May 2022: Interview with Graham Pritchett, 319th Contracting Squadron
I had the opportunity to chat with Graham Pritchett, the Director of Business Operations and Small Business Professional with the 319th Contracting Squadron out of Grand Forks AFB. In 2008, his squadron was awarded the Air Force’s Special Achievement Award for their small business practices. Graham was named P-T Small Business Professional of the Year in 2019 by Air Combat Command (Headquarters). On average, annually to small business concerns.
Question: What does it mean to be a Contracting Officer? What “hats” do you wear at Grand Forks AFB?
Mr. Pritchett: When you become a Contracting Officer [as opposed to being a Contracting Specialist] that means you can actually sign a contract. I’m the director of Small Business Operations which means I am the head civilian, and then I’m also the Small Business Specialist so I wear a couple of hats.
Questions: Where do you seek contractors and post solicitations? As someone who is new to the world of procurement, how does that process work?
Mr. Pritchett: A lot of times we post “Sources Sought” to SAM.gov to see who’s out there and who’s interested. We may get, say, 18 small businesses so then we would do a small business set-aside. That is national so I could get twenty respondents from all over the U.S. We do a lot of straight small business set-asides. I’m talking about solicitations over $25,000 if it’s a service or construction. We would then move on to the actual request for proposal.
Mr. Pritchett: A lot of our dollars in construction go to local companies, North Dakota and maybe into Minnesota. I would say easily 80-90% go to these local contractors. Services tend to be more varied. I would say it’s maybe half of those who are local contractors. Overall, we do about $30-32 million a year and we make a pie chart and brief it to the Wing Commander, and I bet you on average, half of our dollars are with a North Dakota or Minnesota firm, mostly North Dakota. When it comes to commodity or supply, it doesn’t really have to be local because they can ship it overnight.
Question: When looking at proposals that you receive for a solicitation, what are some of the biggest factors you are looking for when deciding whose proposal to choose?
Mr. Pritchett: When we do large dollar acquisitions, those primarily over $250,000, we normally balance price and past performance. That allows us to award a better performer. So, if someone comes in with a proposal at $5 million and they have a satisfactory rating and somebody else comes in at $5.4 million and they have an exceptional rating, we would have the liberty to award the latter bid based on past performance rating.
We do have limits so if someone comes in with a bid of $5 million with a satisfactory rating and another at $8.4 million and they’re exceptional, I don’t think we’d have enough ammunition to trade up. A Contract Officer (CO) has to document why that trade-up is worth it, but you can only do so much within a certain limit.
Now if we’re doing a $200,000 computer buy or a $30,000 service buy, we would probably go with price. We do have to make sure the contractor is responsible before we award it but other than that, we are not evaluating technical and past performance.
Question: Do you have any other advice based on your experiences working with small businesses?
Mr. Pritchett: The biggest advice that I have concerns companies who have certifications like 8(a) and then sit back and say, “I don’t get anything.” You’ve got to be pounding the pavement because it’s not going to be handed to you on a platter. Certification gives you an opportunity, but you have to use that opportunity to go out and be proactive.
As always, if you are not sure where to start or how to get organized, connect with the North Dakota Procurement Technical Assistance Center (ND PTAC). Our services are at no cost to businesses based in the state of North Dakota. Register to schedule an appointment. Additionally, take advantage of the many other training opportunities and events listed on the ND PTAC website.
Not from North Dakota? Find your closest PTAC on the APTAC website and then click on your state.