Advisory panel accepts small business recommendations

Small businesses working with the federal government may have a shot at winning more contracts after the Acquisition Advisory Panel voted last month to adopt recommendations designed to help small companies procure government contracts.

Congress established the panel in 2003 to review government acquisition laws and regulations to ensure use of commercial practices and performance-based contracting. It comprises representatives from the Small Business Administration, General Services Administration, Defense Department and private industry.

The panel will submit its recommendations, along with its full report, to the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and Congress. No time frame was given for when it will be forwarded.

The recommendations should allow small businesses greater participation in the more than $300 billion government contracting market. The panel heard from nearly 90 witnesses, resulting in more than 4,000 pages of meeting transcripts on how to improve the federal procurement system.

Among the panel's areas of focus was the government's practice of awarding contracts to several vendors that then compete with one another throughout the contract for recurring work. The panel recommends reserving one or more of these multiple contracts for small businesses as well as limiting competition for some of the recurring work to small-business contract holders.

Another recommendation is to resolve confusion over the government's various small-business preference programs by giving government contracting officers greater discretion in selecting companies to meet their agency's goals for awards to businesses in each category, such as businesses owned by disabled veterans.

To make the most of small-business programs, the panel suggests delivering more training and best practices to improve government officials' understanding of such programs.

The panel also suggests prohibiting the government's use of cascading procurements, which let the government determine, after the proposals are received, whether a procurement will be reserved for a particular small-business preference. The panel determined that the practice impedes competition while increasing costs to small businesses in preparing proposals that the government may never consider for an award.

The panel will meet through July to address other procurement issues under their statutory charter, such as commercial buying practices, performance-based contracting, interagency contracting, contractors in the federal workplace and the acquisition workforce.

Ethan Butterfield is a staff writer for Government Computer News' sister publication, Washington Technology.

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