This is a guest post by Steven Koprince of SmallGovCon. Please note that this blog post was originally published on December 5, 2016, before the Act was signed by the President on December 23, 2016.
The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act will essentially prevent the VA from developing its own regulations to determine whether a company is a veteran-owned small business.
Yes, you heard me right. If the President signs the current version of the 2017 NDAA into law, the VA will be prohibited from issuing regulations regarding the ownership, control, and size status of an SDVOSB or VOSB–which are, of course, the key components of SDVOSB and VOSB status. Instead, the VA will be required to use regulations developed by the SBA, which will apply to both federal SDVOSB programs: the SBA’s self-certification program and the VA’s verification program.
In my experience, the typical SDVOSB believes that VA verification applies government-wide, and relies on that VetBiz “seal” as proof of SDVOSB eligibility for all agencies’ SDVOSB procurements. But contrary to this common misconception, there are two separate and distinct SDVOSB programs. The SBA’s self-certification program (which is the “original” SDVOSB set-aside program) is authorized by the Small Business Act, which is codified in Title 15 of the U.S. Code and implemented by the SBA in its regulations in Title 13 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The VA’s separate program is codified in Title 38 of the U.S. Code and implemented by the VA in its regulations in Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
There are some important differences between the two programs. For example, the VA requires that the service-disabled veteran holding the highest officer position manage the company on a full-time basis; the SBA’s regulations do not. Following a 2013 Court of Federal Claims decision, the VA allows certain restrictions of a veteran’s ability to transfer his or her ownership, but that decision doesn’t necessarily apply to the SBA, which has held that “unconditional means unconditional,” as applied to transfer restrictions. And of course, the VA’s regulations require formal verification; the SBA’s call for self-certification.
Despite these important differences, the two programs are largely similar in terms of their requirements. However, last year, the VA proposed a major overhaul to its SDVOSB and VOSB regulations. The VA’s proposed changes would, among other things, allow non-veteran minority owners to exercise “veto” power over certain extraordinary corporate decisions, like the decision to dissolve the company. The SBA has not proposed corresponding changes. In other words, were the VA to finalize its proposed regulations, the substantive differences between the two SDVOSB programs would significantly increase, likely leading to many more cases in which VA-verified SDVOSBs were found ineligible for non-VA contracts.
That brings us back to the 2017 NDAA. Instead of allowing the VA and SBA to separately define who is (and is not) an SDVOSB, the 2017 NDAA establishes a consolidated definition, which will be set forth in the Small Business Act, not the VA’s governing statutes. (The new statutory definition itself contains some important changes, which I will be blogging about separately).
The 2017 NDAA then amends the VA’s statutory authority to specify that “[t]he term ‘small business concern owned and controlled by veterans’ has the meaning given that term under . . . the Small Business Act.” A similar provision applies to the term “small business concern owned and controlled by veterans with service-connected disabilities.”
Congress doesn’t stop there. The 2017 NDAA further amends the VA’s statute to specify that companies included in the VA’s VetBiz database must be “verified, using regulations issued by the Administrator of the Small Business Administration with respect to the status of the concern as a small business concern and the ownership and control of such concern.” At present, the relevant statutory section merely says that companies included in the database must be “verified.” Finally, the 2017 NDAA states that “The Secretary [of the VA] may not issue regulations related to the status of a concern as a small business concern and the ownership and control of such small business concern.”
So there you have it: the 2017 NDAA consolidates the statutory definitions of veteran-owned companies, and calls for the SBA–not the VA–to issue regulations implementing the statutory definition. The 2017 NDAA requires the VA to use the SBA’s regulations, and expressly prohibits the VA from adopting regulations governing the ownership and control of SDVOSBs. These prohibitions, presumably, will ultimately wipe out the two regulations with which many SDVOSBs and VOSBs are very familiar–38 C.F.R. 74.3 (the VA’s ownership regulation) and 38 C.F.R. 74.4 (the VA’s control regulation).
Because both agencies will be using the SBA’s rules, the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals will have authority to hear appeals from any small business denied verification by the VA. This is an important development: under current VA rules and practice, there is no option to appeal to an impartial administrative forum like OHA. Intriguingly, the 2017 NDAA also mentions that OHA will have jurisdiction “[i]f an interested party challenges the inclusion in the database” of an SDVOSB or VOSB. It’s not clear whether this authority will be limited to appeals of SDVOSB protests filed in connection with specific procurements, or whether competitors will be granted a broader right to protest the mere verification of a veteran-owned company.
