THEIR VIEW: More government contracting opportunities for small businesses

By The West Virginia Record | Apr 21, 2011

By A. JOHN SHORAKA

KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. -- Before I was appointed to this position a few months ago, I spent more than 20 years in the small business contracting community. In the short time I have been serving as Regional Administrator, one thing has become clear -- this Administration is serious about expanding government contracting opportunities for small businesses.

Federal contracting with small business is a win-win situation: the government benefits from some of the most innovative, responsive people in the world while small businesses get contracts they need to quickly grow and create jobs. The federal government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world, spending $500 billion on contracting each year, of which nearly $100 billion went to small businesses in Fiscal Year 2009.

I have been around long enough to hear a lot of talk, but little action that has truly led to real benefits flowing to small business contractors and subcontractors. For too long, most government agencies have not met their small business contracting goals as set forth by Congress. For too long, small business has received lip service but no meaningful reform when it comes to government contracting. For too long, small businesses have simply gotten the short end of the stick. Now it looks like better times are coming.

The Recovery Act is a great example. Vice President Biden himself led a cross-agency effort with SBA and the Department of Commerce to make sure federal contracts benefitted small businesses. As a result, more than 30 percent of Recovery Act contracts went to small businesses, well above the annual 23-percent goal.

Building on that, in September the President signed into law the Small Business Jobs Act (SBJA), which has 19 provisions targeted at creating an environment where small business owners can more freely compete for and win government contracts. This includes:

* Fostering a more level playing field for small businesses owned by women, service-disabled veterans, as well as those participating in programs like 8(a) and HUBZone;

* Getting rid of a program that hurt small businesses in areas where they typically excel including construction, landscaping and pest control;

* Holding large prime contractors more accountable to small business subcontracting plans, and requiring justification if plans aren't met and subcontractors aren't paid on time;

* Enabling agency contracting officers to reserve orders for small businesses on contracts issued under multiple awards;

* Making it more difficult for agencies to "bundle" contracts, a practice that makes it more difficult for small businesses to compete;

* Combating fraud, waste and abuse, including better tools to pursue businesses that misrepresent their ownership status or size to win a contract:

Additionally, the SBA is providing more transparency through a new Small Business Contracting Dashboard at smallbusiness.data.gov. The dashboard will work to hold federal agencies accountable for meeting their small business contracting goals.

It's clear to me that as a result of serious efforts championed by the Obama administration, this is truly the beginning of better times for small businesses pursuing government contracting opportunities.

Shoraka is the Regional Administrator in Region III for the U.S. Small Business Administration. He oversees the SBA's programs and services in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

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