Last week I attended a Rocky Mountain Chapter NDIA meeting in Colorado Springs. The meeting was a panel discussion about small business issues in government contracting and featured the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Ombudsman, Brian Castro. Brian is tasked with assisting small businesses that experience excessive or unfair regulatory enforcement actions involving a Federal agency. Essentially this means that the Ombudsman is a “go between” to help small businesses resolve issues with Federal agencies. Other members of the panel, moderated by the Colorado PTAC Executive Director Gary Henry, were Willie Franklin (CH2MHill – large business representative), David Hollenbach (DSoft Technologies – small business representative), Paul Aldrich (Small Business Specialist – Schriever AFB), Kim Diercks (Contracting Officer – USAFA) & Russ Farmer (representing NDIA & ReliAscent). The goal of the discussion was to create open dialog between small businesses, industry and government personnel. I found the panel discussion enlightening as it raised some issues I hadn’t heard before.
There were 5 general areas of concern raised by small business participants in the audience. There were some helpful insights from the government perspective on the panel and some helpful tips on how to handle these situations. There were no “golden solutions” presented but just by bringing up these issues in front of the National Ombudsman raises awareness and possible future help in these areas.
The first issue was relative to the “silence period” on an RFI. It seems that this silence period is coming earlier and earlier in the procurement process, making it difficult for the small business to identify the true needs of the solicitation. The concern expressed by the small business is that the small business can’t identify exactly what the government wants and the government will not be delivered a proper solution. Government officials indicated it is difficult to put out detailed requirements early when the exact need isn’t yet defined and the funding for this procurement could be cut during this process which means nothing gets released. It is a delicate balancing act by the procurement agency. Lawyers in the agencies probably have some control over what is released as well. The issue is consistency across all agencies.
Another large issue seems to be related to a solicitation that comes out as designated for small business and then, usually due to lack of response, is switched to full open competition, many times the requirements are also lowered, and ends up being awarded to large business. One of the tactics mentioned is requiring the supplier to be registered in every state. This is not practical for a small business and results in the RFP going out full and open competition. The complaint is that sometimes unrealistic requirements disqualify small businesses. This is truly a case where the small business should utilize the SBA’s office of Advocacy and the National Ombudsman. The head of the Agency must be involved. Again the Ombudsman office is a perfect vehicle to accomplish this. Advice from the panel is to be vocal and assertive when this happens. Russ also pointed out that the NDIA and SBTC (Small Business Technical Council) has formed a subcommittee that constantly brings issues of small business to the attention of the DCAA and the DCMA. This could be a vehicle for certain complaints in these areas as well. Drawing attention at the proper levels is the only way to help get it resolved.
There are several other issues that I will cover in the next blog.