New bills aim to strengthen small-biz contracting

The House Small Business Committee continues to propose legislation aimed at helping small firms do federal business.

Members of the House Small Business Committee have introduced three more bills aimed at giving small businesses a fairer shake in the federal market.

Each of the three bills, introduced Feb. 8, have bipartisan support. They join a steady stream of legislation coming from the committee, the most recent of which was the Subcontracting Transparency And Reliability (STAR) Act, introduced on Feb. 2 by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) (see “House members introduce flood of small-business legislation”).

Among the latest, the Small Business Opportunity Act of 2012, sponsored by committee members Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Rep. Kurt Shrader (D-Ore.), would require agencies to give small business advocates more of a part in acquisition planning processes.

Currently, Offices of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBUs) and Procurement Center Representatives (PCRs) are not included in the acquisition process until the agency is about to release a request for proposal or quotation. The bill would provide the OSDBUs and PCRs with access to those acquisition plans on the front end and would require that acquisition plans address how the procurement will use small businesses.

This legislation also would direct officials at the Federal Acquisition Institute and Defense Acquisition University to create mandatory small business contracting classes. It would modernize PCR responsibilities to allow them to focus on the core contracting-related assistance most valuable to small businesses, rather than requiring them to perform redundant tasks.

For example, SBA currently requires PCRs to provide training to contracting officers on the small business contracting programs. However, the government already funds contracting officer training through FAI and DAU.

The Small Business Protection Act of 2012, sponsored by committee member Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), is a response to a recent effort by SBA to create new size standards for deciding what businesses qualify as “small.”

The committee says SBA’s proposals, which lump different industries together, exclude legitimate small businesses from the SBA contracting programs. The bill would require that the size standard assigned to each common group is appropriate for each individual North American Industry Classification System code that is put in the new group.

For example, SBA’s analysis of the size standards for architectural firms indicated that it should be increased from $4.5 million to $7 million. However, because SBA chose to group architects with engineers for the purposes of the size standard definition, SBA proposed increasing the standard to $19 million—a number which, the committee believes, would have included 97.8 percent of all architecture firms. The committee said it would allow large businesses to compete as if they were small businesses.

The Building Better Business Partnerships Act of 2012, introduced by committee members Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.) and Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), is an effort to improve oversight of mentor-protégé programs in the civilian government.

Mentor-Protégé programs are intended to partner small businesses with established mentors in order improve the small business’ ability to win and perform on contracts and subcontracts. However, the 13 federal agencies' programs are duplicative. The committee said they create an unnecessary paperwork burden for participants and lack standardized measures of success.

The new bill would allow SBA to oversee civilian agency mentor-protégé programs to promote portability of agreements between the agencies. SBA officials could also guarantee the programs benefit the small businesses and ensure that the mentor-protégé agreement doesn’t inadvertently harm the protégé’s small business status.

It also would authorize SBA to have mentor-protégé programs for all small businesses and not limit the program to only small businesses in the 8(a) program, those that are owned by a woman or a service-disabled veteran, or that are located in a Historically Underutilized Business Zone.

On top of these bills, other Small Business Committee members have introduced reform bills in the past few weeks.

One bill would increase the small business contracting goal from 23 percent to 25 percent with consequences for senior agency employees if it's missed. Another bill would take budget money away for coming up short on the 23-percent goal.