SBA Pact Streamlines Contract Process

SBA Pact Streamlines Contract Process

By Nick Wakeman
Staff Writer

The Small Business Administration signed an agreement this month with 25 agencies that reduces its role in how government agencies contract with 8(a) companies.

Aida Alvarez
By no longer having to sign off on each individual 8(a) contract, SBA will be able to shift resources to other areas, such as assisting 8(a)s with business development efforts, said Aida Alvarez, SBA administrator.

"Sometimes you have to give up power to gain power," she said. "We are going to get bigger and stronger" because of this. The pact was signed May 6.

Traditionally, an 8(a) company would negotiate a contract with an agency, then SBA would review the contract before work could begin.

The government spent about $6.4 billion with 8(a) companies in 1997, the same amount agencies have spent for the past three years, Alvarez said. The IT portion was about $3.2 billion, according to the market research company Input of Vienna, Va.

But as procurement reform made other contract vehicles quicker to use, 8(a) companies have found themselves at a disadvantage because SBA had to review each contract, she said.

SBA was concerned that agencies would not turn to 8(a)s as quickly because procurement would take longer, Alvarez said.

While SBA will no longer review individual contracts, it is not giving up oversight, she said. SBA will still negotiate 8(a) contracting goals with agencies and monitor them for compliance with those goals, she said.

"[But] we want to free up our contracting officers to provide support, rather than have them duplicate activities that the agencies already are doing," Alvarez said.

About 60 SBA contract officers that had been reviewing contracts will now be free for other duties, such as helping with business development, reviewing business plans and conducting training, said Calvin Jenkins, deputy to the associate deputy administrator for government contracting and minority enterprise development at SBA.

SBA's move toward streamlining began last year when it set up a pilot program with the Transportation Department. In the pilot, the legal review time for a contract dropped from 15 days to five days, said Jerry Malone, deputy chief of staff at Transportation.

"We eliminated the duplication between our staff and SBA," he said.

Rodney Hunt
Rodney Hunt, president of RS Information Systems Inc., an 8(a) in McLean, Va., participated in the pilot and saw one contract award take only nine days, compared to 53 days for the previous Transportation contract his company won.

The added speed will help small companies compete with bigger contractors, Hunt said. "We will be able to get our contracts out quicker than [non-8(a)] companies," he said.

The streamlining also will make 8(a)s more attractive partners for large companies, said George Otchere, corporate vice president of minority and women business enterprises at Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego.

We subcontract to 8(a)s, so the benefit [of the streamlined contracting] accrues to both the large and small contractor," Otchere said.

SBA has no predictions on how much, if any, new business the streamlined process will bring to 8(a) companies, Alvarez said. But freeing up 60 SBA employees to work on other projects means the agency can do more without getting additional funding, she said.

"We want to provide high-value services," Alvarez said.

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