Remembering Leo Moskovitzby Former Senator Saxby Chambliss
Posted on 2014-12-11
CHAMBLISS. Madam President, the Mercer Engineering
Research Center, or MERC, is the nonprofit, research and applied
engineering arm of Mercer University, a private university founded in
1833 and located in a state-of-the-art research facility in Warner
Robins, GA; just a short drive from Robins Air Force Base. For over 175
years, the University has served Georgia as a highly respected
In 1984, the School of Engineering was established at the Macon, GA, campus with the charter class beginning studies in 1985. Two years later, MERC was established under the School of Engineering to provide locally available engineering and scientific services with critical specialized skills to the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, while simultaneously providing a workload support-base to the Mercer School of Engineering in its development of high-technology skills in the Middle Georgia area.
MERC has a highly qualified professional staff, complex tools and test equipment, and extensive technical capability in the fields of aircraft structural analysis and design, flight test instrumentation, reverse engineering and prototyping, laboratory structural testing, electronic warfare software algorithm development, web deployed applications with integrated database access, industrial engineering and logistics.
MERC also employs engineering interns providing an avenue for students to get real world, Air Force-related experience, and today they are the largest source of entry-level engineers for Robins Air Force Base while also providing superior support to all other military services, large and small business, and other research agencies.
MERC has been able to maintain a successful, strategic relationship with Robins Air Force Base because of its Ph.D-level knowledge of sponsors' requirements and problems; its developing capability; its broad corporate knowledge and quick response capability; independence and objectivity; freedom from conflicts of interest; and lower costs. Their demonstrated ability to provide efficient, cost effective solutions to pressing research and development problems established MERC as the preferred source of real solutions to real problems Over the last few years, however, the Air Force and the Robins Air Force Base Small Business Office have emphasized increasing the percentage of small business contract awards; an initiative not without merit for sure. However, their interpretation and application of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, or FAR, has resulted in MERC essentially being barred from providing contracted services the likes of which they have provided with unmatched efficiency and significant savings for the Air Force for almost 30 years.
Since nonprofit research organizations by definition cannot be small businesses, they are excluded by law from competing for small business set-asides. However, the FAR offers seven equal and independent statutory authorities the U.S. government can apply which authorize, under certain conditions, contracting without providing for full and open competition.
Senior Air Force leadership at Robins Air Force Base have long supported the use of those exceptions, specifically, the so-called ``Exception Three'' which allowed for contacting without providing for full and open competition ``when it is necessary to award the contract to a particular source or sources in order to establish or maintain an essential engineering, research, or development capability to be provided by an educational or other nonprofit institution or a federally funded research and development center.'' That application of the FAR allowed Robins AFB to maintain the essential engineering capabilities of MERC to augment their own because under FAR Exception Three, MERC received sole source contracts when their expertise, flexibility and lower costs demanded it.
In recent years, however, the Small Business Office at Robins Air Force Base has approved the use of only one of the FAR exceptions, that being when ``only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy agency requirements.'' This application of the FAR, or misapplication if you will, makes it virtually impossible for the Robins Air Force Base to award certain contracts to any entity other than small businesses. It translates to higher costs and greater inefficiencies. Robins Air [[Page S6688]] Force Base continues to seek MERC's unique expertise and essential engineering skills, but is forced to pass money through small and large businesses to MERC adding time and cost to the product/service delivery. By demanding more awards go to small businesses, the government also suffers a loss of intellectual property, IP, since MERC transfers ownership of all said property back to the U.S. Government, while small businesses can retain IP for future revenue.
You would be hard pressed to find any bigger supporter of small businesses in the Senate than myself. However, when it comes to ensuring our men and women fighting overseas for our freedom have what they need to get the job done, there are only three things I care about: cost, schedule, and performance. Our men and women in uniform deserve that.
In this era of defense spending austerity, the Air Force can ill afford the unintended consequences of precluding entities that supply vital complex engineering solutions, along with the added benefit of cross pollination of educational experience between government employees, both civilian and military, and the best in the academic engineering community, from receiving business simply to meet a set- aside quota.
This issue is about ensuring Robins Air Force Base maintains essential engineering capabilities to supplement their own and their ability to swiftly and inexpensively select the most capable organization to provide the best product or service at the best value to the government. The Small Business Office at Warner Robins, in their attempt to carry out the Air Forces' broader goal of increasing small businesses participation, is jeopardizing the very survival of institutions provided for and protected by the FAR.
By selectively applying the FAR exceptions, the Air Force is ignoring the intent of the acquisition regulations. It is certain to destroy these few vital educational links between academic institutions and government engineers that need that level of expertise. More importantly, by ignoring FAR Exception Three, the government is limiting its ability to pursue the best solutions at the best price. We can ill-afford such consequences in this period of economic austerity, simply in the name of fostering the growth of small businesses.
I was encouraged in September when the Air Force took a step in the right direction with their approval of a Justification and Approval, J&A, for the use of other than full and open competition for an engineering, research and development contract in support of technologies and methodologies applicable to aging aircraft and support equipment. The contract will maintain essential engineering, research, and development capabilities at Robins AFB through support provided by MERC.
I am hopeful this recent development is indicative of a new way of doing business at Warner Robins. In case it is not, I urge my colleagues here in the Senate to remain vigilant in their oversight responsibilities, and I renew my call to the Secretary of the Air Force to ensure local commands apply the FAR as written so as to guarantee our men and women in uniform have exactly what they need, when they need it, and at a price that is in keeping with our responsibilities as stewards of the American tax dollar.