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Good morning, everyone!
It is great to be here with you all here in Atlanta, Georgia for this year’s National 8(a) Small Business Conference.
I would like to thank the president of the National 8(a) Association, Mr. Ron Perry, for inviting me to spend today with you, and to speak on the importance our Department of the Navy puts on engaging with the small business community.
The National 8(a) Association and other organizations like it play a critical role in educating, guiding, and supporting small businesses as they prepare to work with the federal government, and we are grateful for the role they play in our small business ecosystem.
I would also like to thank Mr. Farooq Mitha, the Director of the Department of Defense’s Office of Small Business Programs for joining us this morning, and for his willingness to share his perspectives on DoD’s engagement with this critical community.
Most importantly, I would like to thank you all—the members of our nation’s small businesses—for being here and engaging with us.
As President Biden said at the beginning of his first term, “Small businesses are the engine of our economy—the glue, the heart and soul of communities…You’re involved in and you’re innovative across every single, solitary industry.”
From my vantage point as Secretary of the Navy, a healthy, diverse industrial base made up of companies of all sizes—founded by American entrepreneurs from all walks of life—is absolutely crucial to the success of our Navy and our Marine Corps.
I look forward to meeting with several of you today—to hear your business stories and to learn more about your products and services.
I especially encourage you to engage with our DON Office of Small Business Programs team, led by Ms. Arveice Washington, who are here today.
Small businesses are the foundation of our Department’s ability to provide the capabilities and services we need to support our Sailors, Marines, civilians, and their families stationed around the globe—from providing them with quality-of-life services to ensuring our deployed personnel have the capabilities they need to be successful in their assigned missions.
As you all are no doubt aware, the world around us is changing at a lightning pace.
We—along with our international partners and allies—are facing challenges across the globe, from Europe to the Red Sea, and throughout the Indo-Pacific.
Russia continues its illegal and unprovoked war with Ukraine, violating its territorial and national sovereignty.
As part of Moscow’s campaign, it is no longer guaranteeing the safe passage of commercial shipping throughout the Black Sea, endangering critical shipments of food and supplies to the rest of the world, including those to developing countries that cannot afford disruptions.
In the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, we continue to work alongside our NATO allies and Middle East partners to counter the Iranian-aligned Houthi attacks against commercial shipping—attacks that threaten the lives of innocent, civilian mariners from several nations.
In the Indo-Pacific, we continue to witness the PRC’s aggressive actions in the maritime domain towards its neighbors as they seek to enforce their excessive maritime claims through the employment of their navy, coast guard, and maritime militia.
On top of these challenges posed by nation-states, we are working to combat the threat of climate change, threats to countries’ economies posed by narcotics and human trafficking, as well as Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing.
Addressing the threats and challenges that adversely affect the U.S., our allies, and our partners who seek to use the global maritime commons for peaceful economic ends requires a whole-of-nation commitment to ensuring we have a strong Navy and Marine Corps that can defend our interests on a global scale.
When I was sworn into office in August 2021 as the 78th Secretary of the Navy, I effectively became the “CEO” of the Department of the Navy, assuming responsibility for the work of nearly one million Sailors, Marines, and Civilians, supported by a budget now in excess of $255 billion.
To guide our Department in all endeavors that we undertake, I established three enduring priorities. They are:
Two and a half years into my tenure, I am proud to report that we have made tremendous progress across all three of our enduring priorities, with small businesses playing a significant role in our successes.
Strengthening maritime dominance is focused on ensuring our Sailors and Marines have the right mix of platforms and capabilities so that they are prepared to deter our nation’s potential adversaries, and, if called upon, fight and decisively win our Nation’s wars.
To accomplish this, we rely on a wide range of companies and organizations—large and small—throughout our industrial base in key areas such as shipbuilding and ship repair, information and technology support services, and facilities construction and maintenance.
In terms of cutting-edge capabilities, we are working with small businesses to secure our advantages in technology areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, cybersecurity, and unmanned systems.
But our Navy and our Marine Corps are more than just platforms and systems—the heart of our fleet and our force are the Sailors, Marines, civilians, and their families.
Over the past two and half years, we have worked closely with industry on addressing quality-of-life issues, including accompanied and unaccompanied housing, and morale, welfare, and recreation.
We are proud of the investments we have made to improve the standard of living for our personnel, while also recognizing there is still more work to be done.
