SBA's Semiannual Report of the Inspector General


SBA's Semiannual Report of the Inspector General

Government Contracting Programs: Activities to Enhance Fraud Detection and Deterrence

September 30, 2004

"Over the past few years, the Investigations Division has noted several instances of a particular fraudulent practice: companies that SBA, after sustaining protests against them, had prohibited from representing themselves as small businesses, under a particular SIC code, were continuing to falsely certify themselves as eligible for small business set-aside contracts."

"The Inspector General issued a program vulnerability memo suggesting…that the agency periodically generate a list of companies found ineligible to self-certify as small for contracts…and circulate it to all Federal agencies of their use."

"The Assistant Administrator for Government Contracting, responding for the Deputy Administrator, responded that, while the suggestion had merit, its risks outweighed the benefits."

Feds Blasted Over Small-Business Deals


Feds Blasted Over Small-Business Deals

Washington Post
September 30, 2004

The U.S. government came under fire this week for its treatment of small contractors and the way it keeps track of them.

Critics say the federal government isn't complying with mandatory quotas for awards to small business, and is too lax with firms that outgrow their small business status or get bought by bigger companies.

The Center for Public Integrity, a Washington think tank, singled out The Titan Corp. and GTSI Corp. for their use of contracting loopholes, in a report released Wednesday.

The study also found that 189 of the Pentagon's top 737 contractors - the top 1 percent - are classified as small businesses on at least half of their contracts.

Titan, a San Diego-based computer services company, had $1.8 billion in 2003 revenue. The study said it received $550 million in small business contracts from 1998 through 2003 thanks to a string of acquisitions. The firm had nearly $2.4 billion in total defense contracts over the same period, ranking it 34th among all Pentagon contractors, the study said.

Titan representatives couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
GTSI Corp. won the most small business contracts of any nonminority firm: nearly $1.2 billion over the six-year period, the report said.

The firm, a Washington, D.C.,-area technology services provider, "retained its small business status despite long since having grown out of it," the study said.

Total GTSI sales in 2003 were $954 million.

GTSI spokeswoman Fern Krauss had no comment on the contracting rules, or the Center for Public Integrity's assessment. But recent public filings show that the firm is worried about its status and is taking steps to safeguard it.

" To mitigate any potential adverse impact (of losing small-business status), GTSI has developed strategic relationships with small, minority-owned businesses that benefit from the small business benefits described above," GTSI said in its most recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Bush administration said small businesses have benefited from its efforts over the past four years.

Small Business Administration spokesman Evan Keefer said the government is meeting its contracting targets and helping match contractors with opportunities.

" We stand by our numbers. We're confident that small businesses are being able to take advantage of federal procurement better than ever before," Keefer said in a Thursday interview.

But the government's numbers have been questioned for some time.
In a 2003 review, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found "gross errors" in federal procurement data.

The agency blasted current practices in May 2003, then followed up with a December letter to the Office of Management and Budget urging speedy modernization of contract tracking systems.

" Regulations permit companies to retain their small business status over the life of contracts - which in today's federal contracting environment could last as many as 20 years," said GAO contracting director David Cooper in May 2003 testimony.

The Big Business of Small Business


The Big Business of Small Business

Top defense contracting companies reap the benefits meant for small businesses

By Elizabeth Brown
The Center for Public Integrity
September 29, 2004

WASHINGTON, September 29, 2004 – When defense contracting giant The Titan Corporation bought SenCom Corp. for $35 million in 2000, it also received a nice secondary bonus–some $176 million worth of contracts designated for small businesses.

Titan is not alone. Thirty percent of all defense contract money reported as going to small businesses and special minority-owned businesses has ended up in the hands of the top defense companies, the Center for Public Integrity has found.

Between 1998 and 2003, the Pentagon awarded more than $47 billion in contracts designated for small businesses to companies that have each earned more than $100 million from Defense Department contracts alone during that six year period.

