There are often cases where a small business that’s been awarded a contract has grown bigger. This is especially common in the case of multi-year contracts, but can happen with any contract. At TAPE we’re currently awaiting award on contracts we proposed a year or as many as two years ago, and we’ve definitely grown since then.
It takes awhile for the government to evaluate proposals and in that time a company can grow and might no longer be considered small. That’s theoretically a problem if the contract was set-aside for a small business.
As Sam Finnerty explains in this post about changes to SBA’s small business regulations, SBA is proposing to amend 13 C.F.R. § 121.404(a) to make it clear that the size determination is made at the time of initial offer, OR the first formal response that includes price – this is not always the same time, the price discussion might happen later than the initial offer.
There are some other exceptions and special rules, but the important thing is that size is determined on the date of the proposal submission or the initial offer. This is a very important point because it provides more options and opportunities for substantial growth.
A small business, let’s say, could have a size standard of $15 million when they make an offer and a few years later could be $20 million or even $30 or $40 million. If it’s a five-year contract they could be a $100 million company by the end! With this change, none of that will affect the size standard that was applied at the moment of offer.
For all growing, successful companies, this is a wonderful thing and we want to applaud the SBA for doing this. This change creates a runway or a ramp for companies who’ve won contracts as a small business and meanwhile have grown into a large business.
“SBA is proposing to amend its regulations to allow an unsuccessful offeror, SBA, or a contracting officer to protest a socioeconomic set-aside or sole source award to a prime contractor that is unduly reliant on a small, but not similarly situated subcontractor (i.e., ostensible subcontractor affiliation). By way of background, an ostensible subcontractor is a subcontractor that is not a similarly situated entity (e.g., not a small business, SDVOSB, HUBZone, or 8(a)) and performs primary and vital requirements of a contract or a subcontractor upon which the prime contractor is unusually reliant. In such cases, assuming that an exception to joint venture affiliation does not apply, SBA will treat the small business prime contractor and its ostensible subcontractor as joint venturers and, therefore, affiliates. And, if the “joint venture” is other than small, the prime contractor is ineligible for award due to this affiliation.
Notably, however, under SBA’s recently enacted joint venture regulations, a joint venture receives an exception from affiliation if both venturers are small under the applicable NAICS code. This means, for example, that if an SDVOSB contract is awarded to an SDVOSB company and that company subcontracts most or all of the actual performance to a business that is small for the applicable NAICS code, but not an SDVOSB (e.g., a generic small business, HUBZone, 8(a), or WOSB), there is currently no way to protest the awardee on the basis of ostensible subcontractor affiliation. Indeed, since both the prime and the subcontractor are small businesses, even if they are deemed a “joint venture,” they are exempt from a finding of affiliation.
To address this type of outcome, under the proposed rule, an interested party would now be able to protest the status of such an awardee, and SBA would evaluate the relationship between the prime and its subcontractor under the ostensible subcontractor rule. To that end, if SBA found that the subcontractor was an ostensible subcontractor, it would treat the arrangement between the contractors as a joint venture that is not subject to an exemption from affiliation.”
Bill’s comments: So in an ordinary circumstance, a set-aside vendor who bid on a job that’s been set aside can protest if the vendor who won will be subcontracting the work to another company that does not meet the set-aside requirements – in particular, a large subcontractor.
What’s been happening up until now, however, is that because of the joint venture rules about what’s called affiliation, members of a joint venture become immune to this form of protests if they have an ostensible subcontractor affiliation.
These new rules will essentially bring the subcontractor relationships underneath the much more stringent new rules and regulations applying to joint ventures. By doing so the SBA is allowing more opportunities for protest, and this will be a significant change.
As readers of this blog may know, we at SmallGovCon have been contributing to and reading Bill’s blog for a number of years. We wanted to inform you of some changes at our firm and our blog. Steven Koprince, the founder of Koprince Law LLC and SmallGovCon, has recently decided to move on from actively practicing law and he’ll also be stepping down as editor of our blog. For more information about the exciting things Steve has cooked up for his future plans (which will include working in the federal contracting sphere and slowing down a little), please read his post. We’ll definitely miss him, but he’ll continue to provide insight and guidance for the firm and SmallGovCon.
