New rulescould hurtsmall biz

A proposed rewrite of the Federal Acquisition Regulation would bar small vendors from bidding on federal contracts and give contracting officers too much freedom in determining what constitutes an adequate level of competition representatives from small businesses told Congress this month.

Executives from small businesses told the House Committee on Small Business that changes to Part 15 of the FAR as proposed by the Office of Federal Procurement Policy would allow agency procurement officials to disqualify vendors too early in the acquisition process.

Tom Frana president of Vion Corp. said the changes would especially hurt small businesses that have no established reputations or established relationships with contracting officers. "The [information technology] market is changing dramatically and a vendor who might be in last place at day one of an acquisition could ultimately win " Frana said who testified on behalf of the Full and Open Competition Coalition which represents more than 100 small-business associations. "That's one of the issues we have with a contracting officer being able to make an exclusion based on the first proposal. It's a lot easier to give the contract to somebody big."

The rewritten version of Part 15 would allow agencies to exclude from competitions proposals that are not considered likely to win at the time the bids are submitted.

OFPP administrator Steven Kelman who also testified at the hearing said the proposed rule would save time and resources by reducing procurement personnel's workload. "It is almost always the case that the winning bidder is ranked among the top three [at the time of the first evaluation] " Kelman said.

Kelman said OFPP will change its rewritten proposal to make it clear that contracting officers may not narrow the competitive range of bidders before they have evaluated all proposals. He said the final version also will strengthen the rights of bidders to receive pre-award debriefings from agencies and will allow vendors in start-up companies to include in their past-performance portfolio experience gleaned from previous employers.

Committee chairman Rep. James Talent (R-Mo.) appeared sympathetic to the concerns of small businesses but was apparently swayed by Kelman's testimony. "Your presentation has moved me more in the direction of what you are trying to achieve " he told Kelman.

Kelman said in an interview that he expected to issue the revised version of the rewritten Part 15 by mid-May. Industry will then have 60 days to submit comments on the revision he said.

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