Charles “Charlie” Smith is Director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, serving as the lead advocate for enhancing the use of small businesses to meet the agency’s range of missions. Smith previously worked 13 years with JP Morgan Chase, as well as with smaller companies, developing focused business strategies. He is a U.S. Navy veteran, having served five years active duty as a Surface Warfare Officer onboard a guided missile destroyer homeported in Norfolk, Va. Upon leaving the Navy, he moved to New Jersey to work on a Congressional staff. Over the next 15 years, Smith served as a Senior Advisor to the Office of New Jersey Governor, as the Deputy Commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, and as a Director in the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Princeton University.

TME: Describe your office’s mission and how it aligns with the Department of Energy’s overall goals and objectives.

SMITH: The Department of Energy (DOE) seeks to maintain America’s global energy dominance and ensure the nation’s ongoing security and prosperity by employing transformative science and technology to address our energy, environmental and nuclear challenges. In turn, the mission of the Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) is to build and expand the roster of new and established small businesses that can help the agency achieve its mission through their innovation and creativity.

OSDBU fulfills this mission through implementing Sections 8 and 15 of the Small Business Act. Section 8, known as the 8(a) Program, allows DOE to enter into contracts for supplies and services with businesses in the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Business Development Program. Section 15 establishes procedures for federal agencies to provide that a fair proportion of federal purchases are placed with small business concerns. Our ongoing charge includes ensuring that DOE procurement personnel comply with Federal Acquisition Regulations, as well as other applicable small business laws and regulations. We are focused on keeping our small business policies current, with actions such as leading a cross-agency team to put a Small Business First policy in place to meet evolving administration initiatives.

To support HUBZone small businesses, DOE OSDBU is planning a road trip across the United States to provide business development training, further advertise upcoming contracting opportunities, and connect new businesses with buyers at our network of laboratories.

DOE OSDBU’s engagement with small businesses has been strengthened with the recent addition of senior acquisition specialists to our staff. The on-boarding of these highly skilled and experienced procurement professionals has aided DOE’s effort to increase opportunities for small businesses in the disadvantaged socio-economic subcategories established by SBA: Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned (SDVOSB), Women-Owned, businesses from Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone), and Small Disadvantaged 8(a) businesses owned by someone from a group deemed historically socially or economically disadvantaged.

TME: How is the department performing on its annual small business goals?

SMITH: Success in our objective to increase opportunities for more small companies, as measured annually by SBA, is reflected in DOE’s efforts to exceed statutory prime, sub and socio-economic small business goals. Within the broader federal mandate that 23 percent of obligations are awarded to small businesses, DOE annually obligates on the order of $26 billion of contracts to the private sector, of which $2.5 billion was for FY2016 small business prime contracts. In FY2017, DOE again awarded over $2.5 billion in prime contracts to small businesses. Additional billions are provided through subcontracts, grants, and other financial assistance.

Altogether, DOE exercises the largest small business spending of all civilian agencies. Each of the last two years DOE earned an “A” grade from SBA for achieving greater than 100 percent on the Small Business Procurement Scorecard.

TME: What efforts are underway to encourage more small business to compete in the department’s acquisition marketplace?

SMITH: OSDBU has implemented a number of initiatives to promote engagement with America’s innovative small business community. The most prominent of these is DOE’s Annual Small Business Forum & Expo (May 22-24 in Houston), a multi-day event in which small business attendees network with agency buyers, such as our national network of laboratories, attend panel discussions, and participate in matchmaking exercises.

In an effort to best leverage staff resources, we recently reorganized the DOE OSDBU into three teams. The Inreach Team works with the agency’s acquisition workforce to review contract actions, better identify small business contracting opportunities, provide training, and share best practices for small business engagement from around the agency. The Outreach Team is focused outside the agency and represents DOE to the business community. It hosts and participates in events, such as our Small Business Forum and Expo; provides counseling to businesses looking for DOE contracting opportunities; manages our Mentor-Protégé Program; and leads our external communications, such as small business newsletters. The Operations Team is the third team. This staff focuses on our OSDBU office budget, human capital needs, our continuity of operations plan, and a myriad of activities supporting our inreach and outreach efforts.

Charles Smith, Director, Office of Small Disadvantaged Business Utilization, Department of EnergyFor SDVOSBs, I assigned a veteran on my staff to carry out Executive Order 13360 and provide strategies to significantly increase their federal contracting opportunities. To that end, I am proud of the fact that last November, OSDBU hosted its first Veterans Conference. Over 200 business representatives and DOE acquisition staff participated in a full day of business development training, counseling, and matchmaking. The success of the conference has encouraged us to grow that event and initiate similar outreach efforts in the other disadvantaged socio-economic categories.

To support HUBZone small businesses, DOE OSDBU is planning a road trip across the United States to provide business development training, further advertise upcoming contracting opportunities, and connect new businesses with buyers at our network of laboratories.

