SBA gives agencies more 8(a) buying power
- By Colleen O'Hara
- Nov 12, 2000
The Small Business Administration wants to streamline the way agencies award
contracts to socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses.
In a proposed rule issued in the Federal Register last week, SBA said
it wants to delegate to agencies the authority to act as a prime contractor
when awarding contracts to 8(a) companies. The move should reduce the time
it takes to award a contract by up to 12 days, and make the 8(a) program
Currently, when an agency wants to make an award to an 8(a) firm, it
sends its recommendation, or an open requirement for work, to SBA, which
makes the award. The proposed administrative change would allow an agency
to make the award to an 8(a) on behalf of SBA without SBA intervening.
The decision to streamline the 8(a) procurement process reflects what
is happening in the rest of government, said Darryl Hairston, deputy associate
deputy administrator for government contracting and business development
at SBA. Multiple award contracts, governmentwide acquisition contracts,
federal supply schedules and credit cards are common practices now. But
the 8(a) program has not kept up.
"This eliminates several days of [the process] where [agencies] send
an offer to us and we would intake that offer and process it and send out
an acceptance letter," Hairston said.
Meanwhile, SBA will still determine whether a company is eligible for
the 8(a) program, but will do so on an annual basis rather than a contract-by-contract
basis. SBA will maintain a list of 8(a) firms in its PRO-Net database.
The proposed change would put into regulation what SBA has already been
doing, said Bob Welch, former procurement executive at the Commerce Department
and now vice president of government operations at Acquisition Solutions
Inc. This is also just the first step in revamping the entire 8(a) program.
"It's time for SBA to become a player, not a regulator," he said.
If SBA uses the additional time to focus on business development, then
this proposed change is a "good thing," said Woody McCutchen, president
and chief executive officer of the Association of Small Business Development
Centers, which ensures that small businesses receive management assistance.
"The 8(a) program is not just a procurement program, it's a business development
program," he said. "Most of the complaints from the Hill have been that
[SBA] doesn't really use the program to help with the business development
skills and infrastructure needs [necessary] to compete in the open market."
Still, SBA must provide guidance and direction to agencies and manage
the process closely if it is to succeed, said Valerie Perlowitz, president
and chief executive officer of Reliable Integration Services Inc. "It's
great on one hand, but who will check to make sure it's aboveboard?" she