Vets see gold in PACTS contract

The Homeland Security Department's PACTS contract should open more opportunities for service-disabled veteran-owned companies as they gain experience and trust with government customers.

The logistics of the contract have been ironed out. The companies have been chosen. Now it’s time to wait for the task orders.

PACTS breakdown

Program Management, Administrative, Clerical and Technical Services
Agency: Homeland Security Department
Value: $1.5 billion over five years
Awarded: June
Purpose: Provide a vehicle for service-disabled veteran-owned companies to sell services to DHS in four functional categories: program management support, administrative support, clerical support and technical services
Winners: Thirty-five companies were picked to compete for task orders.

The Program Management, Administration, Clerical and Technical Services contract, known as PACTS, is set to get going, giving the 35 service-disabled veteran-owned businesses that won the Homeland Security Department’s contract a chance to work for a coveted government customer.

And it could be just the beginning for those businesses. Members of this niche of the small-business community say PACTS will put pressure on other federal agencies to start sending contracting dollars to service-disabled veterans because the contract is administered by an agency not named the Veterans Affairs or Defense department, the two agencies that typically target companies owned by service-disabled veterans.

“Setting up a contract of this potential magnitude just for the service-disabled veteran community is huge,” said Kevin Merritt, director of operations and senior systems engineer at Klett Consulting, a systems engineering and services consulting firm based in Virginia Beach, Va., and one of the companies on PACTS. “We haven’t seen, aside from the VA, this level of commitment.”

Service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses are supposed to see 3 percent of government contracting dollars, but an analysis of fiscal 2008 spending found that agencies spent $6.9 billion, about 1.4 percent, according to Eagle Eye Publishers.

PACTS is not the largest set-aside contract for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses, but at $1.5 billion, it attracted hundreds of bidders from across the country, DHS officials said.

There’s no question that the contract, which will provides a range of services for DHS through four categories, will have its challenges. DHS procurement officers must be willing to use the contract and place task orders, which the service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses will fulfill. It’s a small segment of the business community and one that hasn’t completely won the trust of government agencies.

“I don’t believe it’s malicious intent to exclude these companies. It’s all about mitigating risk,” said Guy Timberlake, chief visionary and chief executive officer of the American Small Business Coalition. “A lot of trust needs to be built still.”

But the architects behind PACTS say DHS procurement officers are enthusiastic about the new vehicle and several task orders were ready to go before the start of the program.

PACTS was first conceived when DHS officials realized that the department issued a large number of orders for services such as strategic planning and program assessment. Officials figured out a way to open some of the business to the small-business community in a consolidated contract. Kevin Boshears, director of the Office of Small and Disadvantage Business Utilization at DHS, jumped at the chance to set aside work for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

“When we talked to those in the service-disabled veteran community, it became apparent that disabled vets already served our country once,” Boshears said. “PACTS really provides an opportunity for them to serve the country again in a different capacity.”

PACTS has the potential to make a significant difference to some of the companies that win task orders in each of the four categories. Some business owners talk about needing to ramp up their workforces and establish new business units to focus on the work, which includes strategic planning, program assessment, project management, logistics support, contingency planning, resource management, change management, acquisition support, studies and analyses, space planning, clerical and secretarial support, and risk assessments. For many companies, DHS is a new client.

“DHS has always been a target to pursue, but we haven’t had a level of success,” said Armando Ygbuhay, president and chief executive officer of HCI, a staffing and technology solutions firm based in Fairfax, Va., that will compete for task orders under PACTS. “It’s a very large deal for a lot of folks.”

Chasing after government dollars is one of many challenges that service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses face. Although PACTS is considered to be a great sign of things to come, service-disabled veterans recognize that it’s a small dent in the government’s pot of money.

But the contract gives them an opportunity that they have rarely had at DHS.

“We have to really knock it out of the ballpark,” said Chris Imbach, president and CEO of CTI Resource Management Services, a company based in Jacksonville, Fla., that operates a contractor site support center and is one of the firms on PACTS.