More than half of the top 100 defense contractors–55 of them in all–received at least $10 million in contracts with small business designations over the past six years. All told, the small business contracts won by the largest defense firms amounted to $9.3 billion, the Center found.
Titan, the 34th largest defense contractor, has received more than half a billion dollars in preferential small business contracts by absorbing smaller companies and continuing to win awards on their small business contracts.

This large amount accounted for 23 percent of the $2.39 billion in defense contracts the company received from 1998 to 2003.

Nearly 45 percent of Titan's small business awards came in the form of small business set asides, which not only carry a preferential classification for government contracting, but are exclusively reserved for small companies. Nearly 80 percent of the $176 million Titan received from 2000 to 2003 through awards on contracts SenCom Corp. won were recorded as funds set-aside to go to small businesses.

"We have no problem with the government procurement systems and how they handle these things," Titan spokesperson Ralph 'Wil' Williams told the Center.

According to current regulations, if a business is awarded a contract while it is classified as small, the business is considered small for the life of the contract. This allows millions of small business dollars to go to big companies when a small firm outgrows the classification or is acquired, as noted in a General Accounting Office investigation last year.

"In fact there is a lot of change going on with the small business awards" said Deidre Lee the Director of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy at the Department of Defense. "If it is truly a buy … we should novate the contract, which would change the name, which would change the status. That is what should happen."

Contracting expert Charles Tiefer called the percent of contracts classified as going to small business that actually go to top companies "disheartening." He said government agencies have an incentive to award contracts to small businesses.

"Whether by goals or quotas departments are obliged to make sure that small businesses are taking contracts," said Tiefer, a professor of government contracting at the University of Baltimore law school.

According to government-wide goals set by Congress, 23 percent of prime contract dollars are supposed to be awarded to small businesses annually. The Small Business Administration reported that the Defense Department exceeded that goal by 2.4 percent in 2003.

L-3 Communications, which the Center found received $5.15 billion in contracts during 1998-2003, collected 11 percent–or $582 million–of its total contracts as those classified as going to small businesses. More than $219 million of those contracts come from the management and technical services company EER Systems, which L-3 Communications acquired in 2001 to become part of its Government Services division.

Other top contractors receiving small business dollars include the military equipment support services company, Engineered Support Systems Inc.. More than one third of the company's $1.57 billion in contracts during 1998 to 2003 came from contracts classified as going to small business.

Engineered Support Systems received $188 million in small business dollars through Keco Industries, which it acquired in 1998. Radian Inc. also brought in $162 million in small business dollars since Engineered Support Systems acquired the company in 2002.

'Get it right'

The Small Business Administration recently made changes to its regulations, set to go into effect December 2004, that would require companies to re-certify themselves as small businesses after they have been acquired by another company, said Gary Jackson, the assistant administrator for size standards at the SBA.

"The problem came up that a company may grow or be bought out but still gets recorded as small for the purposes of that contract," Jackson said. "In December we will look at situations when the contract is bought. The company would have to certify if the company is still a small business."
Jackson noted that the new regulations would not deny a company work on a contract previously won, but would remove the preferential classification for government reporting. He said the acquisition problem arose over the past five years after the government developed contracts that can last up to 20 years – plenty of time to grow out of a small business or be acquired by a larger company.

Tiefer said he was cautious about the Small Business Administration's introduction of certification regulations.

"[The regulation] sounds like a great idea, but many more promises are made about protecting the small business community, especially before an election," Tiefer said.

The GSA has already been requiring recertification of small businesses that win contracts through its schedules said David Drabkin, the deputy chief acquisition officer at the General Services Administration. "Under current regulations if you are small you remain small for the life of the contract, there is no requirement in regulation or law to investigate the size because of the SBA rule," Drabkin said.

But beginning in 2002, Drabkin said, General Services Administration contract officers were required to ask for recertification of small business size after the base period of the contract had ended, which is usually five years, to "keep in the spirit of what we are trying to do" with the small business program.

Drabkin said the General Services Administration's new "Get It Right" campaign, launched to re-educate federal contracting employees about proper contracting methods, will include a review to see if contracting officers have been making the inquiry into business size.

