SBA plans to keep pressure on agencies

The Small Business Administration does not intend to let agencies wriggle out of their small-business contracting goals.

The agency has no authority to enforce the government's small-business mandate. But as SBA Chief of Staff Joel Szabat sees it, the agency wields two "hammers" that it can use to force the issue: the small-business score card and the Office of Management and Budget’s authority.

“SBA is not the hammer to make agencies comply,” but it has the tools, Szabat said in his speech at a breakfast sponsored by Federal Sources.

In August, SBA handed out the lowest score on its small-business score card to half of the 24 agencies it rated. The scores reflect agencies' progress in reaching contracting goals.

An agency earns a red score, the lowest grade, if it misses its goal for awarding a certain overall percentage of contract dollars to small businesses or if it doesn’t reach companies in at least two out of four socioeconomic categories, such as woman-owned and veteran-owned businesses.

Szabat said departments and agency officials called his office for days after SBA released the scores in August. The officials were outraged and wanted to know why they received the lowest score.

But Szabat said one official’s comment summed up the reason for the score card: “I didn’t even know we had a small-business goal in our agency.”

Departments’ offices of small- and disadvantaged-business utilization and small-business advocates live on an island far away from the top officials, Szabat said. But SBA’s score card aims to help the offices and advocates reach those officials.

OMB's support — the second hammer — is also helpful. OMB is backing SBA’s efforts to improve the Federal Procurement Data System’s data. SBA wants agencies to enter data correctly into the system.

OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy ordered agencies’ chief acquisition officers to certify by Dec. 15 that their data for the year is correct.

“Attention to the accuracy of federal procurement data is critical,” Paul Denett, OFPP administrator, wrote in his March 9 memo.

SBA officials have finished reviewing 11 million contract actions from fiscal 2005 and 2006, and they ended up removing $4.6 billion in miscoded prime contracts from agencies' small-business contracting goals. Agencies had said the contracts were going to small businesses, but they were wrong, Szabat said.

Today though, Szabat said, “We’re $4.6 billion more perfect.”

He added that SBA and OFPP don’t want to erase that much money again and expect the CAO's verification will help to avoid it.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.


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