House committee takes on contract bundling

New bill would push acquisition officials to explain their reasons for combining several smaller contracts into a large one.

Two House Small Business Committee members are now tackling contract bundling in a new bill as a part of a comprehensive contracting-reform plan.

The Contractor Opportunity Protection Act would make it tougher for agencies to bundle contracts. The bill would provide the Small Business Administration and third-party groups with the ability to appeal an agency’s decision to bundle several contracts into one. Officials would also have to consider small businesses early on when planning a procurement.

Contract bundling is the practice of packaging many contracts together, essentially making it impossible for small businesses to compete for the work. The bundled contracts can limit competition.

The new bill would create a third-party arbiter to fight unjustified bundling by allowing SBA to appeal a questionable bundling decision to the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals or the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals. If SBA declines to do so, the legislation allows third-party groups to protest to the Government Accountability Office.

Furthermore, it would require agencies to publish their justification for the bundled contract to provide greater specificity and transparency into federal officials’ decisions. At least 45 days before an agency issues a solicitation, procurement officials have to send it to their procurement-center representative, who advocates for small businesses.

Along with the solicitation, they must explain their decision, answering why officials are choosing to bundle the contacts and why the contract cannot be divided into smaller parts. Officials also would have give a list of the contractors affected by the bundling, especially if it is a small business.

“Contract bundling is a legitimate part of federal contracting, but it can sometimes be carried out unfairly,” said Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), chairman of the Small Business Committee. Graves and fellow committee member Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) introduced the bill, intended to address some of these problems, on Feb. 17.

The contract bundling legislation is part of a comprehensive initiative from the Small Business Committee aimed at reforming small-business contracting policies. Since January, a number of committee members have introduced bills that address small-business issues.

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