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Johnson Hails Agency's Small Business Partnerships

As prepared for delivery

Remarks by
Martha N. Johnson
U.S. General Services Administration
Small Business Mentor Protégé Program Awards
Washington, DC
April 22, 2011

Thank you, Jiyoung Park, for that generous introduction. I’m delighted to be here today, and it’s a privilege, as always, to speak with the small-business community.

I want to thank you all for participating in GSA's Mentor/Protégé Program; it’s a flagship initiative of ours, and I’m looking forward to hearing about its successes and challenges after your conversations today.

I especially want to call out Catapult Technologies and Dexisive Inc. for their great work in the program; they’re the winners of this year’s Administrator's Award for Mentorship Excellence, and I want congratulate them on that achievement. Bravo.

I bring greetings today from President Barack Obama and my colleagues in his administration.

And I bring you personal greetings as a businesswoman who has logged more than a few years with small businesses. I have been part of mostly services businesses – architecture, diversity consulting, executive search, and strategy consulting. I know about MOBIS contracts, the Mission Oriented Business Integrated Services contracts, because I was a MOBIS contractor. I know about scope creep because I was a project manager. I know about the patience it takes to do business with the government.

Now, I am with the U.S. General Services Administration, and it is our mission is to use our expertise to provide innovative solutions for our customers in support of their missions and by so doing, foster an effective, sustainable, and transparent government for the American people.

In other words, we support the Department of Veterans Affairs so that they can support our veterans. We provide infrastructure for the Department of Education so that they can focus on educating tomorrow’s leaders.

My business school strategy professors would cringe, but it is true: GSA does everything for everyone. We are not a niche player. Our customers range across all branches of government: legislative, executive, judicial, state and local. We work in design, real estate management, information technology, fleet, credit cards, travel, commodities, services, and disposal.

I often describe GSA as a membrane between industry and government. And a membrane needs to be healthy and porous – transferring knowledge and interpreting market signals to our government customers on the one hand and transmitting their requirements to the private sector on the other.

Under ordinary circumstances, this is a big job. But these are not ordinary circumstances. Our country faces serious challenges both at home and abroad. Our troops need support, our veterans need care, our children need good schools, and our infrastructure needs an upgrade. Too many Americans still feel the terrible anxiety and pressure of unemployment. We have a long way to go before our economy is back on its feet again.

That said, we are seeing encouraging news.

Two years after a harsh recession, our economy is growing, and showing real signs of strength. For the fourth month in a row, the unemployment rate has dropped, to 8.8 percent in March. The March employment report also shows that the private sector added 230,000 jobs in industries ranging from manufacturing to education to construction. To continue and intensify this growth, President Barack Obama has set an ambitious course for the government and for the nation.

The way I hear it, he is not talking about returning to just OK. His message is about out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building the rest of the world. We have done this before.

Our country has a history of out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building. We’ve mapped the human genetic code and peered into the vast reaches of the sky, brought convenient transportation to the country and computers to millions, lifted untold numbers out of poverty, stamped out terrible diseases and built the finest schools, community colleges, and universities in the world. But, no one did this in a vacuum or as a one-man band. We did it in partnership. government and industry. Arm in arm. Hand in hand. Together.

Research, discovery, entrepreneurship, financing, proving grounds, skill-building, incentives, markets, taking to scale, courage, risk, and stamina. We did it together. We did it as a nation. We shared risk while seeking to avoid the reckless. And we were successful. But the government/industry partnership can’t stand pat. It needs continuous tending and nurturing.

For our part, and I feel the privilege both personally and as the head of GSA, we are strategically positioned to play a crucial role; we need to secure for the nation a government that works – and works well. The nation requires a government that works well at educating all our talent, that works well at building our infrastructure, that works well at fostering American ingenuity and innovation.

We also need a small-business sector that is roaring with good health. And you know why? Small businesses create roughly two of every three new jobs in America each year. More than half of working Americans own or work for a small business. Importantly, small business offers the hands-on entrepreneurial lessons that keep industry supplied with skilled and hard-driving talent.

Small business offers many scrutinizing eyes on our infrastructure – making sure it’s nimble and responsive.

When it comes to innovation and competitiveness, small business is the 8,000 pound gorilla in the room. You know how to do it, and how to do it best.

Yet, along with the middle class, small businesses have borne the greatest brunt of the difficult economy: The decimated housing market, the lack of capital, the shrinking of markets – the list is long. The president understands this, which is why he has directed his administration to support small businesses through landmark legislation such as the Small Business Jobs Act and initiatives such as the Small Business Lending Fund and the Small Business Jobs Forum.

It’s why he has pushed for and signed more than a dozen tax cuts for America’s small businesses during the last two years. And it’s why we’re all here today.

At GSA, we are driving a real – you can touch and feel it – small-business agenda with all cylinders. In fiscal year 2010, GSA helped nearly 80 percent of the contracts on the Multiple Award Schedule Program go to more than 13,000 small business contracts. MAS is the government’s largest acquisition vehicle responsible for more than 10 percent of federal spending, so that is not chump change.

