Fickle House leaves small-biz procurement goal in limbo

The percent of federal contracts that should go to small businesses has changed as different House committees recently considered a contracting-related bill. But each percentage has caused the agencies and Bush administration officials concern.

The Small Business Fairness in Contracting Act initially would have set a governmentwide goal of awarding 30 percent of contracts to small businesses. The current goal is 23 percent. In strong bipartisan support, Democrat and Republican House Small Business Committee members agreed April 24 on 30 percent. But the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee trimmed it back to 25 percent May 1.

Several members, however, intend to get that back up to 30 percent. When the House considers the bill this week, an amendment by the Small Business Committee’s ranking member, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), and member Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) will try to restore it.

Meanwhile, the administration has said the current goal is fine.

“The current 23 percent is [a] realistic, aggressive goal,” an administration official said today.

The Bush administration said both 25 percent and 30 percent goals could undermine the small-business procurement goal process.

Instead of an arbitrary percentage, the administration asks each agency what it expects to spend with small businesses for the coming year. Then the goal is set. The Energy Department, for example, goes to each office to get small-business forecasts and then helps the offices throughout the year reach their goals, Francis Spampinato, the department’s chief acquisition officer, said at a recent panel discussion.

“I don’t think the standard cookie-cutter approach is going to do it,” he said. “Agencies can be innovative and can use their own creativity.”

Without  direct input from the agencies, there will be less buy-in and enthusiasm, the administration official said. Forcing agencies to meet an arbitrary goal “is a whole different atmosphere and one that I believe would have a chilling effect.”

The official said the current goal, coupled with new Federal Acquisition Regulation proposals, will result in more small-business opportunities.

President Bush has not said he would veto the bill.
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