SBIR Gateway
GAO Protest Puts DoD SBIR 2003.1 on Hold
Update on the DoD SBIR Submission Debacle
January 30, 2003




It has been reported that three companies have filed protests to the General Accounting Office (GAO) concerning the DoD SBIR 2003.1 solicitation. The protests were in response to the DoD's inability to accept submissions in a timely manner. The GAO's acceptance to review these protests, effectively puts the entire DoD 2003.1 SBIR solicitation process on hold. It is not known how long the hold will stay in effect.

Informed government sources suggest that the GAO ruling may very well be the final word. Private sector sources tend to believe otherwise if the GAO upholds the DoD's current position. These sources believe that the DoD SBIR is guilty of misconduct in order to hide the systemic problems of their inadequate proposal submission system. This alleged misconduct resulted in hundreds of proposals being rejected.

The SBIR Gateway continues to receive many phone calls and emails from small businesses who complained of failed attempts to contact the DoD submission web site and/or being cut off in mid-stream on January 15. Some companies claim they even had trouble contacting the DoD help desk, while others were told that the help desk had received hundreds of calls and messages, and would have to wait until they sorted through the stack.

One source close to the DoD infrastructure, said the DoD had put a major effort into expanding their submittal system in order to avoid the overload that took place last August. She commented that it was much better this year because the rejections could be estimate in hundreds rather than thousands.

The "improvements" were obviously not enough, and in at least one instance, were not as good as the August 2002 system. DoD increased bandwidth capacity and may have updated their computer hardware, BUT continued to use the same old outdated server software, and eliminated the FTP upload capability, which is far more efficient in file transfers than the web's HTTP. In fact, one source told the Gateway that during the August 2002 system failure, the FTP worked great and was a wonderful back up alternative to the web site, but there was no FTP to be found this time.

Most sources feared potential retribution from the DoD if they were quoted. A very irate company president inferred mistrust of an organization that was more interest in punishing a few late submitters than allowing the timely submissions of many legitimate companies.

Embattled DoD SADBU

Several sources interviewed felt that the DoD Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (SADBU) is not really a small business advocate. One source asked, "Would a small business advocate summarily dismiss hundreds of businesses as they did in the current 2003.1 solicitation?" Indeed it seems as if the DoD gives very little oversight to this office.

Case in point: From June of 1996 through June of 2001, the DoD SADBU was run by its director, Robert Neal and his executive assistant, Francis Jones. During this time it was alleged these two used their office powers to receive illegal extortion payments, bribes, and gratuities from DoD contractors seeking to participate in acquisition preference programs. The two were indicted January 23, 2003 on 12 counts including extortion, money laundering, making false statements and conspiracy to commit extortion, bribery, obstruction of justice and money laundering. They are scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 3, 2003. This was a sad period for the SADBU office and it is estimated that the two individuals netted more than 1.1 million dollars. These alleged improprieties went on for over six years, in spite of the many flags that should have signaled potential improprieties. Where was the oversight?

Mr. Frank Ramos is now at the helm of the SADBU office and by most counts, has been an improvement over his predecessor. He had his first major SBIR controversy on August 13, 2002 when the DoD SBIR submittal site failed miserably. Under Mr. Ramos' leadership, the DoD wisely extended the deadline to remedy their failure and accommodate those who could not submit. In spite of the fact that the DoD again experienced this failure on January 15, 2003, this time Mr. Ramos ruled to cover his agency's incompetence, at the expense of small businesses, by denying those businesses the right to submit in a timely manner as defined by the DoD deadline date and time.

This action by the DoD SADBU adds credibility to those who have questioned the SADBU's commitment to the small business community. Several SBIR veterans believe that the DoD SBIR program would be better served by the agency components without the SADBU office.

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