Brace for the Worst, But Recognize the Best

It's important that discussion on the Hill of the future of set-asides deal with the successes the program has produced, rather than an ill-informed notion of an ideological victory

he U.S. Supreme Court's decision to, in essence, force the federal government to follow the states in justifying awards of government contracts to minority and disadvantaged businesses will obviously have far-reaching implications for the Washington business community. That much we know. What we don't know is how much leeway the court's decision in the Adarand case will give agencies and administrators in reforming, redefining and evaluating set-asides.

However, it appears the decision will certainly fuel Republican legislative efforts to curtail -- even kill -- some of the programs. What we hope is that the small business community is prepared for the worst possible outcome in hopes of the best results; certainly, talk of reforming and reworking the 8(a) program has been floating around Washington for many months. It's time to prepare strategies for survival and success in a business community that may not have the incentives it was used to.

And it is, of course, time for the House and Senate to get serious about real procurement reform. It's no secret that the sole-source 8(a) contract was and is a convenient, appropriate vehicle for getting things done faster than the general procurement bureaucracy allows. We hope that the same legislators who are now feeling like they have fodder and justification, following the Supreme Court decision, to attack the 8(a) program and others will also be able to come up with a viable alternative for responsible procurement.

The 8(a) program has produced some amazing success stories, and, like any government program borne of good intentions, some failures. It is important that the whole government contracting system is reviewed objectively and in its entirety in light of the best and the worst, rather than in the heady momentum of an apparent ideological victory.

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