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NSA shares some secrets — on procurement

The National Security Agency isn’t exactly renowned for its openness, but on Monday, the spy agency shared with small business owners the secrets to getting a share of the millions of dollars of contracts it awards each year.

Nearly 400 people packed into conference rooms at the BWI Airport Marriott hotel for a chance to pitch their small business to members of the National Security Agency and its prime contractors. Called “Business in a Minute,” the annual event adopted the speed-dating approach, with small business owners and representatives getting 15 minute to make their pitches.

“It can be a challenge for a small business, and we want to teach to them what they need to do to do business with the NSA,” said Mark Barnett, NSA director of industry outreach.

The NSA, which is based at Fort George G. Meade in Anne Arundel County, does not operate with open procurement as most government agencies do. Instead, it works from a database of small businesses — the Acquisition Resource Center — populated by companies that have applied to be on the list. Teaching companies how to navigate through the myriad requirements, such as how to secure required clearances and get on the list, is one of the goals of the event.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., ranking member of House Intelligence Committee, spoke to attendees and highlighted how the agency has made strides to open up opportunities for small businesses.

“This is a great opportunity,” Ruppersberger told the crowd. “The NSA is opening up. Years ago, you might have had a 100 people or so show up — look at it now.”

In 2010, the NSA awarded more than $2.5 billion contracts to Maryland businesses, Ruppersberger said. The agency’s contracts account for 100,000 private-sector jobs, and with BRAC and the agency’s new federal Cyber Command, that number is expected to grow.

At stake are lucrative NSA contracts, which require small business involvement. Barnett said the goal is to achieve small business involvement in 23 percent of awarded contract dollars.

To make their best case for landing some of those dollars, attendees chose from up to nine contractors and government officials they wanted to meet with, and were guaranteed four. This resulted in an estimated 1,200 one-on-one meetings taking place throughout the daylong event.

Thu Stubbs, a former U.S. Army captain and current CEO of Technology Science Corp., a 1-year old information technology company based in Reston, Va. was one of the hundreds of small business owners who attended the event. Stubbs said her goal was to grow her business with the NSA and eventually open a location closer to Fort Meade.

“The NSA has been very open to small business,” she said. “They’re really looking for new talent and out-of-the-box talent. And, if there is something of interest, they’ll take the next step.”