Academic journal article The Public Manager

Balancing Procurement Reform and Small Business Advocacy

Academic journal article The Public Manager

Balancing Procurement Reform and Small Business Advocacy

Article excerpt

How the Small Business Administration is using new tools and techniques to balance procurement reform with small business advocacy.

Procurement reform embodies the legislative, regulatory, and policy changes designed to reduce the costs, paperwork, and effort associated with buying the goods and services that the federal government needs to carry out its programs and missions. While procurement reform has been an ongoing goal of federal acquisition strategists, the reinvention initiatives of the last decade have spawned an unprecedented wave of changes designed to create a government that works better and costs less. Perceptions of the efficiencies resulting from those changes are, of course, influenced largely by perspective.

The Challenge of Maintaining Balance

This article is written from the perspective of the federal policy makers tasked with ensuring that the terms "procurement reform" and "small business advocacy" do not become mutually exclusive. That is, on one hand, the Small Business Administration (SBA) and other federal small business advocates must design small business programs and initiatives in a manner consistent with the goals of procurement reform. And on the other hand, they must ensure that procurement reform measures are consistent with statutory and regulatory requirements for small business inclusion.

There is a general consensus that the procurement reforms of the last several years have given federal acquisition professionals new tools that eliminate duplicative processes and greatly enhance the speed with which federal purchases are made. However, there is also agreement that encouraging the use of these tools presents challenges from the perspective of the SBA and small business owners. The challenges stem principally from a steadily shrinking federal acquisition workforce with a growing desire to issue and administer fewer contracts.

Laying the Groundwork

Over the past quarter century, a substantial body of federal statutes and implementing regulations has been designed to both encourage the use of small businesses as prime and subcontractors as well as discourage the omission of small businesses as viable sources for federal acquisitions. While they were well-intentioned and effective, these rules also required specific kinds of documentation and attention to issues unique to small business procurement preferences, such as goals, set asides, and eligibility. Over time and through experience, dealing with those kinds of issues became a routine facet of government acquisitions. And, during the last decade, federal purchasers awarded over $40 billion annually in prime contracts to small businesses.

However, federal agency staffs have been downsized over the last decade, particularly acquisition personnel. Both downsizing and procurement reform were objectives of the push to reinvent and reengineer government, and procurement reforms created a whole new set of streamlined acquisition tools that previously had not been available to contracting officers. Acquisition procedures were simplified and documentation requirements were reduced substantially. As a result, contracting officers were given discretion in choosing acquisition tools and were increasingly reluctant to expend the effort required to conduct competitions reserved for small businesses

This begs a public policy question: If procurement reform saves time and money for the government, and ultimately the taxpayers, why should federal policy makers be concerned about its effect on small business?

Why Small Business?

Despite recent indicators that the economy is slowing, our nation is enjoying one of the strongest growth periods in our history. The nation's economy is arguably the most robust in the world, becoming more diversified, more global, and more technological. The economic growth over the past decade has been fueled in large part by growth in the small business sector. …

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