Rest assured, we will continue to be contributing important posts to Federalsmallbizsavvy.com on into the future. At SmallGovCon, we’ll continue to provide timely legal updates, easy-to-understand explanations, and lively commentary on the federal contracting realm. So, who’ll be taking over Steve’s duties as blog editor? Why, that would be me, Shane McCall. I’ve been practicing law since 2010, and I’ve really enjoyed the chance to flex my non-legal writing muscles some at SmallGovCon since joining Koprince Law. I’m looking forward to taking over the blog editing reins from Steve over the next month.
The other attorney-authors and I at SmallGovCon will continue to provide the latest and greatest in useful, easy-to-follow government contracting updates, with an emphasis on items important for small business contractors.
With that in mind, here are some things that we’ve commented on, but we’ll be watching closely and writing about more at SmallGovCon in 2019. Stay on the lookout for updates and commentary on these matters and many others.
- Small Business Runway Extension Act. Will Congress listen to the drumbeat of displeasure and amend the Act to remove the negative impact on those businesses that have had declining revenues by allowing businesses and SBA to run the numbers under both three-year and five-year look-back periods? Will the SBA listen to Congress and enforce the five-year lookback period for size-based receipts standards?
- Section 809 Panel’s Recommendations. We’ve written a lot and grumbled some about the Section 809 Panel’s advice, which, among many other things, ranges from eliminating most small business set-asides for DoD acquisitions to changing the “once 8(a), always 8(a)” rule. We also know that the Section 809’s panels advice has worked on some issues (read my update on changes to $1 coin regulations to maintain currency with the rules in this area). But it’s unclear how much sway the Panel will have over more substantial DOD procurement matters.
- Limitations on Subcontracting Updates. The limitations on subcontracting will undergo some major revisions in 2019, including a newly-effective DoD class deviation and the FAR Council’s long-awaited proposal for a comprehensive overhaul. These changes will clear up some of the confusion resulting from having different sets of rules for limitations on subcontracting found in the FAR and in the Small Business Administration’s regulations. But surely questions will remain.
We’ve enjoyed appearing as guest authors on Bill’s blog, and we’re glad to continue to do so. Please head over to SmallGovCon for updates on these hot-button issue for 2019, as well as many other topics.
Shane McCall is an attorney at Koprince Law LLC. He assists small businesses in navigating the federal government contracting world by advising on FAR and SBA issues. He regularly litigates bid protests, as well as size and status protests before the SBA. He assists with contract administration issues, including claims. Shane also drafts agreements including joint ventures, and subcontracts. Shane’s writing can be found at SmallGovCon, and he’s appeared in Contract Management magazine.
The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act contains several provisions to help small business contractors, including extending the prompt payment requirement to small primes. While the changes are only proposed at this point, not passed, we wanted to highlight these ones to watch.
Small business strategy
The bill calls on DOD to establish a small business strategy to identify contracting opportunities for small firms. While there’s some interaction between small business programs, there really isn’t an integrated DOD-wide strategy that talks to all of the different support functions given to small businesses, manufacturers, and so forth.
This small business strategy would provide for a unified management structure within the department for functions related to small business programs, manufacturing and industrial base policy, and procurement technical assistance programs.
The strategy must clearly identify opportunities for small businesses to contract with DOD and ensure these firms have sufficient access to program managers, contracting officers and other relevant DOD personnel. The policy also must promote outreach to small contractors through procurement technical assistance programs.
The strategy is important to ensure small businesses continue to enjoy robust opportunities to contract with DOD, and that everyone is working towards the same set of goals.
Section 852 of the NDAA requires DOD to establish a goal of paying small business primes within 15 days of receiving a proper invoice, if the contract doesn’t establish a specific payment date (this is a change from 30 days).
