SBA Increasing Size Standards - Issues Interim Final Rule Effective July 14, 2014

Today the Small Business Administration issued an interim final rule that increases revenue-based size standards.  The adjustment is made, in part, to take account of inflation since the last inflation-adjustment in 2008.  In Sector 23, Construction, for example, the $35 million size standard increased to $36.5 million.

To see all size standard adjustments in the interim rule, click here.  The interim final rule takes effect July 14, 2014, but the SBA will receive comments on it through August 14, 2014.

SBA PUBLISHES PROPOSED RULE TO INCREASE TWO SIZE STANDARDS IN HEAVY AND CIVIL ENGINEERING NAICS CODES

Today the Small Business Administration published a proposed rule to increase the size standard for Land Subdivision and for Dredging and Surface Cleanup Activities, which are both in the Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction sector. SBA proposes to increase the size standard for Land Subdivision (NAICS 237210) from $7 million to $25 million in average annual receipts. Dredging and Surface Cleanup Activities is an "exception" sub-category of Other Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction. For Dredging and Surface Cleanup Activities, SBA proposes to increase the size standard from $20 million to $30 million in average annual receipts. Otherwise, the size standard for Other Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction (NAICS 237990) remains at $33.5 million.

If adopted as a final rule, these changes would allow contractors that have outgrown the previous size standards to become "small" again and prevent contractors that may be on the "other than small" bubble to remain "small". These changes also increase the pool of small businesses in these industry categories, allowing agencies to set more procurements aside for small-business concerns.

Interested parties must submit their comments not later than September 17, 2012, to SBA. The proposed rule is attached here.

"Redesignated" HUBZones Expiring October 1, 2011 - May Affect Your HUBZone Eligibility

 

On October 1, 2011, "redesignated" HUBZone areas will expire. These areas were previously set to expire at earlier dates, but in 2004, Congress extended and "grandfathered" their HUBZone status until the results of the 2010 Census were published. The original "redesignated" expiration date was June 1, 2011, but it was extended and now will take effect on October 1, 2011. The Small Business Administration is encouraging all currently-certified HUBZone concerns to assess the impact expiration of "redesignated" areas will have on their eligibility to remain in the HUBZone program, whether a concern’s principal office is currently located in a "redesignated" area or if it relies upon the employment of residents in redesignated areas to meet the "35%" rule.

The HUBZone program does not require termination of existing HUBZone contracts if a concern is no longer eligible after October 1, 2011. However, because a concern must be properly certified and eligible as of the date (a) it submitted its initial offer for the contract and (b) the date the contract was awarded, expiration of "redesignated" areas may impact pending offers. Also, regardless of whether a current HUBZone concern has an offer pending for a federal contract, it must always notify the SBA of any "material" change which could impact its HUBZone eligibility. Firms that will no longer qualify for the HUBZone program as of October 1, 2011, can voluntarily de-certify. If that is not done, the SBA will send proposed de-certification letters which must be responded to within thirty (30) days.

Concerns which voluntarily decertify or otherwise become non-compliant with the HUBZone program as of October 1, 2011, can re-apply after ninety (90) days have passed since the date of a voluntary decertification agreement or decertification.

Who's Fooling Who? General Accountability Office Recommends SBA to Monitor 8(a) Program Closer to Prevent Fraud.

In March, the United States General Accountability Office ("GAO") issued its finding and recommendations concerning fraud in the 8(a) Program. 8(a) Program Report. During its investigation, GAO discovered that at least 14 ineligible firms had received $325 million in sole-source and set-aside contracts. The GAO investigation discovered evidence of an entity fraudulently reporting adjusted net worth; an entity that was merely an extension of a graduated 8(a) firm; a top executive who was not disadvantage controlling the management and operation of the certified firm; an entity that was merely a shell company for a large construction firm managed by a non-disadvantaged individual; failure on the part of the president of an entity to report ownership in significant assets to the SBA; an entity that continued to receive 8(a) contract after it graduated from the 8(a) program by using other certified firms as pass-throughs; and a president who falsely reported his annual salary to the SBA.

The GAO report contains extensive details on the 14 entitles that were investigated and recommendations to the SBA for addressing the seemingly pervasive fraud in the SBA 8(a) Program. The report makes for interesting reading. More importantly, however, it should serve as a warning to individuals and entities "gaming" the SBA’s 8(a) Program that greater scrutiny of applicants and certified firms can be expected.

Small Businesses Alarmed by What Administration Considers Procurement "Reform"... and Large Businesses Should Be

The Federal Times.com recently reported on proposed procurement "reforms" that will adversely impact business opportunities for small businesses. The term "procurement reform" suggests changes aimed at increasing contracting opportunities, improving fairness in the procurement system, or lowering the cost of goods and services. The Administration’s proposed changes do not aim to do any of these.

The Obama Administration is considering, among other things, converting services typically performed by small businesses from private performance to government performance. According to Federal Times.com, this change would impact service contractors that provide maintenance services, food services, and information technology services which are typically performed by small businesses. Contacting reforms anger small businesses

The Obama Administration is also looking at other changes that will burden small businesses. It is feared that "strategic sourcing", which combines government needs to achieve economy of scale, will limit those needs for goods or services that small businesses can meet. Stricter environmental requirements are likely to make it difficult for small businesses to compete effectively, too. 

Another change is the Administration’s "High Road" contracting policy which would favor the award of federal contacts to employers who pay higher salaries or provide better benefits. The Service Contract Act and Davis-Bacon Act already require service contractors to pay not less than prevailing, that is, market, wage rates. Why is an initiative that would increase costs to business and the government on the agenda?

