BY MAUREEN. N. MARATITA
The message that Jimmy D. Smith, director of small business programs for the U.S. Navy brought from Washington, D.C. to Guam and Saipan’s small businesses (and some large ones) is a simple one.
The U.S. Navy is looking to award contracts to the region’s small businesses in the Mariana Islands.
Navy needs relate to the military’s regional realignment, but also go beyond that, he said.
His first visit to the region in September was purposeful, Smith said. “It’s connected with the Marines coming down from Okinawa to re-establish themselves on Guam, but there’s also a bigger reason that I was there outside of just the Navy.”
The entire Department of Defense is focused on Guam, he said. “Guam is like this pivot point for the United States military right now.” All branches of the military play a significant role, he said, to include the Navy, Air Force, Army and Missile Defense Agency. “And I see that role expanding. My main reason for coming to the island was to ensure that local industry partners there are procurement-ready for doing business with us and recognize that there’s an expansion coming.”
Smith said doing business at the local level has advantages for the U.S. military. “Anything we bring in from off-shore is inherently going to be more expensive, just because it’s not homegrown there, whether it’s products or services.”
He has a sense of capabilities in Guam and Saipan and met with leaderships in the community. “I met with the governor, I met with the Chamber of Commerce, and I also met with the Women’s Chamber of Commerce on a separate engagement.”
He additionally spent time with port-related entities. “I also met with Cabras Marine, and they had a graduation ceremony for folks that will work as part of their industrial capability through the [Guam] Community College.”
Smith recognized that Guam capabilities are limited because of its size but hopes to help with how things might move in the right direction. “I did find a great deal of capability there; I wish there was more, but the island’s so big. … We can all grow together … .”
As to the islands current level of shipment of goods, Smith said, “That’s got to increase. With the amount of people that are coming the supply chain has to be strengthened and become more resilient than what you have been,” he said.
Smith also met with Rear Adm. Benjamin R. Nicholson, commander of Joint Region Marianas, he said. “He’s already got a great effort going on … making sure that people are aware of what we’re doing and the growth that’s coming this way.”
During his visit, Smith aimed to get a sense of offerings in the community, he said. “We need everything when it comes to support of the military.” Not all local small businesses at the community level know about the military re-alignment and potential opportunities, he said, but are interested. “Everybody was very welcoming and looking forward to more opportunities for growth.”
Smith pointed out where businesses could fill a gap during his visit to Guam and Saipan, he said.
“One of the opportunities I spoke about was clothing and textiles. “We have one manufacturer that we tend to count on with uniforms, and that particular manufacturer is in Puerto Rico. There’s an 8(a) community on the island — a very similar situation to Guam. Every year when the hurricane goes through Puerto Rico, guess what happens to the production of uniforms? And reconstituting that capability takes a while, it takes money,” he said. An alternative source would be a competitive sole source situation, particularly because of the need to follow Buy American rules.
Certain contracts can be converted to 8(a) contracts he said. “One of the challenges program managers and contractors have with doing that is that it doesn’t go away. If it’s in the 8(a) program, it doesn’t get out of the 8(a) program. … There is a double-edged sword where certain industry partners can help you while they’re in the 8(a) program, but once they graduate out, they can’t do the work anymore.”
The roadways in the south of Guam are a concern he said, due to flooding.
“We’ve got to make sure all the issues with the infrastructure there are known. I was rather disappointed not to find shore power down at the shipyard – the kind of shore power we need for submarines. If I don’t have shore power for submarines, I don’t know whether the Navy’s going to be inclined to bring submarines here if they can’t power them up like they would at any other industrial shipyard.”
The condition of cranes is an additional cause for concern, he said both at the Navy and the Port of Guam. “I think some investments that were not made in the past are coming back to probably haunt us,” he said. “The capacity they can handle now — they handle, but the growth — if you’re only using that crane eight times a day when I can project 32 times a day —are you set up for us to be successful?”
Nevertheless, Smith said Guam has potential for further ship repair. “That’s one of the reasons I was down meeting with Cabras Marine because we have service ships, we have submarines.”
And construction of a submarine facility is moving ahead, with the Oct. 28 award of a $16.96 million contract to MNDPI Pacific — a Hawaii-based joint venture — for the design of a submarine repair pier at Polaris Point. Meanwhile, Pearl Harbor Shipyard is actively recruiting for a Guam Detachment for the repair facility to open in 2025. (See “Guam to get submarine maintenance facility,” on www.mbjguam.com.
