Two sides of small-biz goals

Is the government meeting its small-business goals? The answer depends on whom you ask, where their data comes from and how they analyze it. Political considerations further cloud the issue.

The Democrats on the House Small Business Committee issued a report in October stating that the federal government overall awarded 22.44 percent of prime-contracting dollars to small businesses in fiscal 2004, just missing the governmentwide goal of 23 percent. The goal was raised from 20 percent to 23 percent in fiscal 1997, and the government has missed that target since fiscal 1999, according to the report.

The committee's Democrats, scoring agencies individually, gave the government overall a grade of D for small-business contracting, identifying the departments of Homeland Security, Interior, Transportation, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs as the best performers. They scored Bs or B-minuses.

Contract dollars going to small businesses declined by 31 percent from fiscal 2003 to fiscal 2004, according to the report.

But market research firm Input painted a rosier picture when it evaluated 15 Cabinet-level agencies for a report released in September. Ten of the 15 met or exceeded the small-business goals set for them by the Small Business Administration, the report states.

There are several factors that can affect the outcome of such an analysis, said a General Services Administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Some agencies don't enter all of their procurement information into the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS), the official said, and some contracts, such as those awarded for performance outside the United States, are generally not counted as contracts for which small businesses could compete.

Furthermore, the Small Business Committee's Democrats studied 22 agencies, while Input sampled 15. The Democrats' report included information from agencies to supplement FPDS data. The Democrats also adjusted the numbers to account for the difference between agencies' additional information and FPDS data and to account for the possibility that some small-business figures might have been overstated.

Jennifer Geurin, the Input senior analyst who wrote the firm's report, acknowledged the disputes over small-business data.

"We know there are some holes in it," she said. "We just went by what SBA reported in their goaling reports." Even if the data is not wholly accurate, she added, it indicates an overall positive trend.

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