So when will these major changes occur? Not immediately. The 2017 NDAA states that these rules will take effect “on the date on which the Administrator of the Small Business Administration and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs jointly issue regulations implementing such sections.” But Congress hasn’t left the effective date entirely open-ended. The 2017 NDAA provides that the SBA and VA “shall issue guidance” pertaining to these matters within 180 days of the enactment of the 2017 NDAA. From there, public comment will be accepted and final rules eventually announced. Given the speed at which things like these ordinarily play out, my best guess is that these changes will take effect sometime in 2018, or perhaps even the following year.
The House approved the 2017 NDAA on December 2. It now goes to the Senate, which is also expected to approve the measure, then send it to the President. In a matter of weeks, the 180-day clock for the joint SBA and VA proposal may start ticking–and the curtain may start to close on the VA’s authority to determine who owns or controls a veteran-owned company.
This post originally appeared on the SmallGovCon blog http://smallgovcon.com/service-disabled-veteran-owned-small-businesses/sdvosb-programs-2017-ndaa-sharply-curtails-vas-authority/ and was reprinted with permission.
The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act makes some important adjustments to the criteria for ownership and control of a service-disabled veteran-owned small business.
The 2017 NDAA modifies how the ownership criteria are applied in the case of an ESOP, specifies that a veteran with a permanent and severe disability need not personally manage the company on a day-to-day basis, and, under limited circumstances, permits a surviving spouse to continue to operate the company as an SDVOSB.
As I discussed in a separate blog post last week, the SBA and VA currently operate separate SDVOSB programs, and each agency has its own definition of who qualifies as an SDVOSB. The 2017 NDAA consolidates these definitions by requiring the VA to use the SBA’s criteria for ownership and control.
In addition to consolidating the statutory definitions, the 2017 NDAA makes three important changes to the ownership and control criteria themselves.
First, the 2017 NDAA specifies that stock owned by an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, is not considered when the SBA or VA determines whether service-connected veterans own at least 51 percent of the company’s stock. This portion of the 2017 NDAA essentially overturns a 2015 decision by the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals, which held that a company was not an eligible SDVOSB because the service-disabled veteran did not own at least 51% of the company’s ESOP class of stock. (The Court of Federal Claims ultimately upheld OHA’s decision later that year).
Second, the 2017 NDAA continues to provide that “the management and daily business operations” of an eligible SDVOSB ordinarily must be controlled by service-disabled veterans. However, the 2017 NDAA states that if a veteran has a “permanent and severe disability,” the “spouse or permanent caregiver of such veteran” may run the company. This provision is very similar to the one currently used by the SBA in its regulations; the VA does not currently have a provision whereby a spouse or permanent caregiver may operate an SDVOSB.
But Congress goes a step beyond the SBA’s current regulations. In a separate paragraph, the 2017 NDAA states that a company may qualify as an SDVOSB if it is owned by a veteran “with a disability that is rated by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs as a permanent and total disability” and who is “unable to manage the daily business operations” of the company. In such a case, the statute does not specify that the company must be run by the spouse or permanent caregiver. In other words, for veterans with permanent and total disabilities, the statute appears to allow control by others, such as (perhaps) non-veteran minority owners. Historically, the SBA and VA have been very skeptical of undue control by non-veteran minority owners, so it will be interesting to see how the agencies interpret and apply this new statutory provision.
Third, the 2017 NDAA states that a surviving spouse may continue to operate a company as an SDVOSB when a veteran dies, provided that: (1) the surviving spouse acquires the veteran’s ownership interest; (2) the veteran had a service connected disability “rated as 100 percent disabling” by the VA, or “died as a result of a service-connected disability” and (3) immediately prior to the veteran’s death, the company was verified in the VA’s VetBiz database. When the three conditions apply, the surviving spouse may continue to operate the company as an SDVOSB for up to ten years, although SDVOSB status will be lost earlier if the surviving spouse remarries or relinquishes ownership in the company.
This provision is very similar to the one currently found in the VA’s regulations. At present, the SBA does not have any provisions whereby a surviving spouse can continue to operate an SDVOSB.
That said, the statutory provision–just like the current VA regulation–is quite narrow. In my experience, there is a common misconception that a surviving spouse is always entitled to continue running a company as an SDVOSB. In fact, a surviving spouse is only able to do so when certain strict conditions are met. In many cases, the veteran in question was not 100 percent disabled and didn’t die as a result of a service-connected disability (or the surviving spouse is unable to prove that the service-connected disability caused the veteran’s death). And in those cases, the surviving spouse is unable to continue claiming SDVOSB status, both under the VA’s current rules and the 2017 NDAA.
