The Navy is looking to end Small Business subcontractor baiting

The Department of the Navy (DoN) has exceeded all of its small business goals for fiscal year 2021, spending more than $17 billion with small business prime contractors. The Navy is, however, wrestling with small business subcontractors getting their fair share. (Federal News Network October 21, 2021)

An updated effort to enforce small business contracting plans is in the works, according to Jimmy Smith, the director of the Office of Small Business Programs for the Department of the Navy. (ibid)

According to Smith, “the Navy executed a Navy audit, service audit on subcontracting on our 10 major buying commands. The Naval Sea Systems Command was the first of those 10 audits. The audit has concluded. We’ve already seen the results of that and now we’re sharing that information across the entire enterprise to go off and correct problems. We don’t think we’re going to learn anything more from going over the same information in the other audits, so now is the time to get into corrective actions and the steps that we need in order to execute solutions to problems instead of continuing to admire problems.” (ibid)

The first audit has provided some changes to be made Navy-wide, according to Smith. “First is reporting back to our industry partners. We have to make that something that’s pretty standard, maybe use a machine learning technology to help contracting officers identify problems that are in contractor performance assessment reporting (CPARs) when it comes to how well our industry partners are doing meeting their own subcontract and goals, that they can communicate it to us. We would love to have a system that flashed bright red lights when an industry partner wasn’t living up to the plan in the document that they provide to us about the health of their effort. Right now, it’s all hand-over-hand reading to see if you find that someone is off and then go do the analysis. I think we have to come up with a mechanism that brings the importance level of subcontract and compliance up to a higher level to raise it to the attention that it’s deserved.” (ibid)

Government agencies and prime contractors, need to hold up their side of the bargain and be held accountable. In 2018, the Inspector General for the Defense Department found it to be a challenge for five contracting commands to monitor prime contractors’ compliance with individual subcontracting plans. He told the House Small Business Committee the individual contractors who held subcontracting plans, did not meet their small business subcontracting goals. (ibid)

The Federal Acquisition Regulations Council issued a final rule in August. The rule requires large businesses to make “good faith efforts” to meet subcontracting goals. A few examples of actions that are a failure to make a good-faith effort can be found in the SBA’s guidance list. (ibid)

The final rule spells out what encompasses not making a “good faith effort”. The rule includes turning in subcontracting plan reports late, not designating an employee to monitor the subcontracting plan, and not completing market research. (ibid)

Smith said the Navy has met all of its small business goals for the past four years. He added, the Navy’s goals are not just the numbers, but providing the correct capability to the warfighter at the best value. (ibid)

Smith noted that the Navy is finding small businesses that meet their needs by an extended outreach effort. The move to virtual events has also extended their outreach. Virtual events are more cost-effective and reach more people. Smith plans to continue to do some live events, however, webinars will complement these and hopefully reach even more small business contractors. (ibid)

Questions about your small business subcontract plan? Give us a call.

 

 

Small Business? Better be able to prove it

The Small Business Administration has contracting assistance programs, in place, to help small businesses by limiting competition for certain government contracts. Additionally, they work to ensure at least 23 percent of all federal contracting dollars goes to small businesses. (JD Supra August 13, 2021)

The current SBA programs are:

  • The small business set-aside program
  • 8(a) Business Development (8(a)) Program)
  • Service-Disabled Business (WOSB) Program
  • Historically-Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) Program (ibid)

It has come to light that some of these programs have had issues certifying and monitoring participants of the programs. Recently, two inspectors general audited the HUBZone and SDVOSB programs. The audits showed 15 of 39 firms receiving HUBZone certification and a HUBZone contract. Of the 15, three were improperly certified to participate in the program. The SBA had not made an eligibility determination for four others participating in the program. (ibid)

The Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Inspector General (DoD-OIG) recently issued a report that turned up concerns with how DoD confirms eligibility for SDVOSB contract awards. In the report, 29 SDVOSB contractors were audited. 16 contractors at issue received 27 contracts, together with values at $827.8 million. Those 16 contractors “did not have a service-disabled veteran as the owner and the highest-ranking officer of the company or whose publically available information and contract documentation did not support that the contractor met the requirements for SDVOSB status.” (ibid)