“They realize that prompt payment is important for small businesses to continue performance on a contract. This provision is meant to ensure that the government does its part to support these companies.” – Mitchell Bashur, attorney at Holland & Knight
This is definitely a major thing. One downside is in the rush to make payments in 15 days, there may be invoices approved that are not correct – something the government shouldn’t be approving or something you neglected to invoice for and the government didn’t notice. With less time for review, there is more chance the invoice will be rubber-stamped.
Five additional NDAA provisions that will help small business contractors:
- Increases participation in the Small Business Administration’s microloan program, where they give smaller amounts of money with less requirement for collateral
- Codifies and reauthorizes the Defense Research and Development Rapid Innovation Program to accelerate the fielding of technologies developed pursuant to phase II SBIR Program projects; extends the SBIR and STTR programs for three years until 2022 (it seems odd they don’t just put them into law, but this has to do with money and authority)
- Increases funding for procurement technical assistance programs – this is important because this will be very local; this is someone right in your backyard whose job it is to help you negotiate through all the rules and regulations and get contracts
- Requires SBIR-covered agencies to create commercialization assistance pilot programs, under which contractors may receive a subsequent Phase II SBIR Program awards – the point is to allow the research done in SBIR and STTR to be commercialized, in other words taken outside of the government sector and into commercial application
- Increases opportunities for employee-owned businesses through SBA loan programs such as ESOPs (employee stock ownership programs) – there are problems with how these companies qualify for SBA loan programs and they’re trying to address those issues
Many of these changes are positive, but there are some possible setbacks as well, such as the recommendations put forth by the NDAA-authorized Section 809 panel. They called for eliminating or significantly reducing small business set-asides in commercial contracts and substituting a five percent price preference. The problem is that small businesses can’t qualify for the work at the size that’s usually scoped.
Keep watching this space and we’ll share updates as they arrive.
In late 2017, we wrote that the VA was considering using tiered evaluations to simultaneously 1) comply with the VA’s statutory Rule of Two (and Kingdomware), and 2) address situations in which SDVOSBs and VOSBs might not offer “fair and reasonable” pricing.
Since then, the VA has instituted the tiered evaluation process for certain solicitations, using one of three approaches:
- Tiered Evaluation for SDVOSBs and VOSBs only: Offers made by SDVOSBs are first evaluated. If no SDVOSB submits an offer, or none would result in a award at a fair and reasonable price, then the VA evaluates offers made by VOSBs. If none are submitted, or none would result in a fair and reasonable price, the solicitation is cancelled and resolicited.
- Tiered Evaluation for SDVOSBs, VOSBs, and small business concerns: This approach first evaluates SDVOSB and VOSB offers as described above. But if no SDVOSB or VOSB submits an offer (on none are submitted at a fair and reasonable price), then the VA evaluates proposals from other small businesses, with 8(a) participants and then HUBZone small business concerns being given priority over other small business concerns as required by 38 U.S.C. 8127(i). If none are submitted by these types of entities, then the solicitation is cancelled and then resolicited as an unrestricted procurement.
- Tiered Evaluation for SDVOSBs, VOSBs, small business concerns, and large business concerns: This approach first evaluates SDVOSBs, VOSBs, and small businesses as described above. But if no SDVOSB, VOSB, or small business submits an offer (or none would result in a fair and reasonable price), then the VA evaluates offers from large business concerns. If none are submitted, then solicitation is cancelled and additional market research is conducted to inform a follow-on acquisition strategy.
The VA justifies these tiered evaluation approaches because they may prevent procurement delays. For example, if VA uses a tiered evaluation approach that includes SDVOSBs, VOSBs, small business concerns, and large business concerns, the VA doesn’t have to reissue another solicitation if no SDVOSB or VOSB submits a reasonable offer.
Of course, the practice remains controversial because the tiered evaluation approach isn’t a true set-aside for SDVOSBs. Some argue, for example, that the VA could simply rule out SDVOSB or VOSB offers as not fair and reasonable based on more advantageous pricing offered by non-SBVOSB/VOSB small business concerns (or perhaps even large business concerns) for the same solicitation.
In addition, whether the tiered approach complies with the Supreme Court’s decision in Kingdomware has been an open question–until now. Indeed, a recent case from the Court of Federal Claims supports VA’s use of a tiered evaluation scheme for procurements.
