Senators say SBA staffing proposals fall far short

The Small Business Administration plans to add nine procurement center representatives in 2007 and 2008  to its staff of 30 full-time PCRs, said Steven Preston, SBA administrator. But senators said at a hearing today that is not enough.

Congress has called for 100 more PCRs to oversee nearly $400 billion in federal contracts, according to the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

PCRs, who are advocates for small businesses, work with agencies' major contracting offices to push opportunities for small firms by encouraging more set-aside contracts and discouraging unnecessary bundling.

“Yes, the [president’s fiscal 2008] budget proposes to add nine procurement specialists, but we need many more to make a difference,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the committee’s chairman. “We only have one in my state of Massachusetts who is supposed to oversee $9.5 billion in contracts in our state each year.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the committee’s ranking member, said SBA’s proposal is commendable but short even of the staffing level in 1993, when the federal contracting budget was much lower than it is today.

PCRs are necessary because small businesses’ participation in government contracting will not increase without agency support. But “the agencies have been intransigent — most especially the Department of Defense,” Snowe said.

Preston said SBA intends to give PCRs greater support through development of the Electronic Procurement Center Representative System. The technology shares timely information on contracts with representatives. SBA began working on a system in fiscal 2006 as a way to search out contracts.

The 2008 budget requests $500,000 to review processes underlying small-business preference programs. Preston said agencies need time to find the right small business for contracts, but small businesses can often work at less cost. Their size makes them flexible and innovative, he added.

“I like to tell people it’s not just a matter of fairness; it’s a matter of competitiveness,” Preston said.

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