SBA, ASBL reach accord on FOIA suit

More than a year of legal wrangling has ended between the Small Business Administration and the American Small Business League (ASBL), one of its primary antagonists, regarding the disclosure of the name of a company the SBA Inspector General’s Office had recommended for debarment.
 
Earlier this week, Eric Benderson of SBA contacted ASBL and said the company in question was GTSI, ASBL said.

According to a statement SBA gave to Federal Computer Week, the case stemmed from a 2001 Navy contract for information technology hardware that was set aside for a small business. When another company objected to GTSI winning the contract, the SBA IG reviewed the case and asked the agency to determine whether GTSI was a small business.

“SBA found that it was not,” according to the statement, and SBA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals subsequently rejected GTSI’s appeal of its size status.

Based on that decision, the IG prepared in June 2005 a recommendation that SBA permanently debar GTSI from further federal procurement “on the grounds that it had falsely misrepresented itself as a small business to secure the Navy contract,” the SBA statement reads.

ASBL filed suit against SBA in April under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking the name of the company, which had not been made public.

SBA said it declined to reveal the name at that time because “the information was still part of an investigatory proceeding.”

When SBA’s Office of General Counsel ruled that the agency did not have the authority to debar GTSI because the contract in question was not an SBA contract, the agency referred the matter to the Defense Department, which then assigned it to the Army for a decision.

The Army recently concluded its investigation of the case, SBA said. It issued a “no further action” letter, declining to debar GTSI from federal procurement. “At that time, the SBA disclosed GTSI’s name to an attorney representing the ASBL, since the investigation was no longer pending,” SBA said.

“For the inspector general to recommend that GTSI be debarred, the evidence against the company must have been very compelling,” said Lloyd Chapman, ASBL president, in a statement. “It’s time that the FBI step in and investigate SBA’s handling of these matters.”

Between 2002 and 2005, GTSI won more than $1.5 billion in small-business contract awards as reported by the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation, Chapman said.

Several calls to GTSI seeking comment were not returned.

The IG semiannual report to Congress acknowledges problems with governmental procurement activity intended for small business. In July the IG told the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee that several federal reports have shown that “many contracts that are counted toward these small-business goals are actually being performed by firms that do not meet SBA’s criteria to be considered small.”

The IG has established a Small Business Procurement Integrity Task Force composed of auditors, investigators and attorneys, and led by the deputy IG to “focus on the issues of integrity in small-business contracting and accuracy of reporting by federal agencies on small-business procurement activity,” the semiannual report states.

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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