Small Business League sues NASA over information requests

The American Small Business League has sued NASA in federal court under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in order to obtain the names of firms to which NASA has awarded small business contracts, according to ASBL president Lloyd Chapman.

In a statement, Chapman claims NASA employees largely ignored his efforts to obtain the information through FOIA. He said the group never received a written response, although NASA did acknowledge receipt of the requests by telephone.

“I believe NASA is falsifying their small-business reports to Congress and I believe that they are allowing their contractors to falsify their small business reports,” he said. “I’ve also seen evidence that NASA is protecting large companies that are intentionally misrepresenting themselves as small in order to illegally receive small-business contracts.”

A 2003 Government Accountability Office investigation found that contracting officers were reporting contracts to large businesses as small-business awards. The report outlined reasons why that might happen: Companies that win small-business contracts while they are small can often continue to bring in new work under the contracts after outgrowing the size classification for a period of time, and information that contracting officers find in databases about the companies may have been inaccurate to begin with, leading to misreporting of small-business contract awards.

The report used NASA as an example, it but did not single the agency out as especially problematic.

Chapman believes the problem is ongoing. “My experience has been that anytime an agency has refused to provide information that is readily available, it’s usually because they are trying to cover something up,” he said.

In the last 24 months, the Justice Department has represented the Small Business Administration in its efforts to withhold information requested under FOIA that could be used to prove felony contracting fraud, Chapman said. The ASBL has sued the federal government four times for data that it believes should be covered under FOIA and available to the public.

In a separate statement, the ASBL claims that since 2003, 11 federal investigations have uncovered a variety of fraudulent practices and other abuses in small-business contracting. According to the ASBL, the investigations also found that contracting officers within government agencies have participated in the process by coding large businesses as small, in what Chapman believes is a deliberate effort “to project the false impression that they have met their small-business goals.”

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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