In Land Shark Shredding, No. 18-1568C (Fed. Cl. Mar. 21, 2019), the VA issued a solicitation for a firm, fixed-price FSS contract for on-site document shredding and pill bottle destruction for VA facilities in Florida. The solicitation noted that it was “a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB) set-aside with Small Business Set-aside using a tiered or cascading order of preference.” The tiers of preference were as follows: SDVOSBs, then VOSBs, then all other small businesses, then all other businesses. (In essence, it followed the third approach described above.)
Three offerors submitted proposals: Land Shark (an SDVOSB), a non-SDVOSB small business, and a large business. The SDVOSB’s price was $2.8 million, while the small business’s price was $474,000 (the large business’s price was somewhere in between the two). The small business’s price was closest to the VA’s independent government cost estimate of $490,000. Ultimately, the small business was awarded the contract.
In its protest, Land Shark raised several arguments. Here we’ll focus solely on protester’s two arguments relating to the VA’s tiered evaluation scheme.
First, Land Shark argued that the VA erred by comparing its price to other non-SDVOSB offerors. In Land Shark’s view, this process violated the holding in Kingdomware. In response, the VA argued that because the comparison of quotes was a methodology established by the solicitation, Land Shark should have raised the issue in a pre-award protest.
The Court did not decide whether the protest was untimely, but went right to the merits. In doing so, the Court found that the Kingdomware doesn’t address price comparisons or instruct the VA how it should determine that an SDVOSBs price is fair and reasonable. Specifically, the Court held:
The court agrees with the government that plaintiff has not cited any authority which supports its position. Kingdomware does not address price comparisons, in general, or the specific question of how the VA should determine that a SDVOSB’s prices are fair and reasonable. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) provision cited by plaintiff is a policy statement that does not regulate procedures for the price evaluation of proposals in procurements such as this one. In sum, plaintiff objects to the price comparison conducted by the VA here because it does not do enough, in plaintiff’s view, to secure government contracts for SDVOSBs. That is a policy argument, unmoored from statute or regulation. Without more, that policy argument is an insufficient ground for this court to invalidate a procurement decision of a federal agency.
Second, Land Shark attacked the use of tiered evaluation process head on. In part, it argued that the process violated the Rule of Two and Kingdomware.
But again, the Court was unconvinced and found that the VA did not violate the Rule of Two:
The VA in this procurement conducted a Rule of Two analysis, as required by Kingdomware, but the VA did not find that this procurement could be entirely set aside for veteran-owned businesses. . . . As defendant notes, the solicitation clearly indicated that, in addition to veteran-owned small businesses and SDVOSBs, small businesses and large businesses were welcome to apply. . . . The court sees no violation of Kingdomware in the agency’s Rule of Two analysis, its use of a cascading system of preferences placing SDVOSBs in the first tier, or in the selection of [the small business] as contract awardee.
While this decision certainly lends support to the VA’s use of a tiered evaluation procurements, it isn’t a wholesale endorsement. The analysis may have been different if Land Shark had, say, offered a fair and reasonable price (the Court found that its price was not fair and reasonable) or, perhaps, if Land Shark had leveled a better-advocated attack against the practice in the context of a pre-award protest (which would have concentrated purely on the legal validity of the tiered evaluation process without the distracting factual issue of fair and reasonable prices).
That said, the decision overall favors the VA. Another challenge–hopefully one that is better planned and executed–will likely arise later. But for now, the VA is unlikely to change course. So expect to see the VA’s continued use of the tiered evaluation scheme in, at least, the near future. If anything changes, we’ll be sure to let you know.
This post originally appeared at http://smallgovcon.com/service-disabled-veteran-owned-small-businesses/court-of-federal-claims-decision-lends-support-to-vas-sdvosb-tiered-evaluation-scheme/ and was reprinted with permission.
We’re continuing our look at several new SBA provisions that were announced in December 2018. Sam Finnerty of PilieroMazza wrote an excellent explanation of each change, and here we’ll look closer at some revisions pertaining to LOS (limitations on subcontracting) compliance.