New size rules fall short


New size rules fall short

By Dave Nadler
Federal Computing Week
September 27, 2004

One of the government's most important policies is to provide as many opportunities as possible to small businesses and allot a fair portion of contracts to them. Government officials foster this goal by promoting various programs and setting aside certain contracts for participation only by businesses that fit the Small Business Administration's size standards.
For some time, SBA officials and the courts have been grappling with a loophole in the agency's regulations that allows a small business that has grown large to continue to receive small-business contracts after it has outgrown its size status. SBA officials, under pressure from Congress to meet small-business contracting goals, have contributed to this problem by looking the other way and awarding the contracts to firms that are now indisputably large.

SBA officials missed an opportunity to close this loophole during recent changes to size regulations. The new regulations do not substantially alter the prior rule that a contractor's size is determined by the date when the contractor submits a self- certification of the business' size status as part of its contract proposal. This presents a particular concern with governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs) and General Services Administration schedule contracts, given their extended terms. Under these contracts, a large business can continue to compete for small-business task orders or blanket purchase agreements (BPAs) based on a small-business size certification that may have been granted years ago.

Officials at GSA and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) have taken steps to address this problem. GSA officials implemented a Federal Acquisition Regulation requiring small-business owners to recertify their companies' size status every five years, at the time of option renewal under the GSA schedule. OFPP officials went a step further and required annual recertification of vendors on GWACs. SBA's new rule, however, did not adopt the annual recertification requirement OFPP instituted.

Some observers have suggested that annual recertification would make it difficult for small businesses to transition to a larger status and create an administrative burden. Although these concerns may be legitimate, they are not the point.

To allow a large business to masquerade as a small business deprives real small businesses of contract opportunities to which they are entitled. Similarly, allowing government agencies to claim small-business credit for contracts awarded to firms that are actually large misleads Congress and compromises the government's ability to meet small-business contracting goals.

SBA's failure to require annual recertification has left the door open to conflicting interpretations of the recertification requirement for GWACs and permits further mischief on GSA's schedule contracts.

Under the new rule, a large business could continue to receive small-business orders or BPAs under the GSA schedule contract program for up to five years before it has to recertify its size. Because the government's goal is to award 23 percent of its contract revenue to small businesses and the GSA schedule contract program accounts for approximately $13 billion of the federal information technology budget, a significant amount of potential small-business revenue is at stake.

SBA officials should close this loophole and require annual recertification of a vendor's size status to ensure that only bona fide small businesses receive the benefit of that status.

Redefinition of Small Leads to Huge Brawl


Redefinition of Small Leads to Huge Brawl

By Bernard Stamler
The New York Times
September 24, 2004

The Small Business Administration got a lesson this year about size -- specifically, the size of sacred cows.

Last spring, the agency announced a proposal that seemed simple enough: streamline the standards it uses to determine whether a business qualifies as small enough for government assistance.

The agency's officials perceived the change as relatively neutral, and estimated that of the 23.7 million businesses now covered, 34,100 would lose the small-business designation while 35,200 would gain it.

But the reaction was anything but neutral. Many business owners and industry groups, fearing a loss of status, deluged the agency with negative comments. Legislators from both sides of the aisle weighed in, including Senator John Kerry as the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Small Business Committee, asking that the new standards be withdrawn and reconsidered.

In July, the S.B.A did just that, scuttling any chance for changing the standards for now. And it seems unlikely that anything new will be proposed until public hearings can be held, sometime after the November election, according to Gary M. Jackson, assistant administrator for the agency's Office of Size Standards. He acknowledged that he had been ''a little surprised'' by the vehement reaction to the plan.

Perhaps he shouldn't have been. The stakes, after all, are enormous.

In fiscal 2003, for example, the S.B.A. provided more than 140,000 loans, venture-capital financings and loan guarantees worth more than $28 billion.

Small businesses also received more than $90 billion in prime contracts from federal agencies, which are required by law to award up to 23 percent of these contracts to them, and lesser percentages to small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans, women and other disadvantaged or disabled small-business owners.

There are also rules that require large companies to subcontract to small companies under certain circumstances, and similar state and local rules. Eligibility, in nearly all instances, is contingent upon compliance with size standards.