In our ongoing advocacy of Woman-Owned Small Businesses, OSDBU will continue to co-host the ChallengeHer event, partnering with the national advocacy organization, Women Impacting Public Policy, to promote DOE opportunities for women. Along with partnering with other advocacy organizations, such as the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, OSDBU is using online learning tools to provide training to businesses in this category.

TME: How is the department evolving where it is investing research and development to meet emerging requirements?

SMITH: OSDBU works with the DOE’s program elements to help market their small business initiatives through newsletters, blogs, and outreach events. These initiatives offer research and development engagements and funding approaches for small businesses to prepare ideas for market; open doors to refine energy science ideas for evolving markets; and contribute to innovative technologies, supplies and services.

The Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs are the primary means by which DOE engages small businesses to perform research and development with commercial potential across the department’s missions.

DOE has two independent SBIR/STTR programs. One is administered by the Office of Science for advancing basic science research and development, and the other by the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, which focuses on tapping small businesses to help advance high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private sector investment.

DOE allocates 3.65 percent of its annual research and development budget for these programs ($250 million in FY2017). Approximately 350 Phase I awards ($150,000 or more) are made annually to carry out initial proof of concept experiments. Phase II awards of $1 million or more are next available for awardee small businesses to continue their research into the prototyping or process development stage. DOE’s other small business-focused initiatives include the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy’s Energy Savings Performance Contract ENABLE Program, which standardizes procurement processes for using small federal projects to install energy conservation measures at federal buildings across the continent.

One other initiative—a Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team—is part of the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs’ effort to assist in the development of tribal renewable energy projects.

TME: What has the Energy Department done in recent years to improve the amount and success of the work done by small businesses?

SMITH: Examples where DOE has improved the use of small businesses include our Mentor-Protégé Program. The program was established to encourage seasoned contractors to provide business development and sub-contracting opportunities to small businesses interested in partnering with DOE. It is distinct from SBA’s Mentor-Protégé Program by
being an agreement, instead of a contract-based business arrangement. This enables more flexibility of participation by small businesses. My office has a concerted effort underway to double the current 28 agreements by the end of FY2019. Also, OSDBU has expanded its “How to Do Business with the Department of Energy” training sessions, hosting three events in FY2017 that spanned all small business socioeconomic categories, and also participated in 32 other small business outreach events.

In FY2018, OSDBU will target 40 outreach events with an enhanced focus on reaching the socio-economic subcategories, with an expected audience of over 15,000 small business representatives. And the office regularly participates in small business matchmaking sessions, through which we build the DOE roster of capable small business suppliers.

Brookhaven National Laboratory

TME: How can the small business community support some of the department’s major focus areas, such as energy resiliency, mission assurance, cyber security, and grid reliability?

SMITH: OSDBU maintains a roster of more than 90 Small Business Program Managers (SBPM), who serve as small business advocates. Each DOE program element, field office, and laboratory has at least one SBPM to ensure that small businesses have a reliable avenue of engagement into contracting opportunities. A small business can stay current on DOE’s mission requirements by contacting SBPMs for information that is applicable to its capabilities.

Small businesses are encouraged to stay current on contracting opportunities by periodically checking DOE’s acquisition forecasts, which list upcoming procurement requirements. A decentralized business model enables the headquarters and laboratories to have site-specific lists of their upcoming needs in order to help small businesses more quickly target requirements that their skill sets can meet. Also, each of the major program offices, including the Office of Technology Transitions, has initiatives identifying paths that small businesses could research to better prepare their capabilities to precisely meet the needs for furthering DOE’s multiple missions.

Each DOE program element, field office, and laboratory has at least one SBPM to ensure that small businesses have a reliable avenue of engagement into contracting opportunities.

TME: What can small businesses do to improve how they do business with the department?

SMITH: OSDBU encourages small business teaming, or mentor-protégé arrangements, to build experience. Small businesses are guided to engage with our SBPMs to stay up to date on small business opportunities. Small businesses responding to Requests for Information enhance the ability of SBPMs to identify firms early on in market research actions and increase the ability for acquisition plans to be more small business focused.

Additionally, small businesses are encouraged to register on DOE facilities’ vendor lists and make SBPMs aware of their ability to meet upcoming requirements.

TME: How can organizations like SAME support the Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization?

SMITH: OSDBU maintains a roster of small business-advocacy organizations with which we partner and share information with their members. OSDBU seeks ongoing engagement with small business stakeholders and advocacy organizations to maximize our roster of capable small businesses.

I encourage SAME members to seek out the various DOE outreach events, our range of procurement forecasts, and other small business resources. In welcoming SAME to the team of proactive partners, I look forward to including the organization in our future small business events.

[Interview first published in the March-April 2018 issue of The Military Engineer.]