2017 NDAA: The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 has been approved by both House and Senate, and will likely be signed into law soon. It includes some massive changes as well as some small but nevertheless significant tweaks sure to impact Federal procurements in the coming year. For the next few days, SmallGovCon will delve into the minutia to provide context and analysis so that you do not have to. Visit smallgovcon.com for the latest on the government contracting provisions of the 2017 NDAA.
This post originally appeared at http://smallgovcon.com/service-disabled-veteran-owned-small-businesses/sdvosb-programs-2017-ndaa-modifies-ownership-control-criteria/#sthash.YtzkeoT5.dpuf and was reprinted with permission.
As I write this post, we have a new administration that will be sworn in shortly. As you read this post, this has already happened. There is a lot more to come in terms of making sure all the cabinet positions get appointed and that people fill the government activities all the way down the line. This is obviously a big deal, since they have 4,000 positions to fill, and got 86,000 online applications and 4,000 referrals.
So in the meantime, I thought I would offer a few words for all of us to think about what we’re doing here. This new administration has established some specific priorities, and we can expect there will be as slight shift in priority from the civil sector over to homeland security and defense.
There may be some serious chaos as they get themselves sorted, get people in place, and get everything built. As with any major change, it’s bound to be unsettling and difficult. Probably the worst effect will be that the usual slippage in awards and RFP release that we ordinarily see in the federal procurement process will be exacerbated by the actual transition.
I’m convinced that overall this change can be very good for all of us in federal contracting. Although defense contractors and homeland security may do slightly better in the long run, there’s going to be a lot of activity across the board, and an uptick in that attention.
Interestingly enough, I had certainly hoped that the latest NDAA had done away with LPTA pricing (watch for future posts about what NDAA 2017 means for small business), but recent presidential direct intervention in cost overrun decisions on weapons systems tells me that we may see some LPTA activity erupt as everybody sorts out what this administration is looking for.
Hang in there, this is a natural course of events. There’s nothing unusual or worse about this group of folks from the last group of folks. And we’ll be doing this together. And I will keep blogging and tell you everything I can about what I know. And hopefully we’ll all prosper together.
This is a guest post by Jerry Miles of Deale Services LLC.
After all of your hard work winning a bid protest, a recent Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) opinion suggests that the work is not yet over. More than that, it suggests that you should have started your work early on in the bid protest process.
In Cascadian American Enterprises—Costs, B-412208.6, July 5, 2016, the GAO addressed this issue head on, to disastrous effect on the contractor. CAE was a small business which won a protest against the Army Corps of Engineers in a small business set-aside procurement.
To support its request to the GAO to recommend the amount it should be reimbursed by the agency, CAE attached a one-page invoice, with three line items, in the amount of $53,160. This included “234 hours for ‘Protest Sept. 30, 2015-Feb. 5, 2016,’ at a rate of $150 per hour for a total of $35,100, and 120 hours for ‘Response to Agency Report,’ at a rate of $150 per hour for a total of $18,000. Id. The third line item was for “Miscellaneous material costs [for $60].”
Several times, the agency responded that the request for reimbursement was not adequately documented to allow the agency to determine its reasonableness and made request for more information and an explanation of the hours expended on the protest. CAE responded to each request with slightly more detail.
The GAO reiterated previous rulings that “a protester seeking to recover its protest costs must submit evidence sufficient to support its claim that those costs were incurred and are properly attributable to filing and pursuing the protest.”
Noting that the burden of proof is on the protester, the GAO states that “[at] a minimum, claims for reimbursement must identify and support the amounts claimed for each individual expense (including cost data to support the calculation of claimed hourly rates), the purpose for which that expense was incurred, and how the expense relates to the protest before our Office.”
In denying the claim for reimbursement, the GAO noted that, even though CAE was a sole proprietorship, “CAE has nonetheless failed to provide any documentation or detail sufficient to support the claimed 321 hours spent on the protest.” GAO further noted that “CAE’s owner asserts that he ‘did not take any notes about the time spent on which day doing what’ and therefore provides mostly generalized statements.” In addition, the GAO stated that the claim failed to provide cost data to “establish that the claimed hourly rates reflect actual rates of compensation.”
Takeaways from this decision
Beginning with the moment you start to consider protesting a procurement, take contemporaneous notes regarding all protest-related tasks you perform so that you can provide substantiation of the hours you claim to have worked on the protest. This should not only be done by you and, of course, by your attorneys, but also all others working on the matter.
Include specific cost data in your claim. That is, include support for the cost of each expense and demonstrate support for your hourly rates expended on the protest. Notate how each expense relates to the claim for reimbursement.