Since the issues have come out, both criminal and civil enforcement has increased. There have been four federal indictments or guilty pleas from business owners who misrepresented their status as a small business, women-owned business, service-disabled veteran-owned business, or minority-owned business. These are all clear-cut cases of misrepresentation and fraud. Recently, a construction company obtained $250 million in government contracts set aside for SDVOSBs. The owner of the company put a disabled veteran as the apparent owner of the construction company to qualify the company as an SDVOSB. The true owner turned out to be a non-service-disabled business partner who controlled both the financial and operational control of the company. This type of fraud is known as a “rent a vet” scheme. (ibid)

The government may use the False Claims Act (FCA) (31 U.S.C 3729-3733) to root out contractors who violate small business compliance laws. The FCA has a whistleblower aspect allowing for whistleblowers to obtain a percentage of the government’s recovery from a successful resolution of the matter. The FCA is a civil enforcement statute that does not require specific intent to defraud. The reach of the FCA is broad and not to be taken lightly. (ibid)

In 2020, there were 8 key settlements, rulings, and filings regarding various small business fraud scheme allegations and five settlements in 2021 already. Just last month a Virginia-based consulting group and the president of the company agreed to pay a $4.8 settlement regarding FCA allegations. The recent civil enforcement should be a flashing light of warning to small business government contractors that inspectors general and the DOJ are actively pursuing contractors who know their actions are in violation of small business contracting rules. (ibid)

To stay compliant and reduce risk, the following guidelines should be followed:

  • Establish a company culture of compliance, with every employee understanding the rules
  • Work with subject matter experts to stay informed
  • Continuously verify the company eligibility in the program
  • Assess the eligibility of subcontractors or affiliates
  • Perform comprehensive and thorough compliance risk assessments (ibid)

Following the guidelines will allow small businesses to spend their resources on participating in government contracts and not on criminal/civil violations.

Trying to determine if you meet the guidelines? Give us a call.

 

 

 

What the new Minimum Wage Executive Order means

In late April, President Biden signed an executive order, requiring government contractors to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022. Censeo Consulting Group analyzed the effect of the federal worker minimum wage increase. They determined that approximately 30,520 contracts will require modification. In addition, they expect the modifications to add 450,000 additional contracting office, workload hours. This equates to about 240 additional full-time positions. (ExecutiveGov May 27, 2021)

The executive order will impact federal spending from between $1 and $2 billion. Agencies can prepare by:

  • Segmenting contract portfolio by delivery location and spend category, highlighting impacted contracts
  • Developing a policy and process for addressing impacted contracts
  • Analyze internal pricing to identify contracts requiring modifications (ibid)

The departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense, Agriculture, and State are most impacted by the executive order and are likely preparing to make their contract modifications on or before the 2022 deadline.

Do you need to modify your contract? Give us a call.

 

Not everyone is sold on the Transactional Data Reporting (TDR) pilot

Almost five years ago GSA launched the Transactional Data Reporting (TDR) pilot to replace the Price Reduction Clause (PRC). GSA’s goal is to use the data received, to obtain better pricing from contractors. GSA calls TDR a success, critics are not so quick to agree. (Federal News Network May 10, 2021)

Jeff Koses, GSA’s senior procurement executive said, “GSA has successfully demonstrated the value of TDR under the existing scope of the pilot. It has shown steady progress over the past four years, met most of the pilot’s objectives in the most recent year, and has made the necessary investments to leverage TDR’s potential in the years to come. We will continue to make improvements, especially in contracting officer usage.” However, Koses made no mention of using the TDR information in 2019 or 2020 (ibid).

