Bill Would Expand Defense Dept. Mentoring Program

Legislation introduced May 10 in the Senate would expand the Defense Department's Mentor-protégé Program to all federal agencies. Expanding the 11-year-old program would help small businesses capture more federal contracts, said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the bill's sponsor.

"Over the last decade, some well-intentioned acquisition streamlining efforts have crowded out small businesses from federal contracts," Bond said. "The practice of bundling many small contracts into a single, large package may save time and effort for government contract officers, but it discourages small businesses from going after big contracts."

The program reimburses prime contractors for providing technical and business development assistance to small firms. Congress has allocated about $30 million annually to fund the program, said Defense Department Mentor-protégé Program Manager George Schultz.

Supporters say the program benefits both parties: mentors develop relationships with good subcontractors, while protégés grow their businesses.

About 250 firms are participating in the Defense Department's pilot program, which was created with the 1991 defense-spending bill.

The government spends $180 billion to $190 billion on contracting every year, most of it with large firms. Helping small firms compete will keep prices down and improve products and services, Bond said.

"When the government spends the lion's share of its money with a handful of large contractors, it usually leads to fewer goods offered at higher prices. So keeping small business involved in contracting is a matter of self-interest for the nation's defense as well as its economic security," Bond said.

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