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Workshop provides help for small businesses in obtaining NSA contracts

April 26, 2010|By ERIN JULIUS
  • U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., left, speaks at a procurement workshop Monday at the Hagerstown Hotel & Convention Center. Sycamore.US President and CEO Kurt Heckman also made a presentation.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer,

HAGERSTOWN -- Art Lyons, chief financial officer for a local company, didn't even know he and other small businesses had access to National Security Agency projects, but he would be interested in small construction projects and medical supply, he said.

Lyons and others gathered Monday morning at the Hagerstown Hotel & Convention Center on Dual Highway for an event designed to give small-business owners a guide to working with the NSA.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., hosted the event, meant to help build relationships between local small businesses, the NSA and the NSA's prime contractors.

Small businesses employ about half the people in the country, but are responsible for more than half of the innovative ideas, the congressman said.

This was the 20th such procurement workshop held by Bartlett's office, which started them in 2000, he said.

The NSA is the largest employer in Maryland, but as one of the "spook agencies," it doesn't even advertise a lot of its upcoming projects on the Internet, Bartlett said.

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"Everything is classified," he said.

Neither NSA representatives nor their contractors would speak to the media, citing agency policy.

The workshops are meant to help businesses untangle bureaucracy and learn some of the acronyms needed to do business with government agencies, Bartlett said.

For Rick Schulman, of Freedom Electronics Recycling based in Williamsport, that was exactly the kind of help he needed.

He already works in 11 states, but with the NSA headquartered in Fort Meade, Md., recycling its electronic equipment would be a big boost for his business, Schulman said.

Monday's workshop was about getting access to people, phone numbers and a road map for how to do business with the agency, Schulman said.

Small businesses see the federal government allocate tons of money to programs, but much of the work goes to large prime contractors, said Debbie Burrell, who does procurement outreach for Bartlett's office.

So they ask the federal agencies and their contractors to meet for these workshops, "to share how to do business," she said.

For Thomas Sheahen, of Western Technology Inc., a consulting firm based in Deer Park, Md., it's been a chicken-and-egg problem, he said. He has to have security clearance to work for the NSA, but the agency doesn't want to sponsor a clearance unless someone is doing work for it, he said.

A program explained Monday, which will gradually bring businesses into the fold, will be a big help, Sheahen said.

Because it's an intelligence agency, the NSA is "really closed-door" and getting points of contact Monday was a big help, said Shawn Sisler, who is with a defense contractor in Oakland, Md.

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