Past is prologue for GD partners
Performance carries most weight for integrator
- By Gary Arlen
- Jun 08, 2006
Lynwood Owens is deep in discussions with a woman-owned 8(a) business that for the past seven years has worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The contract is coming up for recompete at year's end, and Owens, a program manager at General Dynamics Network Systems, sees a change in how the smaller company handles the contract: It would become the prime contractor to USAID, and the General Dynamics unit would be its subcontractor.
The arrangement would make the best use of the small company's past performance record on the project. For competitive reasons, Owens declined to identify the company or the project, but his approach reflects General Dynamics Corp.'s tactics in teaming with small companies.
Owens, one of several GD Network Systems managers in the Washington area, oversees alliances for the unit's Army and civilian services business. Another colleague manages small-business relationships on Air Force and Navy contracts. They work closely with Tom Leiby, program manager of the unit's quality services provider program. It lists about 36 companies in six categories and is a centerpiece of Network Systems' subcontracting operations.
To be listed in the database, a company must show it can offer technical services in highly specialized and diverse areas in which General Dynamics is working, company officials said. The parent company's federal IT business is one of the largest in the market and ranks No. 4 on Washington Technology's 2006 Top 100 list of the largest federal prime contractors.Presence is key
Leiby, Owens and their colleagues are gatekeepers as well traffic cops, steering potential partners to appropriate projects and business units. The online vendor registration form is the best way for prospective partners to join the roster of about 400 companies that Network Systems managers review, Owens said.
Owen said he uses the database to identify qualified companies for upcoming projects. Project managers use the database for project development and to access a "virtual program office" section, in which they share insights on specific partners' capabilities. That feature is used frequently, because General Dynamics puts high priority on past performance when picking small-business partners, Leiby and Owens said.
The quality services provider program was initiated for Network Systems to ensure that any company General Dynamics would work with was a quality performer at a reasonable price, Leiby said. "Now, we have a pool of highly qualified vendors in the program, and we encourage 're-use,' " he said.
The database is available to other General Dynamics units such as C4 Systems, which handles command and control projects, and Advanced Information Systems, which oversees intelligence projects. As each group also has its own database, a small business wanting to partner with other General Dynamics units should register at their Web sites.
When reviewing a small business as a potential partner, Leiby, Owens and their peers first look at requirements in the request for proposals, the company's geographic reach and its North American Industry Classification System code.
"Network Systems will ask a small business if it has a facility clearance or cleared personnel," Leiby said. If a small company is admitted to the quality services provider program but does not have the necessary clearances, Network Systems "makes every effort to sponsor it."
Location is important in many assignments. "Project managers do not want to deal with multiple companies if there are multiple locations" for a project, Leiby said. Companies that can put staff into several venues are favored in such situations, although Leiby said "small companies have worked very well in their own specialized, regional locations."
After an internal Network Systems program decides to use a vendor, it begins the evaluation process, which takes into account security clearances, insurance limits and other factors. Network Systems also does "fact-finding exercises," Owens said. Before entering discussions with the small, woman-owned company with the contract up for a recompete, he talked to past and current customers of the company, he said.
Small companies often become involved during proposal development, although Owens and Leiby said that subcontractors could be added after the contract's award.Report cards for partners
In selecting partners, Network Systems evaluates small businesses against other comparably sized firms. That evaluation gives least weight to price and greater weight to past performance, Leiby said. Partners also get more credit for work done on previous General Dynamics projects than for similar work with another contractor.
The evaluations continue throughout the life of the project, and the company is scored after each task it completes, Leiby said.
Partners get feedback with each evaluation, and Leiby aggregates the checklists into report cards, giving every company a grade. That information, which is the basis for performance reviews, is fundamental to the relationship with preferred partners.
To recruit new partners, Owens attends bidders' conferences and meets with small companies. He has mentored small businesses in addition to participating in the mentor-protégé program that his unit maintains.
Many factors are considered when choosing partners, Leiby said, but the bottom line is strong past performance. Decisions on partners are based nearly entirely on that, he said.Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications Inc., Bethesda, Md. He can be reached at GaryArlen@columnist.com.