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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Who holds the procurement torch on Capitol Hill?

I moderated a panel discussion Wednesday on Capitol Hill for the Smart Contracting Caucus.

The caucus was formed last year by then Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) as he was ending his congressional career.

His departure has been the source of much angst in industry because of his understanding and interest in procurement.

I can’t pass judgement on their understanding, but the congressmen at yesterday’s caucus event were definitely interested.

Though their attendance was interrupted by calls to the House floor for votes, when they were there they were more than mere window dressing at the event.

Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Glenn Nye (D-Va.) were quick to jump into the discussion from their seats in the front row.

They are leaders of the caucus along with Reps. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), Darrell Issa, (R-Calif.), and Christopher Carney (D-Pa.).

They have been holding a series of these events on topics such as the acquisition workforce, and yesterday’s discussion focused on small business.

My panel included Kevin Boshears, director of the Homeland Security Department’s small and disadvantaged utilization office; Dean Koppel, an assistant director at the Small Business Administration; Jim Gambardella, acting director for contracting at SBA; Larry Besterman, president and chief executive officer of TWD & Associates; Kevin Merritt, director of operations for Klett Consulting; and Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president of Professional Services Council.

Some of the highlights from the discussion:

Issue 1. What to do about growing companies that move beyond the small business category

Panelists brainstormed about using mentor-protégé programs to help these companies make the transition. There also was discussion of new size standards.

Connolly said he wonder if the current structure creates a disincentive for companies to grow beyond the small business categories.

“Can there be incentives for large companies to team with the midtier?” he asked, before adding that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee would explore the issue to see if there is a legislative fix available.

Issue 2: How to make sure large primes meet their small-business contracting goals.

An idea bandied about by the congressmen, the audience and the panel was the use of incentives for contracting officers, such as tying performance bonuses to meeting those goals.

Though one audience member wanted there to be more pressure on contracting officers to hold primes accountable, he was quick say that there had to be a “carrot along with stick. It all can’t be negative.”

Other topics included the continuing need for set-aside contracts to foster small-business growth, the evolution of the market from products to services and how that has complicated size standards and the fear that insourcing will disproportionately hurt small businesses.

As the moderator, it was hard to take notes, but I did come away optimistic that procurement is going to measured look by at least these members of Congress.

There was no anticontractor rhetoric, but there was a sense that more accountability and data is needed. And that’s not a bad thing.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jul 30, 2009 at 9:54 AM

Reader Comments

Fri, Jul 31, 2009 Michael Lent

The discussion of midtier firms and the graduation threshold of small business from today's size standards sounds rather like that at the Chamber-sponsored public meeting on this subject within the last year. Need more data, solutions quite vague. Midtiers, I sense, won't get any political clout or strong trade association cheerleading--or procurement preference--because they have tepid backing in oversight or stakeholder groups, except themselves. And they can't even be enumerated for lack of an accepted definition of their size. Small business and the big firms rule when it comes to industry's voice on such things. Government contracting is substantially a zero-sum game on the industry side, even if folks don't say that. Also, the word competition isn't in the summary of the caucus meeting. That's no surprise, but it's the elephant in the room (market) that will drive industry structural changes and pressure the firms at, say, $500 M federal prime revenue and above. The three OMB memoranda this week did not devote much space to increasing competition, but that's the summing vector of a lot of Administration thinking behind the changes outlined, with more stringent ones to come. Michael Lent, Editor and Publisher, Government Services Insider

Fri, Jul 31, 2009 Delilah

Here's a thought.. STOP the diversion of small busines contracts to corporate giants.. It's not rocket science! You have the Locheeds, Boeings, CDWs, and HPs ofthe world gobbling up small business contracts. How is that fair? Where is the accountability?

Fri, Jul 31, 2009

Here is a good way to make sure that small business goals get met utilizing actual small businesses, H.R. 2568, the Small Business Fairness and Transparency in Contracting Act, introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson from Georgia - check it out...

Fri, Jul 31, 2009 MR Arlington

It's heartening to see that at least some in Congress are taking an interest in contracting beyond simple slogans. When does the Smart Contracting Caucus meet again?

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