Some critics claim the High Road initiative will inject more subjectivity into the procurement process while others say it is meant to reward union support for Obama. AFL-CIO union head opposes ‘High Road’ contracting policy. The FederalTimes.com points out that it is likely to damage small businesses. While small businesses do not have the financial resources to outpace the market for wages or benefits, larger companies aren’t likely to have them, either. Could it be that the High Road policy is not meant as a reform to reduce government contracting costs but meant to re-engineer American enterprise through government purchasing—at any cost?

Hubzone Contracts Take Set-Aside Priority Over 8(a) Program

In Mission Critical Solutions v. United States, COFC No. 09-864 C (March 2, 2010), the Court of Federal Claims has determined that the HUBZone program takes priority over the 8(a) program.

Mission Critical Solutions ("MCS") was certified as both an 8(a) and HUBZone small business. In 2008, the Department of the Army awarded MCS a one-year sole-source 8(a) contract for just under $3.5 million to provide information technology ("IT") services. For the follow-on requirement, which was valued (including options) at approximately $10.5 million (in excess of the applicable $3.5 million ceiling on sole-source contracts), the Army determined it could not make award to MCS. However, the Army decided it could make a sole-source 8(a) award to Copper River Information Technology, LLC ("Copper River"), an Alaska Native Corporation, if the SBA would approve Copper River as the IT provider for the requirement. SBA accepted the requirement on behalf of Copper River under its 8(a) program and the Army made the award.

MCS protested the sole-source 8(a) award to Copper River to the GAO. MCS argued that the Army was required to compete the requirement as a HUBZone business set-aside. The GAO sustained MCS’s protest. However, the Office of Management and Budget ordered that executive agencies disregard the GAO’s ruling until the Office of Legal Counsel of the United States Justice Department ("OLC") reviewed the matter. After the OLC declared its disagreement with GAO, the Army took the position that it had no authority to take any action inconsistent with the OLC’s position. Thus, MCS’s request for protest costs and a second protest against the award were denied by GAO as "academic", because the Army had stated its position that GAO recommendations could not be followed in the matter. MCS took its protest to the Court of Federal Claims.

Chief Judge Emily Hewitt sided with MCS and declared the Army’s award to Copper River under the 8(a) program not in accordance with law. The Army’s argument that there is parity between the 8(a) and HUBZone requirements was rejected. Judge Hewitt found that the HUBZone statute mandates set-asides for competition among HUBZone concerns whenever there is a reasonable expectation that at least 2 qualified HUBZone firms will submit offers and award can be made at a reasonable price. The plain language of the HUBZone statute at 15 USC § 657a(b)(2) requires such set-asides "[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law". Moreover, whereas contracting officers "may" decide to award contracts under the 8(a) program when the HUBZone statutory set-aside criteria are not met, there is no such discretion for contracting officers when the HUBZone statutory are met. Judge Hewitt enjoined the Army from awarding the IT support services contract without first determining whether the "rule of two" is met "such that the contract opportunity at issue in this case must be awarded on the basis of competition among qualified HUBZone small business concerns."

Contracts for Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business Concerns

Service-Disabled Veteran Owned ("SDVO") contracts are one of several types of "set-aside" contracts which permit qualified entities to compete for federal government contracts on other than "full and open" competition terms. SDVO contracts are taking their place among small business set-asides, 8(a) set-asides, and HUBZone set-asides. With submission of its initial offer for a SDVO Small Business Concerns ("SBC") contract set-aside, a concern must certify that:

       

    • it is a SDVO SBC
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    • it is "small" as defined by the NAICS code assigned to the procurement
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    • it will comply with the percentage of work requirements set forth in 13 CFR 125.6
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    • if a joint venture, that both members of the joint venture are small; and
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    • if applicable, it is an eligible nonmanufacturer.

Even if a SDVO meets all of the foregoing on a particular procurement, it must still consider the Small Business Administration’s ("SBA") rules on affiliation, all of which can apply to render a "technically" compliant SDVO as "other than small" and therefore ineligible for the award of SDVO contracts. Whether a SDVO wants to ensure it has not run afoul of the rules prohibiting affiliation between SBCs or a SDVO competitor wants to successfully challenge the SDVO status of a competitor, the SDVO needs to be familiar with the rules by which the SBA determines entities to be affiliated.

For example, a SDVO that is deemed unduly reliant upon a subcontractor for performance of the vital or primary functions of a contract may be deemed to be affiliated with the subcontractor. If the average annual receipts of the SDVO and this "ostensible" subcontractor exceed the applicable size limitation, the SDVO will be deemed ineligible for the SDVO contract. More basic still could be a finding of affiliation based on the "newly organized concern" or shared ownership rules.

Affiliation with a subcontractor may also be found even though a subcontractor is not performing the vital or primary functions of a contract. While bonding assistance alone by a subcontractor generally does not create affiliation between a SBC and a subcontractor, when coupled with other performance assistance, it could result in a finding of affiliation. Other indicia of "assistance" include, but are not limited to, bid preparation by the subcontractor rather than the prime SDVO; the loan of equipment to the SDVO by a subcontractor; office sharing by the SDVO and a subcontractor; and payroll, bookkeeping, and other "back office" assistance by the subcontractor. The proximity of the SDVO’s offices may also come into play when affiliation with a subcontractor is examined. For instance, where a SDVO SBC has been located 1100 miles away from the site of contract performance has been determined by the SBA to render the SDVO unduly reliant upon a subcontractor because the SDVO is too remote to provide meaningful, day-to-day management of the project. However, an SDVO’s location 100 miles away from the site of contract performance has been deemed not too remote.

Whether affiliation exists to render your SDVO or a competitor’s SDVO ineligible for a particular procurement or ineligible generally for the SDVO program is very fact-specific. To minimize the risk of being declared "other than small" SDVOs should carefully review all rules by which the SBA examines allegations of affiliation.