Now these are a somewhat arcane set of issues. The bottom line is that the prime contractor in a small business set-aside contract is required to do 51% of the work. That can be calculated in many different ways, predominantly established as being 51% of the labor dollars. Therefore that imposes a limitation on subcontracting, essentially meaning that you can’t subcontract more than 49% of the total value of a contract.
Keep in mind that there is a whole other set of rules and regulations to do with buying things, as opposed to buying labor. If, for example I am in a construction contract, I may need a whole bunch of materials – wood, cement, whatever – and those purchases must also comply with the size standard and limitations on the subcontracting. Be sure to consult a contracts attorney on this, somebody who understands the Federal Acquisition Regulations or the DFARS.
At TAPE we had the experience of dealing with a set-aside contract with $1,000,000 of labor, and there were some odd things that happened in the definition when you had an independent employee. There are some Department of Labor regulations about when a 1099 independent person has to count as an employee. So when the SBA regulations force you to treat that independent contractor as a subcontractor but at the same time you’re required to treat them and pay them as an employee, that creates a dichotomy of the treatment of that employee in the contract.
Let’s say there is a subcontractor we use repeatedly, such as an inspector. I may wind up using them for 1,000 hours over the course of time, so the Department of Labor says that’s really an employee not a contractor. On the other hand, the SBA rules were different because the person was defined as a contractor, meaning those limitations of 51% and 49% rules applied, and you may have a completely separate treatment.
These new rules reconcile all that confusion. If the Department of Labor rules says they must be an employee then you can also count them on as employee within the limitations of subcontractor (LOS) compliance.
In essence, when you need particular expertise that you hire from the outside, be sure you’re treating those people in compliance with the regulations of the SBA and the Department of Labor. If you have a situation where you’re using outside experts and maybe using one in particular a lot, my strong advice is to work with your contracts attorney or somebody who understands the FARS, DFARS and the SBA regulations.
We’re continuing our look at SBA’s changes to its small business regulations, as summarized by Sam Finnerty in this PilieroMazza post.
As he wrote:
SBA is also proposing language to clarify that recertification is required on full-and-open contracts when such contracts are awarded to SBCs. In addition, the Rule adds language to SBA’s 8(a) regulations to require recertification under 8(a) contracts. Similar language can be found in SBA’s SDVO, HUBZone, and WOSB/EDWOSB regulations, but had been missing from its 8(a) regulations.
As we know, there are sizing requirements associated with small business set-aside contracts. If a contract is issued as a full and open contract, but there are also small business set-asides that apply within that contract, recertification rules require that every time an option is granted, the small business winners have to recertify in order to establish that they are still that particular type of entity.
As Sam points out, this was really a kind of technical action in one sense, in that this rule already existed almost all of the other specially certified small businesses, except for 8(a) businesses. Now the language is there across the board.
One additional thing that arose at this time was that under the new rules, a prime contractor can now use a “similarly situated entity” (a company who meets the same size standards and set-aside qualifications) to meet the performance requirements.
For example, let’s suppose that I’m bidding on a contract as a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business. Under the rules and regulations as the prime I have to do 51% of the labor costing, however I could engage a fellow service-disabled, veteran-owned small business – one who meets the same size standards and set-aside qualifications as my own company – as a subcontractor, to perform a part of my 51% of the job’s labor.
This new rule states that the similarly situated entity – the subcontractor – must also recertify whenever the prime recertifies. From the perspective of the activity and action, this is no different from what we’ve come to expect, but now the rules are applied across the board.
One effect this will have is that having that similarly situated entity as a subcontractor will not be an open-ended commitment. That business can not, for example, graduate from the small business size standard, or change ownership to a non-member of the service-disabled or veteran-owned class.
This is a guest post by Steven Koprince of SmallGovCon.
An offeror submitting a proposal under a solicitation designated with the Information Technology Value Added Resellers exception to NAICS code 541519 must qualify as a small business under a 150-employee size standard–even if the offeror is a nonmanufacturer.