So far in FY 2011, we have awarded more than half a billion dollars to small business, and we are on track to exceed subcategory targets such as HUBZone, women-owned, and small disadvantaged businesses, just as we did in 2010.

Recently, the Alliant small business contract reached a milestone: Sixty awards worth nearly $1 billion. And, through our 8(a) STARS contract for IT services, we have obligated more than $3 billion for more than 3,000 task orders. These two contracts underscore our philosophy toward small businesses: They may be classified as “small,” but there is nothing small about their ambition or their capacity.

And, there are some very ingenious small-business success stories that point to the 21st-century economy that features open government and sustainable government. One of the most exciting initiatives in this effort is a new website called Challenge.Gov.

To foster citizen engagement and generate solutions to some of our country’s biggest problems, the president directed agencies to issue challenges to the public to harvest the best ideas and smartest thinking. The result?

Led by GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, the site launched last September and since then, there have been nearly 80 challenges from 30 agencies to do everything from help invent a more energy-efficient light bulb to instantly pinpoint gunfire on the battlefield.

These are serious problems, and ChallengePost’s work bridges the gap between the government’s need and the people’s expertise. This new site has been good for the government and for the winners of the challenges. But it’s also been good for this small Internet start-up company; it’s been a chance to showcase what they could do for many eyes.

As Brandon Kessler, the CEO of ChallengePost, says, "Working with the federal government has been an enormous boon to our business. Our success with GSA and the government overall has brought in other government agencies and corporations who want to duplicate what we've done in partnership with them.”

It’s a best value solution for us, and it’s been a launching pad for them.

And of course, among GSA’s many areas of activity, one of the very best, and the reason for today’s celebration, is our Mentor/Protégé Program run by our Office of Small Business Utilization.

Responsible for 70 agreements in place with 61 mentors – 23 of whom are small businesses themselves – and contract obligations to the protégés worth nearly $150 million dollars, the numbers of the program tell an impressive story. But they don’t tell the whole story. To get that, just talk to the folks in this room.

Take, for example, Athena Construction, a small service-disabled veteran-owned, HUBZone, and women-owned construction business of 15 employees that has paired up with Clarke Construction, one of the Washington region’s largest construction firms. Thanks to that connection, Athena has tapped into the federal market. As their president, Amber Peebles, who is in the audience today, said: “GSA’s Mentor/Protégé Program has been a game-changer for us. Being in the program with GSA and Clarke Construction has given us the resources and, importantly, the confidence to pursue work that we wouldn’t have previously.”

That additional confidence has led to a renovation project at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and they’re well on their way to more federal contracting. It’s made a real difference to their bottom line, to the aspirations and confidence of their employees, and it has opened new doors of opportunity. It’s great to have them on board.

Or, look at Catapult Technologies, the winner of our mentorship award. Its founder, Randy Slader, is absolutely passionate about supporting the small-business community. Himself a service-disabled vet, Randy has spent untold time counseling and guiding small businesses – often on his own dime and without public recognition – through the process of building a bedrock business strategy and marketing themselves for success.

He is the mentor to 3 protégé firms in our program and he is absolutely dedicated to helping them succeed and grow. If his own business is any indication, Randy knows how to create, build, develop, market, and boost the bottom line with the best of them. He is a tremendous asset to the program. Thank you, Randy.

I could go on.

The benefits of this program are clear, and the outcomes are proven. By linking companies that have established experience with government contracting to businesses that are new to the field or haven’t yet gotten to the next step, GSA is encouraging and motivating small business growth, enhancing protégé capabilities, fostering long-term relationships, and increasing access to small businesses.

And we’re not done yet.

I’m asking Jiyoung Park and Tony Eiland of GSA, and the rest of their team to keep up the great work, keep their shoulders against the wheel, and keep bringing new firms into the program.

All this activity and the great successes bring me to my final point. At GSA, we don’t want to just be the referee, determining who gets on our schedules. We want to help you learn how to get on schedules, and, this is important, make a strategic choice for your business about whether that is a healthy risk and choice for you. Furthermore, we want to move past the role of “giving out the fishing licenses,” and help you understand how you can catch some fish.

We want to help you have information, link with partners, and complete the handshake. GSA is more than just the gatekeeper; we are a counselor, a guide, a voice of reality and strategy, and the go-to experts on navigating the procurement structures of our government.

To do this is challenging us on many dimensions, and we need your partnership. That’s why today’s workshops and conversations are so important. So be honest, open, and frank. Share your ideas with us. Let us know your challenges, the obstacles in your way. Explain your frustrations, your wins, and your “a-ha” moments. Talk with each other, and help us understand the patterns and systemic issues you collectively see. We want more than anecdotes. We need to spot trends. Keep an eye to the future. Demand that we be fair, open, and above all, creative and constructive with you.

We – our government, our economy, and our country – need you. We need you to be vibrant, energetic, and loud. We need you to be healthy and strong. And we need you to keep doing what you do best.

I salute the fabulous team at GSA that is eager, hardworking, and ever ready to learn with you. I salute the small businesses of our country that tirelessly carry the weight – and the risk – of our economy.

Together, let’s stand shoulder to shoulder, arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand, and win the future for this great nation.

Thank you.

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