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AF Small Business program drives competition, develops industrial base

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFNS) -- Hanscom Air Force Base specializes in acquiring and managing weapons systems used by U.S. warfighters, and like other acquisition-centered installations, there are many aspects that go into developing, deploying and sustaining these vital assets.

As the Air Force works to enhance its capabilities and plan for the long term, the service recognizes the need for innovative solutions at affordable prices -- and to aid in this effort, the Air Force is looking to small businesses.

During a recent visit to Hanscom AFB, Mark Teskey, the Air Force's Small Business director, engaged with Life Cycle Management Center program managers, engineers and contracting Airmen, reinforcing the branch's stance on small business participation.

"The federal government overall is focusing on small business participation, not just the Air Force and Department of Defense," said Teskey, who is responsible for policy, advising and executing all small business program matters for the department. "For us, it's all about developing our industrial base and creating competition. Simply put, small businesses are key to driving competition."

According to Teskey, this type of competition is directly tied to the country's national and economic security.

The purpose of the small business program is to develop that aspect of the industrial base so there's competition -- a duty levied by Congress on the government.

"If we don't have a competitive industrial base, we can't affordably produce the things that keep us economically and nationally secure," Teskey said.

Currently, the Air Force has approximately 170 small business specialists spanning across the country, who advise program managers on what is available and what can be done within the commercial marketplace. In addition to advising Air Force program managers and leadership, specialists conduct outreach and act as the liaison between the department and industry.

"A large part of our job is advising, developing policy for programs, market research, and outreach," said Bill Donaldson, the small business director at Hanscom AFB. "We have to understand what the programs need, and we have to understand what industry can deliver, then try to pull it all together."

For the Battle Management and Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks Directorates managed at Hanscom, there was a combined small business obligation to the tune of $214 million in fiscal year 2014.

Both directorates significantly surpassed their goals.

"Mr Wert and (Maj. Gen. Craig S. Olson) have had some very good successes, and they're driving a culture change that is really valuable," Teskey said. "They're developing the requirements in a different way in concert with industry and setting a great example."

According to Teskey, not all programs are well-suited for small businesses, but for those that require agility as well as innovation, there can be great value added.

"Small businesses are not constrained, they rebound faster when changes are needed," Teskey said. "They're more nimble, mostly capability with little overhead and they can react quickly and responsively.

"We need to crack the code on trying to create more competition, which I believe is at the small business margin on a lot of these large proprietary programs."

While driving competition was certainly a key component of his discussions, Teskey also made note of several current and upcoming initiatives within the small business field.

Among those is creating a new small business career field, updating both Air Force and DOD instructions and formation of Defense Acquisition University courses, with the first set of classes slated for fiscal 2016.

"I think we need to continue to foster an environment where we collaborate internally in the government and with industry," Teskey said. "We have to immerse ourselves in the programs and understand what we need and what industry can deliver. The small business program is an industrial base development program, and we have a responsibility as an institution to develop our competition so that we can get what we need. We have a responsibility to tend to the entire industrial base, the small and the big, and create competition that makes sense so that we have a healthy, competitive base that protects our economic and national security."

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