In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims held that an ITVAR nonmanufacturer cannot qualify as small based solely on the ordinary 500-employee size standard under the nonmanufacturer rule, but instead must also qualify as small under the much smaller size standard associated with the ITVAR NAICS code exception.
By way of background, NAICS code 541519 (Other Computer Related Services) ordinarily carries an associated $27.5 million size standard. However, the SBA’s regulations and size standards table state that an ITVAR procurement is an exception to the typical size standard.
An ITVAR acquisition is one for a “total solution to information technology” including “multi-vendor hardware and software, along with significant value added services.” When a Contracting Officer classifies a solicitation with the ITVAR exception, a 150-employee size standard applies.
ITVAR acquisitions, like others under NAICS code 541419, were long deemed to be service contracts; the nonmanufacturer rule did not apply. But in a recent change to 13 C.F.R. 121.406, the SBA specified that the nonmanufacturer rule applies to the supply component of an ITVAR contract.
When is a nonmanufacturer small? The SBA’s rules are not entirely clear. 13 C.F.R. 121.402(b)(2) states that a company that “furnishes a product it did not itself manufacture or produce . . . is categorized as a nonmanufacturer and deemed small if it has 500 or fewer employees” and meets the other requirements of the nonmanufacturer rule. But 13 C.F.R. 121.402(a) also states that an offeror “must not exceed the size standard for the NAICS code specified in the solicitation.”
So, for an ITVAR acquisition, which size standard applies to a nonmanufacturer: 150 employees or 500? According to the Court, the answer is “both.”
York Telecom Corporation v. United States, No. 15-489C (2017) involved the solicitation for the NASA Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement V GWAC. The procurement was divided into several groups. The group at issue in this case (Category B, Group C) was a small business group. NASA designated the category with the ITVAR exception to NAICS code 541519.
The solicitation included FAR 52.212-1, which provided, in relevant part:
INSTRUCTIONS TO OFFERORS –
COMMERCIAL ITEMS (52.212-1) (JUL 2013)
(a) North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code and small business size standard. The NAICS code and small business size standard for this acquisition appear in Block 10 of the solicitation cover sheet (SF 1449). However, the small business size standard for a concern which submits an offer in its own name, but which proposes to furnish an item which it did not itself manufacture, is 500 employees.
York Telecom Company submitted an offer for Category B, Group C. After evaluating proposals, NASA awarded a contract to Yorktel. But NASA developed concerns about Yorktel’s size, and referred the matter to the SBA for a size determination.
In its size determination, the SBA Area Office concluded that the applicable size standard for the procurement was 150 employees. Because the SEWP V solicitation had been issued before the changes to 13 C.F.R. 121.406, the SBA Area Office concluded that the nonmanufacturer rule did not apply. The Area Office issued a decision finding Yorktel to be ineligible under the solicitation’s 150-employee size standard. The SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals upheld the SBA Area Office’s decision.
Yorktel took its case to the Court. Yorktel argued that it was a nonmanufacturer, and therefore, its size was governed by a 500-employee size standard–not the ordinary 150-employee ITVAR size standard.
After addressing various procedural issues such as jurisdiction and standing, the Court concluded that Yorktel’s protest was an untimely challenge to the terms of the solicitation. The Court dismissed Yorktel’s protest for this reason.
Interestingly, though, the Court didn’t stop there. It wrote that “even if Yorktel could pursue its challenge of the size standard for the SEWP V Contract in this litigation, this claim is unsupported by the terms of the RFP and the statutory nonmanufacturer rule.”
Discussing FAR 52.212-1(a), the Court wrote:
When read in its entirety, the Court construes the above provision to require that a non-manufacturer first meet the 500 employees or less size standard to compete for the contract and to also impose the more restrictive size standard of 150 employees or less under the NAICS code in order for the non-manufacturer to be eligible for contract award. And so, to the extent that Yorktel qualifies as non-manufacturer under the statutory non-manufacturer rule, the RFP requires that Yorktel meet the more restrictive, 150-employee, size standard to be eligible for contract award.
