COVID-inspired Air Force acquisition task force will focus on small businesses

The Air Force has created a special acquisition task force with a focus on start-ups and other small businesses to help keep its industrial base humming during—and after—the COVID-19 pandemic,

“All of you know that small businesses are the most vulnerable right now,” Roper said. “We’re going to have to do things differently with our small companies than with our primes,” Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, told reporters at a teleconference last week.

Roper noted that the Air Force over the past two years has significantly ramped up its efforts to reap technology innovations from the commercial sector. As an example, Roper mentioned the move by the service’s new AFVentures arm for startup investment to switch within 72 hours its planned ‘Pitch Bowl’ at the March 13-20 South By Southwest festival in Austin to a virtual event. The event involved some 5,000 participants, he said and resulted in 599 contracts worth a total of almost $1 billion.

The Air Force already has put out another solicitation asking small businesses who might be able to help with COVID-19 response “to put their hands up so that we can get additional cash to them or put them on contract if they're not already working with us,” he said.

Roper said the Air Force acquisition task force has “four lines of effort:”

* Relief. Roper said “these teams are thinking through external assistance requests that may potentially come in,” and how best to apply contracting to move out “billions of dollars if needed.”
* Resilience. This is focusing on “defense industrial base health issues,” he said. For example, if there are “suppliers under duress, or small businesses that are not getting enough cash flow fast enough,” are there ways the service can help?
* Recovery. This team will look at what is needed after the crisis lifts. While Roper cautioned industry that “COVID-19 is not a blanket excuse for programs slipping to the right,” he said the service will be mindful that some will do so — thus the “recovery” team will try to figure out what funding those programs might need to get back on track after a schedule slip.
* Being rapid for small businesses. This effort, Roper said, is led by AFVentures, and is meeting daily to ensure the Air Force spends all of its small business funds. “They have been in training for this for two years,” he said of AFVentures personnel. “They have demonstrated the ability to do more small business contracts that anyone in the government at speeds never seen.”

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