This post originally appeared on the Deale blog at http://www.dealeservices.com/uncategorized/bid-protest-recovering-protest-costs/ and was reprinted with permission.
As GSA Interact reported on their blog, several new FAR rules will impact small business.
According to the Federal Register, “DoD, GSA, and NASA have adopted as final, with a minor edit, an interim rule amending the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to implement regulatory changes made by the Small Business Administration (SBA) that provide for authority to award sole source contracts to economically disadvantaged women-owned small business concerns and to women-owned small business concerns eligible under the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Program.”
The Federal Register also notes that the rule puts the WOSB Program “on a level playing field with other SBA Government contracting programs with sole source authority and provided an additional, needed tool for agencies to meet the statutorily mandated goal of 5 percent of the total value of all prime contract and subcontract awards for WOSBs.”
Of all the SBA contracting programs, the 8(a) set-aside rules were always the best for sole sourcing. Fundamentally, if a KO (contracting officer) was willing (at the program office’s behest) to accept/write a Justification and Approval (J&A), the sole source went through. As well, many times this same authority was extended to 8(a) companies on multiple-award vehicles, so that the covered programs could use the vehicle to do sole sourcing as well.
This new regulation and FAR/DFAR change creates a similar dynamic for EDWOSBs – which is huge, because there are many EDWOSB companies ready for this, and because the 8(a) sole sourcing has come under pressure, particularly after some of the issues that arose in large sole sourcing for Alaskan Native Companies (ANCs) and some less than ethical/legal behavior by companies trying to take advantage of the program. In fact, the 8(a) program seems to have largely been replaced with “small disadvantaged” status, much to the chagrin of many of my friends who have 8(a) status.
This is definitely a major change, considering the 328 EDWOSBs and 974 WOSBs who could have received sole source awards between April 1, 2011 (the implementation date of the WOSB Program) and September 1, 2015.
This is a guest post by Candace Shields of SmallGovCon.
The SBA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals will have authority to hear petitions for reconsideration of SBA size standards under a proposed rule recently issued by the SBA.
Once the proposal becomes a final rule, anyone “adversely affected” by a new, revised or modified size standard would have 30 days to ask OHA to review the SBA’s size standard determination.
By way of background, when a federal agency issues a solicitation, it ordinarily is required to designate one–and only one–NAICS code based on the primary purpose of the contract. Each NAICS code carries a corresponding size standard, which is the upper perimeter a business must fall below to be considered as small under any solicitation designated with that NAICS code.
The size standard is measure by either average annual receipts or number of employees, and varies by industry. So, for example, under current law, NAICS code 236220 (Commercial and Institutional Building Construction) carries a $36.5 million receipts-based size standard. The SBA’s size standards are codified in 13 C.F.R. 121.201 and published in an easier-to-read format in the SBA’s Size Standards Table.
Importantly, size standards are not static. The SBA regularly reviews and adjusts size standards based on the “economic characteristics of the industry,” as well as “the impact of inflation on monetary-based size standards.” In 2014, for example, the SBA upwardly adjusted many receipts-based size standards based on inflation.
The size standards selected by the SBA can have major competitive repercussions. If the SBA chooses a lower size standard for a particular industry, many businesses won’t qualify as “small.” If the SBA selects a higher size standard, some smaller businesses will have trouble effectively competing with larger (but still “small”) competitors.
Despite the importance of size standards in the competitive landscape, there is not an SBA administrative mechanism for a business to challenge or appeal a size standard selected by the SBA (although judicial review is possible). Now, that is about to change. In the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress vested OHA with jurisdiction to hear petitions challenging the SBA’s size standard selection.
In response to the authority vested in OHA by the 2016 NDAA, the SBA’s proposed rule that sets out the procedural rules for OHA’s reconsideration of size standards petitions. While adhering closely to the procedural rules for SBA size challenges, the new rules for petitions for reconsideration of size standards lay out specific procedural regulations for filing a petition of reconsideration of size standards. The proposed rule addresses the issues of standing, public notification, intervention, filing documentation, finality, and effect on solicitations. The proposed rule also includes size standard petitions as part of SBA’s process for establishing size standards.
Here are some key proposed provisions worth noting:
- Proposed Section 134.902(a) grants standing to any person “adversely affected” by a new, revised, or modified size standard. That section would also provide that the adversely affected person would have 30 calendar days from the date of the SBA’s final rule to file its petition with OHA. This section of the rule confirms that OHA’s review will be limited to cases in which the SBA actually adopts or modifies a size standard; petitioners will not have authority to challenge preexisting size standards.