The Court wrote that its interpretation was buttressed by the Small Business Act, which (in 15 U.S.C. 637(a)(17)), specifies that a nonmanufactuer must “be a small business concern under the numerical size standard . . . assigned to the contract solicitation on which the offer is being made.” The Court concluded that “the statutory non-manufacturer rule, thus, requires that an offeror seeking coverage under the rule satisfy the size standard imposed by the NAICS code for the relevant contract.”
The relationship between the nonmanufacturer rule’s 500-employee standard, on the one hand, and the size standard imposed by a solicitation, on the other, was previously a question merely of academic interest (and then, only to true government contracts law nerds like yours truly.) That’s because almost all of the size standards for manufacturing and supply contracts are 500 employees or greater; it would be no problem for a nonmanufacturer to satisfy the solicitation’s size standard.
In contrast, the ITVAR size standard is much lower than 500 employees. Now that the SBA has amended its regulations to specify that the nonmanufacturer rule applies to the supply component of ITVAR contracts, the Court’s decision in York Telecom Corporation may have major ramifications for other ITVAR nonmanufacturers.
A note from Bill: From our perspective, smaller is always better. We want big revenue numbers and small employee numbers. The important thing is that employee number standards allow you to have subcontractors, those employees don’t count against my employee limit, even though I still have the revenue. That helps us stay smaller, longer, and we like that.
This post originally appeared at http://smallgovcon.com/statutes-and-regulations/itvar-nonmanufacturer-subject-to-150-employee-size-standard-court-says/ and was reprinted with permission.
So we know that a contract is either unrestricted, which means anybody can bid, or it’s set aside for small businesses. A contract can be a generic small business set aside, or it can be specifically protected for one of the SBA’s socioeconomic small business programs, i.e., a woman-owned small business (WOSB), a service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB), a HUBZone business in a historically underutilized business zones, or an 8(a) small business owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people or entities.
In the past, when a generic multiple-award contract (MAC) was set aside for any small business, it used to be that everyone within that winning pool could bid on all the task orders from that contract.
With this new rule that will be implemented by SBA and eventually populated down into the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), agencies will now be able to set aside task orders for a more specific group (WOSB, SDVOSB, etc.) under a multiple-award contract originally awarded as a general small business set-aside.
As Sam Finnerty points out in this PilieroMazza blog post about several SBA changes, in the past the SBA “was concerned that such a rule would unfairly deprive SBCs [small business concerns] of an opportunity to compete for orders issued under their MACs. In the Rule’s preamble, SBA explains that other actions it has taken in recent years have alleviated these concerns. However, SBA is requesting comments on whether it would impact the ability of SBCs to compete for and receive orders.”
Under this new rule, an agency would have a certain number of awards specified for generic small businesses, but would actually be allowed to go down another level. So even though you may have won the contract as a small business, you’re not guaranteed that every task order is available to you, as they would under the current rules of the road. Some orders may be further set aside and if you don’t qualify for that program, you couldn’t bid on the order.
So this change would restrict certain rights, but it gives the federal agency more room to make sure the right activity comes to the right vehicle, and will also help them keep their small business credits going.
As for small businesses, we want the agency to come to this vehicle and this change makes it attractive to them by allowing them to get additional credits, not just small business credits but credits for using specially certified businesses as well. This is particularly important at the end of the year when everything is done in a rush and they’re looking to get in their numbers.
The hope of course is that they will continue to come back to that vehicle, and maybe some of those task orders will be ones that your small business does qualify for. Stuff escapes the system all the time and we’re trying to get to the point where they don’t have to go somewhere else. Ultimately we want them to meet all their requirements in this vehicle and to keep all the agency work together.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” – The Art of War by Sun Tzu
When we talk about the goals of federal business development and capture management at our Bid & Proposal Academy training courses, we pragmatically reduce them to only five:
- Identify opportunities to bid on
- Eliminate competition
- Reduce competition if you can’t eliminate it
- Get the government customer excited about receiving your proposal
- Make it a goal to produce a usable proposal artifact at every step of the capture process, so that writing a winning proposal is a slam dunk.
Goal 2, Eliminate competition, refers to sole source awards. In their simplest form, sole source awards are modifications to add scope to your existing contracts. It works like this: the government has a problem and comes to you. Your technical and BD people meet with the government to discuss the solution and find a contract vehicle to route the work to.
