Friday, May 4, 2012

Ensuring Small Businesses Representation: Enforce the Rules

The issue of subcontracts management is a badly needed topic that has gotten little attention recently, either through proposed legislation, or anywhere else. I attended the Acquisition Excellence 2012 Conference a few weeks ago, jointly sponsored by the American Council for Technology (ACT) - Industry Advisory Council (IAC) and the General Services Administration, discussing with several procurement officials the need for subcontracting accountability. Mainly, ensuring that percent and dollar amounts in subcontracting plans were being adhered to and measured, in regards to performance. All the officials discussed what should happen, but all also acknowledged that not enough was being done.

This is perhaps one of the most important ways that small businesses can be represented in federal contracts. Most contracts have performance reporting requirements, but very rarely do they include a holistic approach to the contract. How is the prime performing on adherence to the subcontracting plan? The importance is usually on lines of code and spend rates, even going so far to manage firm fixed priced contracts like time and materials. An effective tree-killing exercise, but not a very productive one.

Subcontractors have little options when needing to address grievances against large firms. Some small businesses have had contracts terminated, positions taken, or simply not having promises made to them kept.

Procurement officials do not want to get involved, and small businesses have recently taken to the media and the courts for relief.

Performance on a contract should also entail integrity and honesty in dealing with subcontractors in regards to past performance, as the government does itself no favors in dealing with bad actors that don’t adhere to promises and contractual requirements in subcontract execution.

The continued focus on small business is certainly a positive, but the holistic approach and institutional issues endemic to small business contract failures need to be addressed.

Government can achieve its small business goals, no question. It is the desire to change, along with a concerted effort by leadership, which is required to succeed.

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