Some argue that TDR works on paper, but not in reality. Many contracting officers are reluctant to use the data for decision-making. One industry expert went so far as to say, “I have not experienced any negotiations based on TDR data in order to form an opinion.” Others have suggested that the data is incomplete and that GSA has no strategy to back the pilot. (ibid)

One consultant pointed out that as more companies participate in TDR, the IG’s ability to audit prices before an award is made is more difficult. She noted, “under the TDR pilot, the population of auditable contracts has ostensibly been cut in half. When you remove the major resellers and the integrators, what remains are largely professional service contractors and products companies under Schedules 84 (Law Enforcement), 71 (Furniture), and 66 (Scientific). The audit threshold for annual sales is also reduced due to the smaller pool of contracts from which the OIG is selecting. Small businesses who would never have been a blip on the OIG’s radar are now at much higher risk of pre-award audit.” (ibid)

Another complication is GSA’s move toward unpriced contracts under Section 876 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. The Act makes the Price Reduction Clause as well as TDR less necessary because the burden is on vendors to provide the lowest price possible as part of contract negotiations. (ibid)

Koses said GSA will refine and consider:

  • The ability of Federal Supply Schedule contracting officers to use transactional data for price negotiations in lieu of commercial sales practices and price reduction clause disclosures
  • The impact of an expanded data collection on GSA’s ability to use the data it currently collects
  • The impact on current/future GSA schedule contract holders
  • Communication to industry partners
  • Training and tools for category managers not impacted by TDR
  • Possible impacts on other FAS initiatives such as the National Defense Authorization Act (ibid)

So when will the pilot move to production? The waters remain murky. Whether the IG will move from the production stage should be made more clear when the Inspector General report on the TDR pilot is released, in the coming weeks. Vendors should be ready to invest in systems to collect and report pricing data, should the TDR pilot go into production.

Questions concerning how to collect and report pricing data? Give us a call.

Don’t be caught non-compliant

With each new year comes a new set of sub and prime contract goals each non-small business contractor and government agency must adhere to. Agencies achieve their goals by awarding prime contracts to small businesses. Non-small business contractors who compete for contracts worth $750,000 or more ($1.5 million for construction contracts) are required to submit a small business subcontracting plan. The plan must include how a contractor will attract small businesses and ensure that those businesses actually have an opportunity to subcontract (FAR 19.702). The plan must show separate dollar and percentage goals for small businesses, those services/supplies to be subcontracted, and an explanation of how small business contracts will be secured. (JDSupra April 23, 2020)

To keep contracts in check, the federal government may intermittently audit contractors. The audits verify small business subcontracting plan s are being fulfilled. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is the lead for the evaluations, the SBA may delegate this authority to other federal agencies. Department of Defense contracts are generally evaluated by the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA). (ibid)

Compliance reviews are random and any contractor with a subcontracting plan can be selected for review. The government considers the following factors during compliance reviews:

  • Number and size of the contractor’s government contracts
  • Date of last compliance review
  • Most recent compliance review results
  • Importance/sensitivity of the project
  • Reporting compliance in the electronic subcontracting reporting system (ibid)

The following may be reviewed during an audit:

  • Contract files/correspondence related to the contract
  • IT systems
  • Documentation on subcontracting methods and procedures (ibid)

Once the audit is complete, a contractor can expect to receive a report on non-compliant items found and a rating based on the review. A rating can range from unsatisfactory to outstanding. No further action is necessary if a contractor receives an outstanding rating. When the rating is below satisfactory, the contractor must create a corrective action plan (CAP) within 30 days, explaining the steps they will take to become compliant. (ibid)

It is a good idea for contractors to have the required documents on hand, should they receive notice of an upcoming audit. They may include the following:

  • Small business certification paperwork
  • Subcontracting program policies
  • Any prior compliance reviews
  • Organizational charts
  • Policy letters from the company CEO verifying subcontracting program
  • Historical subcontracting reports
  • Listing of any small business conferences or trade shows attended
  • Documentation of success stories – showing contracts awarded
  • A letter identifying small business liaison officer (ibid)

Companies that are well prepared for audits and have a subcontracting plan in place will undoubtedly move through a review smoothly and quickly.

Do you have all of your ducks in a row for a possible upcoming audit? Give us a call.