Small Business Regulations and Programs

Bass, Berry & Sims attorneys Todd Overman and Sylvia Yi will be presenting on key government contracting issues for small businesses.

We are excited to be presenting on key government contracting issues for small businesses on July 17, 2019 at The Tower at Peabody Place in Memphis, Tennessee. The presentation, titled, “Government Contracting Law Overview,” will discuss the pros and cons of business entity types, requirements of the SBA’s All Small Mentor Protégé Program, protecting partnerships

In an article published on April 9, 2019 in CO—, a new digital platform by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, I provided insight on the process of securing federal contracts for small businesses.

Once a business has searched for contracting opportunities and has completed all the necessary registration requirements, it can begin bidding on contracts. Though before bidding, it is important that the company can handle the job the contract requires and that it can meet all of the regulatory requirements – otherwise the contract could ultimately be terminated. “Don’t overpromise in your technical proposal, that becomes part of your contract and you’re going to have to deliver to those technical specs,” I explained.

Additionally, the proposal should include pricing information and according to Todd, the company will want to be realistic and not overcharge while also keeping in mind that the government sometimes chooses the best value over the lowest price.


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Late last month, the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Hearings & Appeals (OHA) issued a decision adhering to its prior line of cases discussing when present effect will be given to an indication of interest (IOI) between a small business and its potential large business acquirer for size determination purposes.  As with prior cases, OHA conducts a fact-intensive analysis to determine whether the parties had an agreement in principle at the time the small business submits its bid on a federal procurement.  The case, Size Appeal of Enhanced Vision Systems Inc., SBA No. SIZ-5978, offers some helpful tips on how to avoid an affiliation finding when negotiating an IOI and still pursuing small business set-aside opportunities.

Background

On October 5, 2017, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Acquisition Operations – Strategic Acquisition Center (VA) issued a small business set-aside RFP for in-home video magnification closed-circuit televisions.  The solicitation had a 1,250 employee size standard.  Proposals were due on December 12, 2017.  Enhanced Vision Systems, Inc. (EVS) timely submitted its proposal and was subsequently acquired by Freedom Scientific, Inc., a subsidiary of VFO Holdings, BV.  The contracting officer notified bidders that EVS was the apparent successful offeror.  In response, FedBiz IT Solutions LLC (FedBiz), an unsuccessful offeror, challenged the awardee’s size arguing that EVS had already entered into negotiations at the time of its initial offer, and therefore should be considered affiliated with VFO, the acquiring large business.  The Area Office sustained the protest, finding EVS and VFO affiliated, and therefore exceeded the employee size standard for the procurement.


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Taylor Hillman and I recently discussed how small Alabama businesses can enter the world of federal contracts. The All Small Mentor-Protégé Program (ASMPP) was established by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to extend business development assistance to all small businesses and help them achieve success in competing for federal government contracts. Only 20 of the 511 approved Mentor-Protégé Agreements had Alabama addresses as of May 5, 2018, despite one of the ASMPP’s top 10 district offices being located in Alabama, showing the potential for growth of the program within the state.

The SBA created an all-inclusive program with the Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses, Women Owned Small Businesses, HUBZones, and others, to streamline and enhance the program. Protégés can learn valuable lessons from mentors, including financial support; assistance in navigating the federal procurement bidding, acquisition and performance processes; business development advice including strategic planning and opportunity identification; and guidance on internal business management systems.
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On February 15, 2019, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a consequential decision for those contractors who will compete for federal contracts as part of a mentor-protégé joint venture.  In Ekagra Partners, LLC, B-408685.18, Feb. 15, 2019, the GAO partially sustained the protest on the basis of an improper limitation on the submission of teaming agreement member past performance, and partially denied the protest finding that agencies can limit the number of past performance experience projects that can be submitted in a mentor-protégé joint venture’s proposal in reliance on a large business mentor firm.

In Ekagra, the protestor challenged the terms of the request for proposals (RFP) seeking to award additional Multiple Award Task Order Contracts (MATOCs) under the General Services Administration’s (GSA) One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services (OASIS) Small Business (SB) Pool 1.  OASIS SB Pool 1 MATOC covers a wide variety of professional services including, but not limited to, consulting, logistics, engineering, scientific, management consulting, project management, and other professional services.


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What are the recent changes in rules that could impact your small business and teaming partners in federal contracting in 2019? The Small Business Administration (SBA) and Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council have recently finalized and issued proposed rules implementing provisions of past NDAAs that could alter how you team and ensure compliance with set-aside requirements on future procurements.

I will address these issues at an upcoming meeting of the Society of American Military Engineers, as well as highlight some lessons learned from SBA’s All Small Mentor Protégé Program as the program enters its third year.


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Members of the Bass, Berry & Sims Government Contracts team successfully represented B&O JV in multiple actions brought by a competitor to challenge the awarding of a contract to our client. B&O JV is an 8(a) small business joint venture based in Dallas, TX.

In October 2017, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) issued a request for proposal (RFP) for dorm maintenance services at its training facility in Glynco, Georgia, as a competitive 8(a) set-aside.  The important services support training of federal law enforcement officers and FLETC has repeatedly determined that the services cannot be interrupted.

The incumbent, SRM Group, Inc., was not eligible to compete for the contract, having graduated from the 8(a) program in 2013, but formed an 8(a) joint venture, Safeguard, which did compete for the work.  Bass, Berry & Sims’ client, B&O JV, was ultimately awarded that contract and has been performing the work since October 1, 2018.


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December of 2018 brought many potential changes to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) regulations that impact small businesses. First, on December 4, 2018, the SBA issued a lengthy proposed rule implementing several provisions of the National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAA) of 2016 and 2017, and the Recovery Improvements for Small Entities After Disaster Act of 2015 (RISE Act), as well as other clarifying amendments.  Then, on December 17, 2018, President Trump signed Public Law No. 115-324, the Small Business Runway Extension Act, which modifies the method for determining the size standards for small businesses.

SBA’s Proposed Rule

 The SBA’s proposed rule offers clarification on numerous topics, including but not limited to, recertification requirements, material breach of subcontracting plans for failure to comply in good faith, the inclusion of indirect costs in commercial subcontracting plans, setting aside an order under a set-aside multiple award contract (MAC), the status of independent contractors as employees in certain situations, and limitations on subcontracting compliance.  Comments on the proposed rule are due on February 4, 2019.  Some of the most significant proposed rules are summarized below.


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On December 21, 2018, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report analyzing contract and grant awards of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding to small businesses owned by multiple venture capital (VC) companies, hedge funds, or private equity firms between 2015 and 2018.  In 2011, agencies were given the authority to award SBIR funds to small businesses owned by multiple venture capital companies, hedge funds, or private equity firms (investment companies and funds), however these awards were not to exceed either 25% or 15% of the agencies’ SBIR budgets depending on which agency was making the award.  The GAO found that of the 11 federal agencies participating in the SBIR program, only three agencies (the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), and the Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences) awarded contracts or grants to small businesses majority-owned by multiple venture capital operating companies, hedge funds, or private equity firms.  These three agencies made a total of 62 awards and obligated $43.6 million to such businesses from 2015 to 2018, only amounting to 0.1% to 2.7% of the three agencies’ total SBIR awards.
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I recently authored an article for Strategic Consulting Solutions, Inc. (SCS) GovCon Advisor – a monthly news source for the government contracts industry. The article outlines the requirements of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) All Small Mentor-Protégé Program (ASMPP), focusing on the Mentor-Protégé Agreement (MPA) and the recent Hendall case. As I point out, “The