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Mentor-Protege: Building Positive Partnerships Between Prime Contractors and Small Disadvantaged Businesses








The Department of Defense (DoD) Pilot Mentor-Protege Program (MPP) is a socio-economic program established by Congress under Section 831 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1991. Retired U.S. Senator Sam Nunn sponsored the program legislation and former Secretary of Defense William Perry led the implementation of the program. The program's initial duration was established to begin on October 1, 1991 and end on September 30, 1994. The current session of Congress under the National Defense Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2000, granted the program's latest extension, which allows firms to enter into new agreements through September 30, 2002 and participate in the program through September 30, 2005. Implementing language for the program is under Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement, Appendix I Policy and Procedures for the DoD Pilot Mentor-ProtegeProgram.

The main goal of the program is to increase the participation of small disadvantaged businesses, (proteges) as subcontractors and suppliers under Department of Defense contracts, other Federal Government contracts, and commercial contracts. The program works by providing incentives to major DoD prime contractors (mentors) to furnish technical and business assistance to enhance the capabilities of small disadvantaged business firms to perform as both prime contractors and subcontractors.

To qualify as a mentor, a firm must be participating under at least one active approved subcontracting plan under the Department of Defense or any other federal agency and be eligible for federal contract award. Participation in the program as a protege is limited to small disadvantaged firms that have been certified by the Small Business Administration, 8(a) firms, or qualifying organizations that employ the disabled.


The program offers two types of incentives to attract industry to the program. A participating mentor firm may elect to receive credit against his SDB subcontracting goals or reimbursement of the cost of the developmental assistance provided. Costs incurred under credit agreements may be applied towards SDB subcontracting goals under any Federal Government subcontracting plan at a multiple rate depending upon the origination of the cost. A mentor firm is eligible for credit up to four times the cost of the assistance, if a Historically Black College/University or Minority Institution, Small Business Development Center or Procurement Technical Assistance Center provide the assistance. If the mentor firm employees provide the assistance through direct labor, three times the cost is eligible for credit and up to two times the credit for other types of assistance.

Firms entering into the program through the cost reimbursement arrangement are eligible for receiving reimbursement of certain developmental assistance costs, i.e., mentor direct labor, miscellaneous other direct costs, and up to 10% for incidental expenses. The program does not provide for direct reimbursement of protegeg labor, however the 10% incidental expense cost may be used to fund miscellaneous protege expenses.

The program is design for the benefit of all parties involved (Government, Mentor, Protege and HBCU/MI). While some of the benefits to the participating parties are easily quantifiable others are qualitative and may not be realized until years in the future.

The mentor's long-term benefit is the establishment of a reliable and qualified source who is intimately familiar with the mentor's business practices and expectations. The program results to the mentor are akin to the domino effect a long-term stable relationship leads to streamlined subcontracting procedures leading to the prime contractor's achievement of small business goals.

Protege firms participating in the program benefit by receiving training in the latest technology pertinent to their business niche. Like their mentor, protege firms also enjoy the benefit of a long-term stable relationship, which helps create a stable business base. Also, included in the benefits bag are expanded subcontracting opportunities throughout the corporation for the protege and the protege's ability to pursue the larger sometimes-bundled requirements by bringing along "big brother" as their partner. Another benefit whose value is not as easily quantifiable is the guidance and vision a mentor firm provides to their protege on the particular industry's direction.

The third party in the program is the Historically Black Colleges, Universities and Minority Institutions (HBCU/MI's). The HBCU/MI's contribute to the program as a whole in a myriad of ways. They assist the mentors in providing training to the proteges. The training provided is delivered by either a specially developed course designed by university staff or by pre-existing courses in the school curriculum.

The schools also contribute by providing student interns to work side by side at either the protege or mentor facility. This contribution is of great value because the students are exposed to real-life on-the-job training. Their experiences are then transferred back into the classroom supplementing textbook and theoretical instruction. By involving the schools in the program we are ensuring the complete training of the future workforce thereby setting the tone for a winning situation for everyone.

Lastly, often times the mentor-protege relationship is the door opener to additional opportunities for the schools. Many schools are able to leverage their relationship and experience into future teaming or pursuit of prime awards in the DoD arena, other Federal Government contracts, and commercial contracts.

The Government provides what can best be described as "seed money" to the mentor-protege relationship. It is called "seed money" because history has shown truly successful relationships require a significant investment of resources by both parties above the Government funding. The fruit generated from this "seed money" include a substantial return on the initial investment to the DoD documented by growth to the firms participating in one or more of the following areas; customer base, revenue, employees, and capabilities. Of course the overall winner, as a result of growth in all of these areas, is the U.S. economy.


Although each branch of service manages their MP program in accordance with the DoD policies, there are nuances to the individual services' program. Following is a discussion of the Air Force's program and related successes.

The Air Force Mentor-Protege Center of Excellence established at Brooks AFB, Texas in 1998 manages the Air Force MP program. The establishment of the AFMPCOE resulted in a dedicated organization that provides for Air Force wide program management support to ensure consistent program oversight and guidance for all program participants. The AFMPCO uses the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) competitive process to select mentor-protege agreements for funding. The process allows the Air Force to award eight to twelve cost plus fixed fee contracts over two to three proposal submission cycles. The BAA, which outlines the basis for award, is announced via the Commerce Business Daily (CBD) and also posted to the AFMPCOE homepage (

Utilization of the BAA process has resulted in a reduced acquisition lead-time and allows the Air Force to select new agreements under a competitive process. Proposal strengths and weaknesses are provided to offerors on every proposal evaluated. This process provides an opportunity for offerors to strengthen their proposals for a second shot at contract award.

The AFMPCOE program currently has over 30 small disadvantaged firms participating in the program. Included in the makeup of the 30+ SDB firms are women owned businesses and Native American concerns. There are 22 firms providing assistance of which three are graduated 8(a) firms participating as mentors.

The teams meet on a regular basis with the Air Force to review their progress to-date. The meetings also provide an excellent opportunity for the proteges to share their success outside of the Mentor-Protege program. All participating firms have experienced growth in one or more of the following areas; customer base, revenue, employees, and capabilities. The teams' growth is documented through regular Air Force meetings and the DoD semi-annual report. Regardless of the degree of success enjoyed, all participants agree the program has provided significant learning opportunities, which have led to improved technological, and business infrastructure efficiencies.

A highlight this year for the AFMPCOE was the announcement that three of their mentor-protege teams were named winners of the prestigious Nunn-Perry award from the Department of Defense for program excellence. The winning teams consisted of Northrop Grumman Corporation Integrated Systems & Aerostructures Sector and Mandaree Enterprise Corporation, Raytheon and RS Information Systems, Inc. and The IT Group and Deerinwater Environmental Management Services, Inc.

The DoD presented awards to twelve outstanding teams consisting of DoD prime contractors and small disadvantaged businesses. All winning teams were judged on the type of assistance and impact of assistance to the proteges' development.

Additional information on the program can be found under the Department of Defense MP website ( and Air Force website ( The Air Force has also developed a handbook for the program and it is available on line at

BIOGRAPHY: Janie B. Campos is the Air Force Mentor-Protege Program Manager. She is a CACM and a member of the Greater San Antonio Chapter.

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