For the companies represented here that are focused on improving the lives of our personnel, whether it be through delivering world-class education and training, or providing resources to support the health and resiliency of our Navy and Marine Corps communities, we welcome the opportunity to learn more about your offerings during or after this week’s conference.
And as we think about our priority to enhance strategic partnerships, we are laser-focused on building and maintaining relationships with the small businesses that comprise our defense ecosystem.
We are making critical investments across the defense industrial base—specifically within our submarine industrial base—to improve workforce development across our shipbuilders and supply chain partners to providing training in “new-collar” trades such as additive manufacturing, CNC machining, and welding, to name a few.
These are investments not just in our Navy, but in America, and we are proud to support our fellow citizens as they look for new opportunities to support the growth of our nation’s manufacturing capability.
If you are a small business searching for employees in these advanced trades, I encourage you to contact our team at Naval Sea Systems Command to learn more about our talent pipeline and workforce training partnerships.
We are committed to supporting the health of our defense industrial base workforce so that you are able to sustain the fleet and force our nation requires.
As part of our efforts to enhance our partnership with our small business community, our department’s Office of Small Business Programs is hard at work to remove any potential barriers to entry with doing business with us.
They are responsible for maximizing opportunities for small businesses to serve as both prime and subcontractors, actively supporting our Department’s objective to “identify and develop small business concerns that support the Navy-Marine Corps force for tomorrow.”
Through extensive outreach, training, and counseling, our OSBP team is committed to ensuring small businesses that have been historically underutilized or who have previously faced challenges participating in our procurement process can do so, if desired.
Additionally, they oversee major vendors’ participation in our Mentor-Protégé Program, which is critical to enhancing the capabilities of disadvantaged small businesses as they work to compete for both prime contracts and subcontracts.
I highlight the work of Ms. Washington and her team and the support they offer you because I am passionate about ensuring you are able to do business with the Navy and Marine Corps.
As many of you know, my wife Betty and I founded a small company shortly after I retired from the Navy after 26 years of service.
Together, we led our small business for 17 years, experiencing the joys of earning a client’s business—and, more importantly, their trust.
You see, I know what you are going through, having been in your position only two and half years ago.
I know exactly how hard you are working to put yourselves in a position to compete for and win contracts for work, thereby enabling you to make payroll and re-invest in your growing businesses.
I recognize the challenges that you face, from recruiting and retaining the employees you need to support and expand your firm’s products or service offerings, to being on the right contract vehicles so that you are able to bid on work.
I am also acutely aware of the advantages small businesses provide through your subject matter expertise and your drive to meet the highest standards of quality so that you are in position to earn repeat business.
And that is why our Office of Small Business Program’s motto is “Small Business – The First Option.”
Make no mistake, we are committed to investing in your businesses, procuring the goods and services our Department needs to be successful in our assigned missions.
In fiscal year 2023, we spent $20.1 billion on contracts with small businesses, exceeding our target goal for the year by over 17 percent.
Furthermore, we exceeded our sub-category goals for service-disabled Veteran-owned, women-owned, and HUBZone, and came within 0.04% of meeting our small, disadvantaged business goal.
And this year, we are well on our way to meeting our goals, and we’re not even at the halfway point, with billions of dollars committed to contracts with small businesses across all categories.
In order to meet our FY 2024 goals, we will continue to need you, our small business community, to respond to our contracting opportunities.
This brings awareness to our requirement holders of your product and service offerings, and signals that you are ready and willing to answer the call in supporting our Sailors and Marines.
As we look towards the future and how our Department will continue to engage with our small business community, I am excited about our schedule of events for the rest of the year.
Next month, our OSBP team will travel to Richmond for the Business to Government Procurement Conference and Expo, followed by Sea-Air-Space in April at National Harbor in Maryland—our nation’s premier maritime exposition that brings together the defense industry and military decisionmakers from around the globe.
And in August, we will be hosting the Department of the Navy Gold Coast event in San Diego, California—our leading procurement gathering that provides guidance and support to businesses of all sizes who wish to work with the DON.
I will highlight that Gold Coast also offers one-on-one matchmaking sessions with government and industry contracting personnel, and all ten of our Navy’s System Commands will be represented.
There are no shortage of engagements on the horizon between our Department and this community.
I look forward to working with our small businesses to provide our Navy and Marine Corps team with the support, systems, and platforms we need to confront the global challenges we face today.
Thank you again, and may God bless our Sailors, Marines, civilians, and their families.
Carlos Del Toro
06 February 2024
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