House panel advances bill to make federal contracting easier to understand

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The Plain Language in Contracting Act would require agencies to use easy-to-understand language for certain procurement notices pertaining to small businesses.

Federal contracting opportunities too complicated to understand? There’s a bill for that.

Reps. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y., and Shri Thanedar, D-Mich., say that their Plain Language in Contracting Act is meant to ensure that small businesses have access to federal contracting opportunities. Introduced last Monday, the proposal would require agencies to use plain language in certain procurement notices pertaining to small businesses, like requests for proposals and solicitations. 

“It shouldn’t be as hard as the federal government makes it for America’s small businesses to apply for and to win a federal contract,” LaLota said during a House Committee on Small Business markup last week. 

The government exceeded its small business contracting goals in fiscal 2022, but there’s still been a decade-long decline in the number of small businesses receiving prime contracts. The administration also has its eye on small disadvantaged businesses in particular — the Office of Management and Budget has a goal for the federal government to award 13% of its contract spending to these businesses in fiscal 2024.

“We have heard from many small business owners who say that the complexity of the bidding process for a government contract ultimately turns them away,” said LaLota. “Preparing for that bid is difficult enough, but the process is made even more difficult when the government is ambiguous about what it wants.”

Thanedar said that contracting notices are “often convoluted and inaccessible,” noting that there’s an “urgent need to cut through bureaucratic jargon and provide clear, concise and accessible information to our nation's small business owners.”

The House Committee on Small Business reported the proposal out of committee last week. If passed into law, the Small Business Administration would be tasked with issuing rules to implement its provisions.