Doing what's fair

Thomas R. Temin

When it comes to procurement, the government is like a train with locomotives at both ends pulling in opposite directions.

One end is focused on speeding procurements, streamlining competitions and expanding use of governmentwide acquisition contracts. Program managers and other technology users want to get their contracts awarded fast. They push procurement folks to hurry up. Momentum began building during the Clinton administration, when procurement reform first got rolling.

The other end is pressing agencies to award more contracts to small and disadvantaged businesses. This pressure comes from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and is accompanied by a chorus of complaints from small businesses about their lack of federal influence.

The result of this push-me, pull-you game: a sort of procurement schizophrenia. But it doesn't have to be this way. Streamlined procurement isn't by definition the antithesis of fairness to small business. Some changes afoot might help.

The Office of Management and Budget is revamping the Procurement Executive Council so its membership includes more than just procurement officers. And the Small Business Administration is revamping some of its regulations, too.

For small businesses to get a fair shake, here is what must happen:
  • First, agencies must get a handle on their own procurement patterns and avoid bundling requirements. And, as Education Department procurement chief Glenn Perry recently pointed out, agencies can add penalty clauses in contracts with large businesses for failure to meet small-business subcontracting goals. He said agencies need to actively manage how and from whom they buy.

  • Second, agencies and oversight bodies must ensure that small businesses can see chances to participate in GWACs.

  • Third, small businesses need to complain less and do more old-fashioned legwork. Owners need to focus their limited marketing resources on business partners and direct customers with the most potential. No one ever got rich establishing a schedule contract with the General Services Administration, then sitting back and waiting for the orders to roll in.

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