Agencies craft small-biz sequels

COMMITS NexGen

Two of the most lucrative governmentwide small-business contracts will soon expire, and agencies released solicitations for their successors last week.

The Commerce Department outlined the details of its Commerce Information Technology Solutions (COMMITS) NexGen, the successor to its busy $1.5 billion COMMITS vehicle, while the General Services Administration opened the gate for Federal Acquisition Services for Technology (FAST) 2, limited to 8(a) firms.

"Both of those are contracts that have had good success," said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

The agencies intend the contracts to build on and improve the vehicles they are replacing. Michael Sade, director of Commerce's Office of Acquisition Management, structured COMMITS NexGen so that the smallest of the small businesses will not be forced into competing with larger small businesses.

COMMITS has been an effective vehicle for small businesses, said Paul Leslie, president and chief operating officer of ITS Services Inc. of Springfield, Va. Officials at the small firm expect to submit proposals for up to $30 million through the original COMMITS contract and will also bid on the new contract, Leslie added.

"There's been a lot of movement of work through that vehicle," he said. "A lot of agencies, when they look at consolidation of services, [decide that] they would like to work with some small businesses." COMMITS gives them an easy way to locate the firms, he added.

GSA is also trying new ideas, and officials are hoping to improve the opportunities for contractors, said Mary Park, director of the Small Business Governmentwide Acquisition Contract Center at GSA.

The proposed contract term for FAST 2 is a three-year base with two two-year option periods. In an attempt to mitigate the effects of small businesses graduating from the 8(a) program and ending their participation in the contract, FAST 2 will feature "open season" periods during which new companies can join the contract, Park said. The exact number and frequency of the periods have not been set, but she said at a minimum they will come during option years.

"We were losing a lot of firms [that were] being bought out by large businesses and other issues," she said. "We went from 170 contractors to 148."

COMMITS includes some barriers between companies based on their North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) codes. The codes set thresholds based on revenue or number of employees to classify business as small or large, but the boundaries differ depending on the type of business involved. In some classes, firms with fewer than 1,500 employees are defined as small, while in other categories, 550 employees would be classified as a large business.

To ensure that smaller firms get a fair shake, COMMITS NexGen establishes three tiers based on the size of the acquisition an agency is seeking through the contract and the NAICS code assigned to the company.

The smallest small businesses have a revenue ceiling of either $6 million or $12.5 million depending on their NAICS code. These Tier 1 companies can bid on any task orders they want. If they limit themselves to Tier 1 orders, or those under $5 million, they will only be competing with other Tier 1 companies.

Tier 2 companies have fewer than 500 employees or less than $21.5 million in revenue, depending on what category applies to their industry. They can compete on task orders worth more than $5 million.

Tier 3 covers the largest small companies — those with fewer than 1,500 employees. They can only bid on task orders worth more than $70 million.

In all cases, Sade said, smaller companies can "bid up" and compete for bigger contracts if they choose, but the bigger firms cannot "bid down" and challenge the smaller companies in the lower categories.

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