- Proposed Section 134.902(b) would provide that a business entity is not “adversely affected” unless it conducts business in the industry associated with the size standard being challenged and either qualified as a small business concern before the size standard was revised or modified or would be qualified as a small business concern under the size standard as revised or modified.
- Proposed Section 134.904(a) outlines the technical requirements of filing a Petition. This includes things like including a copy of the final rule and a narrative about why SBA’s size standard is alleged to be arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with applicable law.
- Proposed Section 134.906 would permit interested persons with a direct stake in the outcome of the case to intervene and obtain a copy of the Petition.
- Proposed Section 134.909 sets forth the standard of review as “whether the process employed by SBA to arrive at the size standard ‘was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.” As if that language wasn’t enough, the section clarifies that the petitioner bears the burden of proof.
- Proposed Section 134.914 would require OHA to issue a decision within 45 days “as practicable.”
- Proposed Section 134.917 would require SBA to rescind the challenged size standard if OHA grants a Petition. The size standard in effect prior to the final rule would be restored until a new final rule is issued.
- Proposed Section 134.917 would state that “because Size Standard Petition proceedings are not required to be conducted by an Administrative Law Judge, attorneys’ fees are not available under the Equal Access to Justice Act.
- Proposed Section 134.918 clarifies that filing a petition with OHA is optional; an adversely affected party may, if it prefers, go directly to federal court.
Given the importance of size standards in government contracting–and given the resources it often takes to pursue legal action in federal court–an internal SBA administrative process for hearing size standard challenges will be an important benefit for contractors. It is important to note that SBA’s proposed rule is merely proposed; OHA won’t hear size standard challenges until a final rule is in place.
Public comments on the rule are due December 6, 2016. To comment, follow the instructions on the first page of the proposed rule.
This post originally appeared at http://smallgovcon.com/statutes-and-regulations/sba-proposed-rule-will-allow-sba-oha-size-standard-appeals/ – sthash.MmEI71yW.dpuf and was reprinted with permission.
Department of Veterans Affairs is required by law to award contracts to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses when there is a reasonable expectation that two or more such concerns will bid for the contract. This has become known as the “Rule of Two” or “Veterans First.”
Yet there were many large-scale contracts that the VA department didn’t open up to this rule because they were traditionally things that they would not have set aside or acquired on a small business scale.
As Steven Koprince explains at SmallGovCon.com, “Despite the absence of a statutory exception for GSA Schedule orders, the VA has long taken the position that it may order off the GSA Schedule without first applying the VA Act’s Rule of Two.”
This effectively changes the rules of engagement for the VA so that they’re going to have to do a sources sought to determine whether there is a reasonable expectation that SDVOSBs can meet the requirements of the contract, and that there are qualified businesses who can do the job.
Interestingly enough, some things that are in IDIQ contracts may be exempt from this requirement – large IDIQs with both large businesses and SDVOSBs, or other small business types, may allow the VA to procure directly with the large businesses of a task order competitive basis.
But there are still going to be a lot more service-disabled sources sought directed at procurements for small businesses. It may very well be that the outcome will be the same, but we don’t know. What we do know is that SDVOSBs will have access to more work.
Let’s say there is a piece of work that traditionally would have been done full and open (not set-aside for specially certified businesses), or would have been done by an 8(a) or another small business type. Now, for that same piece of business the VA will have to determine whether two or more SDVOSBs will be qualified and will bid. There’s no guarantee, but at least it’s more likely the work could go a service-disabled vet.
Section 866 – Modifications to requirements for qualified HUBZone small business concerns located in a base closure area
This section provides an equivalency between HUBZone firms and Native Hawaiian firms, which helps the NHSBs to expand into HUBZone contracting. To date, meeting HUBZone goals is the most difficult set-aside category.
This section also does some definitional changes that make BRAC (Base Re-alignment and Closure) areas more easily designated as HUBZones, this is a good thing, as base closure areas from BRAC decisions are always particularly hard-hit.
Section 867 – Joint venturing and teaming
So this section is a big deal, and as the details emerge, we’ll address this. First, the specifics are that joint venture team members’ past performance will count when pursuing certain large contracts. And it expands the use of JVs to expand the number of areas where SBs are acceptable.
If implemented as described, this is a big change. Currently, only certain JVs inherit the past performance from their members. If this is implemented as written, we’ll be able to use JVs a lot better in the future.
Section 868 – Continued modification to scorecard program for small business contracting goals
The scorecard program is, quite frankly, somewhere between a joke and unfathomable. Agencies with major deficiencies still receive A’s, and small differences seem to generate larger effects.