The government issues the modification, and you’ve won new business won without a fight. Both the government and you save a headache and money while getting great value.
The more complex form of sole source awards is getting your firm under a new contract without competing. We‘ll discuss them below, as well as the pending rule changes that are about to make life a bit easier for socioeconomically disadvantaged small businesses.
When can you pursue a sole source award?
We’ve already talked about sole source awards at the end of the federal fiscal year. Sole source awards increase during that time. This allows government entities to make the most of their remaining budgets. This is the simplest and fastest way for the government to navigate through the “use it or lose it” budgetary conundrum.
You can also get sole source awards from your current government customers at any time of the year, provided that the conditions are right. Sole source awards have to fall under one of the seven authorities laid out in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).
- There is only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy an agency’s requirements.
- Unusual and compelling urgency
- Industrial mobilization; engineering, developmental, or research capability; or expert services
- International agreement
- Authorized or required by statute
- National security
- Public interest
Many sole source opportunities are awarded under Authorities 1 and 2.
In Authority 1, your company is the only one who can provide a particular product or service, and full and open competition would just result in the contract being awarded to you anyway.
Authority 2 work results from an emergency situation such as a war effort, or a sudden natural disaster for which there is no multiple award contract vehicle that covers that specific scope of work.
What about 8(a), SDVOSB, HUBZone, and WOSB/EDWOSB sole source awards?
These awards fall under Authority 5 listed above. It states that some contracting awards are only available to small businesses who participate in the Small Business Administration’s contracting assistance programs.
Sole source awards have monetary limits. Currently, the limits for socioeconomically disadvantaged businesses such as 8(a) business are $4 million for services and $6.5 million for manufacturing. The exceptions to that are Alaskan Native Corporations (ANC) and Native American Tribal Entities (“super 8(a)s”). They can receive sole source awards for $22 million, and even higher with justification.
Changes may be coming to special sole source award thresholds in 2019
The House of Representatives recently passed a bill (H.R. 190) referred to as “Expanding Contracting Opportunities for Small Business Act of 2019”. On January 17, 2019, the Senate sent the bill to the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. The last roll call vote was 415-6 in the House, so there is clear bipartisan support.
The majority of these changes would impact 8(a)s, Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB), Women-Owned Small Businesses, and HUBZone businesses.
Specifically, H.R. 190 would change the award price calculation requirements. H.R. 190 removes the requirement for option years to be included in the award price. That means contracting officers could price the award at just the base period of the contract.
Let’s do the math. If the initial year of the contract is valued at $4 million for services, but the contract includes four 1-year options also valued at $4 million, the overall value of the awarded contract would be $20 million – much closer to the super-8(a) $22 million threshold.
It used to be that $4 million was the total value of the contract, and now it’s just the projected maximum award price for the initial year. Under the current law, a sole source award of this amount wouldn’t be possible. Let’s see if this is how this law will be implemented.
The bill would also increase the sole source manufacturing threshold from $6.5 million to $7 million for all socioeconomically disadvantaged small business types, along with other changes.
A note about sole source awards
Finally, your customer may not come to you when they have room in their budget and need the work done. It’s up to you to anticipate their needs and act. This is when being in tune with your customer’s requirements comes into play. You may have opportunities to suggest sole source contracts as solutions to your customer’s pressing needs. If you’ve trained your project personnel to report back with any needs your government customer has, you’ll be in a great position to take advantage of small (or not so small) opportunities like these.
If you need to sharpen your business development skills to grow your small federal contracting company, we recommend you attend our Foundations of Federal Business Development course or consider getting the Blueprint for Federal Business Development for self-paced study.
Olessia Smotrova, CF.APMP Fellow, is the president of OST Global Solutions, Inc., a federal business development consulting and training company. She has 21 years of experience in government business development, winning more than $20 billion in funded contracts. She is the author of How to Get Government Contracts: Have a Slice of $1 Trillion Pie. Prior to founding OST, she developed business for Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, and wrote for the Financial Times of London.