House panel puts anti-bundling bill on fast track

Seeing little progress on federal contracts going to small firms, the House Small Business Committee has set new small-business contracting legislation on a fast track to passage.

The committee plans to mark up the Small Business Fairness in Contracting Act (H.R. 1873) on April 24. The bill would require federal procurement officials to assess the effect new contracts would have on small-business competition.

The bill is intended to discourage the practice of contract bundling, in which an agency, looking to streamline the procurement process, combines multiple procurement requirements into a single contract. The problem is that such megadeals generally exceed the reach of small businesses.

The bill would also require the federal government to spend 30 percent of its contract dollars with small businesses, compared to 23 percent under existing procurement rules.

Largely due to contracting bundling, the federal government failed to reach its small-business goals in 2006, costing the small-business community $4.5 billion in business, said Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), the committee’s chairwoman.

On a larger scale, the total value of federal contracts has increased by 60 percent over the past five years, while the number of contracts has declined by 55 percent, according to the committee.

Velasquez said she initially was excited about the Bush administration’s goal of unbundling contracts. Her feelings have changed, she said, because administration officials have not followed through, and they have not explained why.

“This is very frustrating,” she said after the hearing. “Members get frustrated because [the administration] cannot provide real answers.”

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