Could this be because the grades affect government officials’ bonuses? We certainly don’t want those to be affected (sorry, tongue-firmly-in-cheek).
Section 869 – Establishment of an Office of Hearings and Appeals in the Small Business Administration (SBA); petitions for reconsideration of size standards
This is a technical detail, which separates a way to have size standard appeals to prevent these from going to courts instead. It also allows this office to review the size determinations. There have been a lot of complaints over the years that SBA keeps sizes smaller than really appropriate.
Section 870 – Additional duties of the Director of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization
If an OSDBU is a strong advocate, this helps by empowering them to help an SB work on SB set-aside status for an opportunity.
Section 871 – Including subcontracting goals in agency responsibilities
It is always a good thing to have all small business goals in the evaluation criteria for success by agency executives. This provision adds goals to agency-level responsibilities.
Section 872 – Reporting related to failure of contractors to meet goals under negotiated comprehensive small business subcontracting plans
This is essentially “tattling” on the big integrators – and requiring actual accountability. Accountability is always a good thing, but be wary because you’re complaining about your prime contractor. But when aggrieved, this may be a strong avenue.
Section 873 – Pilot program for streamlining awards for innovative technology projects
Pilots for awarding contracts to non-contractors might be good, but this can lead to abuse. As small businesses we’re always wary of “special deals.”
Section 874 – Surety bond requirements and amount of guarantee
A surety bond is a promise given to one party to pay a certain amount if the second party fails to meet the terms of a contract. Surety bonds are mostly used in construction.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal statute that defines, among other things, the difference between an exempt employee (one who is paid a salary and is therefore exempt from overtime pay) and an hourly employee (someone who may be paid on an hourly, weekly, or even yearly basis, but is not exempt and is therefore subject to overtime pay).
The current threshold is $455 per week, meaning that if you’re paid that amount or less you’re automatically assumed to be hourly. If you’re paid more than $100,000 per year, you’re automatically assumed to be exempt. In between, there are duties (referred to as professional standards) that will define an employee as exempt.
So that’s the current law. Under the new law, they’re going to raise that salary to $913 per week, and the automatic compensation level to $134,000 per year. What this means is that a lot more people are going to become subject to hourly rules, no longer exempt. When that happens, as a small business owner you will have to convert those people from exempt status to hourly status, from being paid a salary and not being eligible for overtime pay, to being eligible for overtime pay and being paid hourly.
In government contracting, it’s common practice for people to put in a lot of extra hours, many of them spent on non-billable work (sometimes called “company time”) rather than directly serving customers, after the 40-hour week is “done.” This might be time spent doing things like interviewing candidates for other jobs in the project or elsewhere in the company, preparing status reports, or attending company meetings. A major example of this is doing proposal work.
Let’s say you have an employee who works 40 hours a week of billable time and 10 hours a week of “company time.” Under these new rules that employee will now have to be paid for all of those 50 hours (and 10 of them at overtime rates).
Of course you’d be smart to consult with the compensation experts and lawyers whose job it is to work on this stuff. I will only say that it’s important for you to understand these issues because these changes are definitely going to be a challenge.
This is a guest post by Steven Koprince of SmallGovCon.
SDVOSB joint venture agreements will be required to look quite different after August 24, 2016. That’s when a new SBA regulation takes effect–and the new regulation overhauls (and expands upon) the required provisions for SDVOSB joint venture agreements.
The changes made by this proposed rule will affect joint ventures’ eligibility for SDVOSB contracts. It will be imperative that SDVOSBs understand that their old “template” JV agreements will be non-compliant after August 24, and that SDVOSBs and their joint venture partners carefully ensure that their subsequent joint venture agreements comply with all of the new requirements.
If you’ve been following SmallGovCon lately (and I hope that you have), you know that we’ve been posting a number of updates related to the SBA’s recent major final rule, which is best known for establishing a universal small business mentor-protege program. But the final rule also includes many other important changes, including major updates to the requirements for SDVOSB joint ventures. For those familiar with the requirements for 8(a) joint ventures, most of the new requirements will look familiar; the SBA states that its changes were intended to ensure more uniformity between joint venture agreements under the various socioeconomic set-aside programs.
The SBA’s final rule moves the SDVOSB joint venture requirements from 13 C.F.R. 125.15 to 13 C.F.R. 125.18 (a change of note primarily to those of us in the legal profession). But the new regulation is substantively very different than the old. Below are the highlights of the major requirements under the new rule. Of course (and this should go without saying), this post is educational only; those interested in forming a SDVOSB joint venture should consult the new regulations themselves, or consult with experienced legal counsel, rather than using this post as a guide.
