, a Houston, TX based firm that improves business performance through administrative relief, reduced liability and by providing systematic ways to improve productivity, “The expansion of health care under the ACA is expected to increase business costs for most businesses by 3.5 to 4% or $400 per employee per year and the insurers excise tax is expected to total $18 billion in 2014.”  Furthermore, while Mr. Fuss acknowledges that there should be employer shared responsibility in health care reform, “the health insurance marketplace is expected to be volatile and costs will increase significantly by 2014.” Thus, the impact of these increased costs must be weighed heavily by member companies of Federal Allies Institute because, beginning in 2015, employers with more than 50 full-time employees must offer the opportunity to enroll in qualified health coverage that meets minimum value and affordability requirements. According to Jim Fuss, “Minimum value equals 60% of essential benefit costs covered by the plan. Affordable is not to exceed 9.5% of households income.” The issue is whether small and large business employers can meet these requirements which Congress has been concerned may have difficulty being quantified.

Beginning in 2014, insurers will be prohibited from charging businesses more for insurance based on employee health factors, and there will be new limits on charges to those businesses with older employees. Therefore, it will be important for member companies of Federal Allies Institute to pay special attention to ACA notice requirements and regardless of whether an entity is a large or small business, the employer must notify the respective employees that they may purchase individual coverage through a state exchange which Jim Fuss correctly points out is “a market place where individuals and small businesses can view, compare and purchase health care insurance.”  According to the requirements of the ACA, small business employers will need to complete a single application for group coverage regardless of the number of qualified health plans offered by competing health insurers on the SHOP exchange. According to Business Lexington, these applications are important to member companies of Federal Allies as they are required to gather all of the information that will be needed to process “open and special enrollment, eligibility and benefits determinations. Premium payments will be made through the SHOP exchange, which will monitor the quality and cost of the coverage that each participating health insurer is providing.”

Federal Allies will continue to monitor the ACA and how it will affect both large and small business employers by reviewing and analyzing the tax credits and alleged financial incentives purported to be offered by Congress. This is designed to encourage small business employers to provide the most up to date info and advice on how to providing the best health-insurance group plans for their respective employees. Healthcare reform is a work in progress and Federal Allies recognizes the importance of keeping track of changes to the ACA as they continue to impact the livelihood of our member companies.