Kevin Boshears speaks at GTSC’s DHS Day on April 27, 2018, in Arlington, Va. (Rich Cooper/HSToday)

#RealDeal Interview: Bringing Small Businesses into the DHS Mission

He’s one of the originals from the Department of Homeland Security’s opening days. Since May 2003, Kevin Boshears has served as director of DHS’ Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU), where he has been the welcoming smile and presence to thousands of businesses that want to serve the homeland mission.

During that time, he’s seen the department evolve in its mission space and practices in a number of ways – but one thing that has been steadfast is the loyalty and passion Kevin brings for the small-business community that he and the OSDBU team champion daily. Coming from a family of small-business owners, that loyalty and passion are truly deeply seeded within him.

Fifteen years is a long time to be in any position, but Kevin’s humble nature and genuine enthusiasm for the diversity, creativity and strength of the small-business community truly have no end.

HSToday’s Editor at Large Rich Cooper spoke to Kevin during GTSC’s DHS Day on April 27 to talk about the state of small business and DHS.

Kevin Boshears

HSToday: What’s the biggest challenge you think a small and disadvantaged business has working with DHS?

Boshears (B): Based on the small businesses that I’ve spoken to over the years, the biggest challenge is finding out where they fit. Because DHS is a large organization, once they find out where they fit, that enables them to pursue opportunities.

HSToday: How do you address those challenges? How do you guide them to know where they fit? Because they may have an idea of where they fit, but you may look at them and say, ‘No, you’re going to be better off over here.’ How do you guide them that way?

B: Well, we offer all types of assistance and counseling. That can be by telephone, email, or in person. But we also prepare an annual forecast for contracting opportunities. All of our actions are designed to help the good companies to determine where they fit.

HSToday: What assistance can you offer to a new business to help them to understand how to do business with DHS?

B: Generally the way that starts, depending on the company’s background, we basically do a triage of things. For example, if you’re new to federal contracting altogether, we refer them to a place that can give them help with that. If they have some federal experience, we refer them within the DHS components. If they’re very experienced, we advise them to market the way they have done it with other federal customers.

HSToday: Is there a component that’s really distinguished itself that you’ve seen at your time in the department as to mentoring these small businesses into doing business with them?

B: Fortunately at DHS we’ve embraced our small-business contracting program since the beginning and all of the components support it. So I think it depends on the small-business’ interests in what opportunities they would pursue.

HSToday: What’s the biggest misconception that small or disadvantaged business have about working with DHS?

B: Well, I dont know if misconception is the right word, but sometimes the small businesses don’t quite do enough homework. Because in order to market to DHS, they have to take time to understand our mission: how we’re organized, and how we were brought together in 2003. All of those things are helpful to small businesses wanting to do business with us.

HSToday: Why do you see that that’s necessary?

B: Well, what we have found is that if a small business understands the mission or a specific part of the mission that a component performs, that can help them offer solutions, ideas, services, etc. That help DHS meet the mission.

HSToday: If you could coach America’s small-business community, what would you tell them to do to prepare for doing business with DHS? You’ve talked about learning about the mission and doing their homework; what else do they need to know?

B: Well, over the years I’ve asked small-business owners that have been successful in federal contracting, how do they do it? And over the years I’ve received four answers over and over again. I’ll briefly share those with you. One of them we’ve already mentioned – do your homework. Number two, understand how different contract vehicles work; for example, the GSA Schedule uses different contracting procedures than in the open market. The third thing they’ve told us is that they’re involved in some kind of networking – that could be a member of an organization, that could be informal where they’re part of an email exchange but they’re involved in some kind of networking. The fourth thing they’ve told me is that they understand all the many facets of teaming. That could be two small businesses working together, that could be a formal joint venture, that could be a mentor-protege arrangement – all different types. And those four things that small businesses have told me about over the years – those are what provided the foundation for those companies to be successful.

HSToday: What’s the status of the mentor-protege program?

B: Well at DHS, our program is still active. As part of some legislation, SBA created an all-business mentor-protege program. Agencies that wanted to continue their programs had to consult with SBA, and SBA said our program is in good shape and we’re continuing to use it.

HSToday: DHS has been around for 15 years. How have you seen the small-business community evolve in that time?

B: Well, the small-business community continues to amaze me. From humble beginnings in 2003 –we had a lot of legacy contracts and made an effort to get organized. One of the key things we were able to do is early on is to develop what we call a small-business review form. Every procurement over the simplified acquisition threshold, which is currently $150,000, is reviewed for small-business participation.

HSToday: What position in your career best prepared you for the role you have today?

B: (Laughs) Nothing …

HSToday: Nothing prepared you for what you do today? It’s been that much of a creative rollercoaster, huh?

B: Oh my goodness – well, I could say that prior to my DHS service, I was in a small-business role with the Treasury Department. So in many aspects I brought the model with me.

HSToday: What’s the most in-demand product and service DHS is looking for from the private sector to provide DHS?

B: Now that’s a challenging question. But I don’t think I could clearly identify one product or one service. But I think I can say that if a small business is able to provide a product or a service in a cost-effective manner, that meets the mission, then there is potential interest. Whether that’s part of an advertised opportunity or an idea that a company wants to submit, I think we’re open.

HSToday: What’s the biggest success, the thing you’re most proud of in your time of 15 years with the department?

B: Well, in Fiscal Year 2009 the SBA implemented a letter grade annual scorecard on the largest 24 agencies’ small-business contracting programs. We’ve received eight grades of A or A+ in a row and, based on SBA’s formula, we’re expecting another favorable grade when it’s released next month.

HSToday: Nothing like being on the dean’s list, right?

B: That’s right.

HSToday: One last question – you’ve obviously got the ‘A’ metrics from SBA that tell the story of your program, but how is your team using data and analytics and all of these other sorts of emerging technologies to measure your performance? Is that something your office is doing?

B: We use data in different ways. You know, there’s small-business data where we identify what we’re buying from the small-business community. We want to see what types of small businesses are providing that – but we also use data analytics in the broader sense.

One of my favorite pieces of analysis that my contracting data colleagues provide me every year is what we call the number of small businesses that are newcomers. In fiscal year ’17, according to this data, about 12,500 companies of all sizes have DHS contracts. They represent all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. So, in other words, the whole country does business with us. Of those 12,500, about 8,500 are small businesses. So about two-thirds of all of our companies are small. But beyond that, within the 8,500, in fiscal year ’17 about 1,700 secured their first DHS prime contract.

HSToday: Excellent. Thank you.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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