Smith also recognizes that there are roadblocks to the civilian work force also. Traffic into Guam’s bases is sometimes slow moving and the process of clearing employees to work on-base can take longer than is ideal.
The problem is not Guam’s alone, he said.
The Department of Defense will be introducing biometrics at its gates. “If it matches up, you come straight through the gate,” he said. The program will kick off at two nuclear weapons facilities in the U.S. “For the employees that work there, that’s the least productive part of the job. If you can get [employees] in there, you can get them in anywhere.” The technology is already in use at airports, Smith said. “We’re trying that technology out.”
As to its general workload, Smith says his office and team have a defined role.
“The Navy’s Office of Small Business Programs is here to provide a connective tissue between government buyers and our industry partners, and we’re really focused on small businesses — but really I don’t discriminate between small businesses, medium sized businesses, or even large,” Smith said. His focus is on small businesses to make sure that they get the opportunity to do business with the Navy and from a mutually willing standpoint. “We look to make those relationships whole and solid,” he said.
Smith’s role is broad. “I work on a great deal of policy, legislation, regulation. Those tend to come down from either an executive order or the Office of Personnel Management Budget, or the Small Business Administration.” His office turns those into implementing instructions and how to operationalize them. “That’s really what my office does. It removes the barriers; it works to interpret regulations. From time to time, I even get involved in disputes between industry partners … before they get to the Secretary of the Navy’s level.”
His team numbers 18 personnel. “We have specialists that are involved in certain programs like the mentor-protégé program and are dedicated to that. … Everybody locks in on a specific area for the immediate staff.” Smith also has “a dotted line” to staff in every echelon of the Navy and Marine Corps. “At every base, at every activity we have a Small Business professional at that activity. They’re responsible for engaging with the contracting officers and the program managers for the goods and services that we need in order to run the business.”
Smith said there are small business professionals involved throughout the entire process and in all territories and all 50 states.
His role is mirrored in other service branches and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The directors and the Office of the Secretary of Defense small businessperson meet every two weeks to exchange information, Smith said. “Synergy absolutely exists,” he said.
Smith previously served in specialized and often classified roles — as the deputy assistant under secretary of the Navy for expeditionary programs and logistics management, as well as the director for integrated nuclear weapons safety and security within the Navy’s strategic systems programs.
Holding a 1990 bachelor’s of science in mechanical engineering from Tuskegee University, with a minor in aerospace engineering set him on a solid career path. “The first seven years of my career was doing engineering,” he said. “After that I graduated to program management.” Highlights of Smith’s career that he found rewarding stay with him still. “I was the construction manager for the Virginia Class submarine program when we delivered the first one. And I was responsible for building the first seven.” Engineering played a big part of the job, he said. “But it’s also managing the cost, the schedule and making sure we’re getting the performance out of all of the equipment that we’re putting together to make the submarine,” Smith said. “That [appointment] brought it all together from a management standpoint.”
After that, his appointments kept him on the management track. “ … These later jobs have all been about leadership, because you have great people doing the work, but they need to be led with vision and what our bosses are asking for, instead of ‘We’re just making the donuts.’ We’re actually making a meal.”
His profession has given him a good basis for decision-making, he said. “It goes back to engineering, where everything has to be systematically defined, to the point that I’m confident in the decision I’m making.” Accountability is part of the process, Smith said. “When I was the construction manager for the Virginia Class submarine, the way you proved that you did a good job was that you rode the submarine when it went to sea. That’s 100% accountability. … I am personally invested … .”
Travel is part of his responsibilities and Smith is on the road about 16 weeks out of every year. “Prior to COVID, I tried to hit as many of our states and territories as possible.” When there’s a Navy Fleet week, Smith said, “We show up in the town as well.”
With his current directorship, Smith is very much in the public eye. “I had to figure out how to turn this job into what I’ve always done,” he said.
In addition, his department has set goals. “Every year we have metrics that get laid on us by the Department of Defense and they negotiate those goals with the Small Business Administration.”
In fiscal 2021, the Navy spent the most it had reached on small businesses serving as primes. “It was $17.38 billion,” he said. “In FY 2022, we even beat that; 19.6% of the Navy’s money went to small businesses. That equated to $18.4 billion.”
Smith can be gratified he and his team are making a difference, with the December award of the Secretary of Defense’s Vanguard Award for Leadership, exemplified in Small Business Management. “I can’t get a bigger award than that in my day job.” mbj