In order to form an SDVOSB joint venture, at least one of the participants must be an SDVOSB, and must also be a small business under the NAICS code assigned to the procurement in question. The other joint venturer can be another small business, or the partner can be the SDVOSB’s mentor under the new small business mentor-protege program or the 8(a) mentor-protege program:
A joint venture between a protege firm that qualifies as an SDVO SBC and its SBA-approved mentor (see [Sections] 125.9 and 124.520 of this chapter) will be deemed small provided the protege qualifies as small for the size standard corresponding to the NAICS code assigned to the SDVO procurement or sale.
This piece of the new regulation appears to overturn a recent SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals decision, in which OHA held that a mentor-protege joint venture was ineligible for an SDVOSB set-aside contract because the mentor firm was not a large business.
Required Joint Venture Agreement Provisions
Under the new regulations, an SDVOSB joint venture agreement must include the following provisions:
- Purpose. The joint venture agreement must set forth the purpose of the joint venture. This is not a change from the old rules.
- Managing Member. An SDVOSB must be named the managing member of the joint venture. This is not a change from the old rules.
- Project Manager. An SDVOSB’s employee must be named the project manager responsible for performance of the contract. This, too, is not a change from the old rules. Curiously, unlike in the rules governing small business mentor-protege joint ventures, the SBA doesn’t specify whether the project manager can be a contingent hire, or instead must be a current employee of the SDVOSB. The new regulation also doesn’t address OHA case law holding that a specific individual must be named in the agreement (i.e., it’s insufficient to simply state that “an employee of the SDVOSB will be the project manager.”) It’s unfortunate that the SBA didn’t address that issue; if the SBA agrees with OHA’s rulings, it would have been nice to have the regulations reflect this requirement so that SDVOSBs understand that a specific name is required.
- Ownership. If the joint venture is a separate legal entity (e.g., LLC), the SDVOSB must own at least 51%. This is a change from the old rules, which don’t address ownership.
- Profits. The SDVOSB member must receive profits from the joint venture commensurate with the work performed by the SDVOSB, or in the case of a separate legal entity joint venture, commensurate with its ownership share. This is a change from the old rule, which applies the 51% threshold to all SDVOSB JVs. To me, there is no good reason to distinguish between “informal” and “separate legal entity” joint ventures, especially since the SBA (elsewhere in its final rule) concedes that “state law would recognize an ‘informal’ joint venture with a written document setting forth the responsibilities of the joint venture partners as some sort of partnership.” In other words, an informal joint venture is a legal entity too, just not one that has been formally organized with a state government. In any event, the long and short of this change is that we can expect to see many more informal SDVOSB joint ventures. That’s because, using the informal form, the non-SDVOSB will be able to perform up to 60% of the work and receive 60% of the profits (see the discussion of work split below); whereas in a separate legal entity joint venture, the non-SDVOSB will be limited to 49% of profits, no matter how much work the non-SDVOSB performs.
- Bank Account. The parties must establish a special bank account” in the name of the joint venture. This is a change from the old rule, which is silent regarding bank accounts. The account “must require the signature of all parties to the joint venture or designees for withdrawal purposes.” All payments to the joint venture for performance on an SDVOSB will be deposited in the special bank account; all expenses incurred under the contract will be paid from the account.
- Equipment, Facilities, and Other Resources. Itemize all major equipment, facilities, and other resources to be furnished by each venturer, along with a detailed schedule of the cost or value of such items. This is a change from the old rule, which doesn’t require this information to be set forth in an SDVOSB joint venture agreement. In a recent court decision, an 8(a) joint venture was penalized for providing insufficient details about these items—even though the contract in question was an IDIQ contract, making it difficult to provide a “detailed schedule” at the time the joint venture agreement was executed. Perhaps in response to that decision, the new regulations provide that “if a contract is indefinite in nature,” such as an IDIQ, the joint venture “must provide a general description of the anticipated major equipment, facilities, and other resources to be furnished by each party to the joint venture, without a detailed schedule of cost or value of each, or in the alternative, specify how the parties to the joint venture will furnish such resources to the joint venture once a definite scope of work is made publicly available.”
- Parties’ Responsibilities. Specify the responsibilities of the venturers with regard to contract negotiation, source of labor, and contract performance, including ways that the parties will ensure that the joint venture will meet the performance of work requirements set forth in the new rule. Again, if the contract is indefinite, a lesser amount of information will be permitted. This is an update from the old rule, which requires information on contract negotiation, source of labor, and contract performance, but does not require a discussion of how the SDVOSB joint venture will meet the performance of work requirements.
