Federal issues to watch

Fiscal 2004 budget : The last budget bill for 2004, affecting 11 civilian agencies and foreign operations, will likely pass Congress in February or March, upping spending levels on existing IT projects and jump-starting new ones.  

Public-private competition
of federal jobs:
Federal employee unions will lobby fiercely for legislation to block competition of thousands of government jobs with the private sector, while industry groups will work behind the scenes to persuade lawmakers that competition is best for improving government productivity.

Small-business status: The Small Business Administration is deciding whether it will stick with a proposed requirement for companies to certify their eligibility each year, adopt the General Services Administration's five-year rule or adopt some other timeframe. The SBA's decision will tell small businesses how long they are eligible to win set-aside contracts without again proving to the SBA that they're still small. Whatever the agency decides, the old practice of letting small businesses hold onto their "small" status for 20 years is over.  

Small-business size
The SBA is proposing to cut the number of small-business size standards from 37 to 10. The standards, which define what is considered a small business for the purposes of government contracting, will be based on employee count.

Currently, some are based on revenue, and IT executives say those standards are artificially low. They say the employee-count standards will allow small businesses to grow bigger and thus be more competitive in the federal marketplace.

New size standard for VARs: The Small Business Administration created a new industry category and size standard of 150 employees for value-added resellers that qualify as small businesses, according to a final rule published Dec. 29 in the Federal Register. The new rule is effective Jan. 28. The new category is called "Other Computer Related Services," and has North American Industry Classification System code 541519.

Previously, small IT resellers fell under the Wholesale Trade Sector industry category, and had a size standard of 500 or fewer employees. The new category and size standard will better apply small-business eligibility requirements under federal contracts, according to the agency.  

GAO: Defense budget amiss Inaccuracies and omissions limit the reliability of the Defense Department's fiscal 2004 IT budget, according to a recent General Accounting Office report. GAO found a $1.6 billion discrepancy between two key budget reports spanning 73 IT initiatives. Department officials agreed or partially agreed with GAO's recommendations on ways to avoid discrepancies and provided explanations for some budget omissions.

For example, the department said the Office of Management and Budget didn't require detailed Exhibit 300 Capital Investments Reports for all major initiatives. The GAO found 15 projects in the IT budget summary report that didn't have Exhibit 300s.  

Pro-Net retires: Small businesses no longer need to register in both the Small Business Administration's Pro-Net database and Central Contractor Registration, the government's database of all contractors. The change went into effect Jan. 1. Instead, contractors now register only in CCR, which has all of Pro-Net's search capabilities and functions, according to SBA officials. The data in Pro-Net and CCR were integrated more than a year ago but used separate search engines. Now there is one portal for entering and searching for federal contractors.

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