How a few words could change small-business set-aside picture

The Obama administration wants contracting officers to set aside solicitations for research and development for small business if they expect that capable companies exist and would be interested, according to a proposed rule. But the wording of a provision in the Federal Acquisition Regulation regarding research and development procurements is raising concern at the Small Business Administration, according to Federal Register notice published Aug. 10.

The FAR states:

“In making R&D small business set-asides, there must also be a reasonable expectation of obtaining from small businesses the best scientific and technological sources consistent with the demands of the proposed acquisition for the best mix of cost, performances, and schedules.”

Acquisition officials at the Defense Department, NASA, and the General Services Administration have proposed a revision that removes the phrase: “consistent with the demands of the proposed acquisition for the best mix of cost, performances, and schedules.”

SBA officials say agencies see this is an additional and unique condition that contracting officers have to establish before they can proceed with small-business set-asides. But, they say, it shouldn't be. The proposed new wording makes clear that the contracting officer need only determine that there are small businesses capable of handling the specialized work -- based on market research -- in order to justify the set-aside. (The other two conditions for a set-aside, that there be at least two small businesses that can compete, and that fair-market prices are in effect, also apply.)

The proposed rule is intended to remove any potential barriers for small businesses.

Officials are accepting comments on the proposed rule through Oct. 9.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Wed, Aug 15, 2012

I am seriously thinking about putting in my retirement papers.

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 Raul Espinosa

Although pleased that FCW is finally devoting more attention to small businesses and their 'barriers,' which for years have been ignored, by both the government and by the media, I cannot let the opportunity afforded by Matt's article to make a simple observation.

It is my personal experience that Agencies are neither overseeing nor demanding that the compliant research which FAR 10 requires on all public contracts be performed. That fact combined with the dysfunctional procurement culture that allows, for example, 'unfair justifications' to exist, wont be affected by the language used on the regulations. It wont matter. Bureaucrats will continue to offer preferential treatment to their own friends and/or suppliers.

Bringing transparency to the arena, however, will. The tracking of the results in government contracting; the reporting of the abuses and the punishment of the violators, on the other hand, will achieve the intended results.

Wanting something does is one thing. Getting the intended results is another. Small businesses are tired of the bureaucrats lip service. Clean up the house, overhaul the system and then we will have results and achieve savings for the taxpayers.

Raul Espinosa
Founder/CEO - Fairness in Procurement Alliance (FPA)
Managing Partner - Umbrella Initiative
Board Member - Nat'l. Fed. Contractors Assoc. (NaFCA)

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