A rule of thumb about small businesses has been that they generally have fewer than 500 employees, but it's much more complicated than that at the S.B.A.

The agency currently uses 37 size standards, based on annual revenues in some cases and employee size in others, depending on the industry code assigned to a company under a Census Bureau classification system. The proposal would have changed all that, offering only 10 standards, most based on employee size only, and most capped at 50 or 100 workers.

This would have hurt businesses that need many employees to generate revenue. Take the plight of restaurant owners, who often seek loans and loan guarantees from the S.B.A. Now they qualify if their annual sales do not exceed $6 million. But under the new rules, which would have abandoned the revenue figure and imposed a 50-employee cap, including part-time workers, some of them would have been shut out.

How many?

''Our analysis showed that 16,000 restaurant businesses would have lost their small-business status under the new standards,'' said Robert J. Green, the associate vice president of federal relations for the National Restaurant Association.

The change would have been similarly dire for many government contractors.

''It would have cost us millions of dollars,'' said Wilt Ashby of the proposal. He is a project analyst for Spectrum Chemicals and Laboratory Products of Gardena, Calif. Spectrum has nearly 300 employees and sells to the government directly as well as to other companies that contract with the government. It is also owned by a woman, thus qualifying for additional set-asides, or contracts reserved for small businesses. But it would have lost its small-business designation under the new standards.

Ditto for Trailboss Enterprises in Anchorage. Trailboss maintains aircraft that pass through government bases. It is considered small because its revenues are less than $6 million annually. But with more than 100 employees, full and part time, it would no longer qualify under the new rules, said Mike Taylor, a vice president for business development. And that would hurt. ''We obtain something like 40 percent of our total revenue through small-business set-asides on government contracts,'' said Mr. Taylor, who, with Mr. Ashby, wrote to the agency protesting the changes.

Not everyone, of course, was unhappy at the prospect of change in the size standards.

The proposal ''would have put federal contracts and subcontracts in the hands of legitimate small businesses, which is what Congress intended,'' said Lloyd Chapman, formerly a general manager for GC Micro, a computer hardware and software vendor in Petaluma, Calif., with about 30 employees.

The company would have been subject to a 100-employee cap under the new rules, as opposed to a 500-employee limit that currently applies for government procurement.

''It's hard for really small companies to compete with 500,'' said Mr. Chapman, who founded a group called the Microcomputer Industry Suppliers Association that supported the new standards. ''That's just way too big.''

Much of the drive for change came from the Pentagon, whose huge procurement budget -- nearly $200 billion in fiscal 2003 -- makes it the 500-pound gorilla among federal agencies. The Defense Department has been especially irked by rules that do not always allow it to count as ''small'' the small subcontractors who may be hired by its larger prime contractors, according to Tim Foreman, assistant director for prime contracting for the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization at the Defense Department. The prohibition can lead to ''game playing'' with data and industry codes when contracts are given out, he said.

Moreover, contract officers, he said, are ''resistant to set-asides based on revenue caps,'' making it ''easier to work with employee caps.''

The Defense Department proposed its own legislation to revamp the rules last year. But then it offered to withdraw the legislation if the S.B.A. would revise the size standards on its own.

That, in turn, acted as a catalyst for the proposed new size standards, Mr. Foreman said, and a ''win-win'' for the S.B.A.

''We dropped what they wanted us to drop,'' Mr. Foreman said, referring to the proposed legislation, ''and they also got to simplify, which they wanted to do.''

For his part, Mr. Jackson of theSmall Business Administration acknowledged that the Defense Department had provided an impetus for its attempt to revise the standards. But he denied tailoring the proposed new rules to the needs of that department or any other government agency.

''We looked at the issue objectively,'' he said. ''We wanted to see if we could make the standards simple and easy to use.''
That argument holds little sway among those who would have been hurt by the changes.

''The current rules have evolved as small business has become more complex,'' said Giovanni Coratolo, the director of small-business policy for the United States Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the size standard revisions.

''The government shouldn't be choosing winners and losers in a regulatory system,'' he said, ''just because they want to make it simple.''