- Ensured Performance. Obligate all parties to the joint venture to ensure complete performance despite the withdrawal of any venturer. This is not a change from the current rule.
- Records. State that accounting and other administrative records of the joint venture must be kept in the office of the small business managing venturer, unless the SBA gives permission to keep them elsewhere. Additionally, the joint venture’s final original records must be retained by the SDVOSB managing venturer upon completion of the contract. These provisions, which are not included in the old rule, seem dated in the assumption that records will be kept in paper form; it instead would have been nice for the SBA to allow for more modern record-keeping, like a cloud-based records system that enables documents to be available in real-time to both parties.
- Statements. Provide that quarterly financial statements showing cumulative contract receipts and expenditures (including salaries of the joint venture’s principals) must be submitted to the SBA not later than 45 days after each operating quarter of the joint venture. This language, which was basically copied from the 8(a) program regulations, doesn’t specify who might be a “joint venture principal” in a world in which populated joint ventures have been eliminated. The joint venture agreement must also state that the parties will submit a project-end profit-and-loss statement, including a statement of final profit distribution, to the SBA no later than 90 days after completion of the contract. I find these requirements a bit odd because, unlike for 8(a) joint ventures, the SBA doesn’t pre-approve SDVOSB joint ventures, nor does it seem that the SBA will review a particular SDVOSB joint venture agreement except in the case of a protest. So why the ongoing requirement for submitting financial records?
While I wish that every SDVOSB would call qualified legal counsel before setting up an SDVOSB joint venture, the reality is that many SDVOSBs attempt to cut costs by relying on joint venture agreement “templates” obtained from a teammate or even from questionable internet sources. Using SDVOSB joint venture agreement templates is risky enough under the old rules, but will be an even bigger problem after August 24, when all those old templates become severely outdated. I hope that all SDVOSBs become aware of the need to have updated joint venture agreements meeting the new regulatory requirements, but I won’t be surprised to see some SDVOSB joint ventures using outdated templates in the months to come–and losing out on SDVOSB set-asides as a result.
Performance of Work Requirements
In addition to setting forth many new and changed requirements for SDVOSB joint venture agreements, the new regulation also specifies that, for any SDVOSB contract, “the SDVO SBC partner(s) to the joint venture must perform at least 40% of the work performed by the joint venture.” That work “must be more than administrative or ministerial functions so that [the SDVOSBs] gain substantive experience.” The joint venture must also comply with the limitations on subcontracting set forth in 13 C.F.R. 125.6.
And that’s not all: the SDVOSB partner to the joint venture “must annually submit a report to the relevant contracting officer and to the SBA, signed by an authorized official of each partner to the joint venture, explaining how and certifying that the performance of work requirements are being met.” Additionally, at the completion of the SDVOSB contract, a final report must be submitted to the contracting officer and the SBA, “explaining how and certifying that the performance of work requirements were met for the contract, and further certifying that the contract was performed in accordance with the provisions of the joint venture agreement that are required” under the new regulation.
Past Performance and Experience
Many SDVOSBs will groan at the new paperwork and reporting requirements established under the new regulation. But the SBA has inserted at least one provision that is a definite “win” for SDVOSBs and their joint venture partners: the new regulation requires contracting officers to consider the past performance and experience of both members of an SDVOSB joint venture. The regulation states:
When evaluating the past performance and experience of an entity submitting an offer for an SDVO contract as a joint venture established pursuant to this section, a procuring activity must consider work done by each partner to the joint venture as well as any work done by the joint venture itself previously.
Small businesses sometimes assume that agencies are required to consider the past performance and experience of the individual members of a joint venture–but until now, that wasn’t the case. True, many contracting officers considered such experience anyway, but there have been high-profile examples of agencies refusing to consider the past performance of a joint venture’s members. Of course, a joint venture is defined as a limited purpose arrangement, so it makes no sense to require the joint venture itself to demonstrate relevant past performance. This change to the SBA’s regulations is important and helpful.
The Road Ahead
After August 24, 2016, those old template SDVOSB joint venture agreements won’t be anywhere close to compliant, so SDVOSBs should act quickly to educate themselves about the new regulations and adjust any planned joint venture relationships accordingly. For SDVOSBs and their joint venture partners, the landscape is about to shift.
This post originally appeared at http://smallgovcon.com/statutes-and-regulations/sdvosb-joint-ventures-sba-overhauls-requirements/#sthash.hSCSekWL.dpuf and was reprinted with permission.