Winning streak continues
Small business | Master Key uses justice contracts to develop future growth
- By David Hubler
- Dec 04, 2008
An American Indian-owned
got its foot in the federal
contracting door eight years ago
with a $40,000 subcontract has
crossed a significant revenue
threshold. Two recent Justice
Department awards worth a
combined $20 million have
brought Master Key Consulting's
total federal government work to
more than $100 million since
the company was established in
The company, based in
Bethesda, Md., is the third business
founded by Jonathan
Wilber, "and the first one that
was successful," he said.
Wilber is one of 8,000 members
of the Menominee tribe,
which once occupied more than
10 million acres in what is now
Wisconsin and upper Michigan.
"We're the only indigenous tribe,"
he said. "We've been there since there
was land there to inhabit."
Before coming to Washington, Wilber
worked as an administrator at the
Menominee reservation's substance
abuse center. He also has been an
instructor and finance manager at the
College of Menominee Nation, chairman
of the board of the tribal casino, and
human resources director for the tribal
He traces Master Key's success to its
first award, a subcontract with the
Justice Department's Office of Justice
Programs. The contract called for developing
training materials for the department's
grants management system.
Justice provides about $4 billion in
grants annually to law enforcement
agencies, organizations and tribal communities
for Amber Alert systems,
Project Safe Neighborhoods, bulletproof
vests and other safety systems.
"We learned as we went along," Wilber
said of that first contract.
"It's really about convincing them that
you can do it, convincing them that you
have a track record, one that's based on
integrity, values and an ability to get the
job done," he added.
Convincing Justice was not difficult,
he said, because the contract called for
supplying technical and management
resources, one of the
company's strengths. Master
Key's first competitive contracts
were more difficult to win, he
said. "But being on the ground
and having the opportunity to
build those relationships and
that credibility with the government
client made it somewhat
Between 2002 and 2005,
Master Key's revenue rose from
$1.39 million to $16.3 million.RESTRUCTURE FOR SUCCESS
By 2006, "we were really on the
cusp of going from a small small
company to a big small company,
and we looked at our internal
processes and how we were
doing our work," Wilber said. As
a result, he bought out his partner
and realigned the company's
To handle the growing volume
of work, Master Key has
created three divisions, each with a distinct
focus: Government Solutions oversees
the federal sector; InterActive,
based at the company's office in St.
Louis, is responsible for Master Key's
commercial work in interactive media
marketing applications; and InnerSight
provides online career aptitude testing
and other services for tribal colleges,
historically black colleges and universities,
The company has grown to more than
140 employees in 11 states, making
Master Key the largest American
Indian-owned company in Maryland
and the 21st largest in the country. "Now we have contracts totaling more than
$100 million and we're in nine federal
agencies, seven states and the District of
Columbia," he said.
Wilber's plans include reaching
$50 million in annual revenue by 2010.
Another goal is ending the company's
reliance on its 8(a) American Indian
status before it loses the classification in
2011. Wilber said he is positioning
Master Key to graduate through revenue
growth and compete soon on the
"We use [8(a) status] to win contracts
like any other company does," he said.
"But we've never relied on that solely.
The last two wins that we've had with
[Justice] were full-and-open competitions
where we competed with IBM,
Unisys, General Dynamics and SAIC
head-to-head, and we won. That's something
I'm very proud of."
In August, Master Key won a five-year
contract worth more than $16.9 million
to provide information technology management
services to the Office of Justice
One month later, the company won a
$3.7 million contract to provide training
and support services to Justice's Office of
Audit, Assessment and Management,
which monitors how grants are awarded
and spent and whether they meet federal
regulations. The contract expanded
the company's services into another area.
"It's training federal users on the grants
management system and the processes
the office uses to award their grants,"
Master Key also provides services to
Justice's chief information officer,
Bureau of Justice Assistance and Office
of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
Prevention. In addition, the company
has had contracts with the
Environmental Protection Agency,
Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the
Education, Health and Human Services,
and Homeland Security departments.SUPPORT FOR THE HOME FRONT
The company also works with agencies
and organizations that serve American
Indians, tribal colleges and governments,
including Wilber's own
When the tribe's Community
Resource Center at Keshena, Wis., needed
to update and expand its database of
participants in its public assistance and
job training programs, it turned to
Master Key, said Ann Marie Johnson,
director of the center. There were about
40 clients in the various job training categories
and another 40 or so families in
the Temporary Assistance for Needy
Families (TANF) program, which
totaled about 160 people, she said.
Master Key developed and installed
the new program last year for less than
$60,000, a significant sum for the tribe.
"The No. 1 thing that you need in tribal
states is accountability, and I know that
[Wilber] wanted to build a product that
would help tribes do that," Johnson said.
Tribal members can also access housing
and treatment center information,
Food Stamp eligibility requirements,
and information on obtaining medical
assistance. "Not only are they qualifying
for these two programs ? the TANF
and job training program ? they are
also more than likely looking at the eligibility
criteria for Food Stamps because
if they qualify in that program, they
automatically qualify in those other programs,"
The database was built onto the front
end of the center's existing software,
which did not track intake documents,
referrals, grants or funding data.
"What Jon's program does is it tracks
[the supporting documents], creates an
audit trail and automatically computes
income," she said.
The program also gathers much of
the intake information that job counselors
need to have when assessing and
advising their clients and it creates a
training record, she added. Previously,
that information was recorded by hand.
For now, the data is collected at computer
terminals at the center.
"Eventually, we'll be able to send applications
via secured e-mail to the participating
housing, and they can do their
eligibility right there," she said. "Also,
we're trying to market it at other national
job training tribal conferences."David Hubler (email@example.com) is
associate editor at Washington Technology.