SBA chief: Tougher times ahead for agency contracting scores

Federal agencies will find out late this spring how well they contracted with small businesses in fiscal 2007, and receiving good grades is getting tougher, the Small Business Administration’s top official said.

SBA Administrator Steven Preston said Jan. 22 that SBA and other procurement officials are cleaning up contracting data. Last year, they deducted $5 billion from the figures that supposedly went to small businesses because the numbers were incorrectly coded.

Billions of dollars in contracts also go to small businesses that aren’t small because companies merge with and acquire one another, Preston said. SBA and procurement officials are tracking them so small-business contracts don’t go to large corporations.

“We’re making it much harder for [agencies] to hit their numbers,” Preston said.

The score card was expected in January or February, but Preston said SBA has struggled to get good data, which has slowed the process of determining and publishing grades.

SBA and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy have led efforts to improve federal contracting data, which goes into the Federal Procurement Data System. In recent years, the system has earned a poor reputation because of faulty numbers. Last month, agency acquisition chiefs had to verify and validate the contracting information they submitted into the system, as OFPP required.

Agencies didn’t excel on the first score card, which SBA issued in August. Half of the 24 departments and agencies earned red scores, the lowest grade, according to the score card.

Preston said the grades made senior agency officials think about their small-business goals. After SBA released its score card, many agency officials called to ask why their agencies received a poor grade and how they could improve it.

“I’m a firm believer in transparency as a motivator,” Preston said.

In his speech yesterday, Preston added that he expects SBA to complete reforms to business size standards in 2009. The agency is reviewing a chunk of standards at a time and researching them for three months. He expects SBA to finish the last set by June 2009.

Although evaluating the standards will stretch into the next administration, Preston said the reform isn’t political, and the incoming president likely won’t opposed it.

“This is not a red or a blue issue,” he said.

About the Author

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

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