Small Business Administration

Changes to the Federal Acquisition Regulation’s (FAR) small business subcontracting rules have been slow in coming, but the FAR Council is finally catching up with the Small Business Administration (SBA) in making regulatory modifications to implement a few changes intended to help prime contractors reach their small business subcontracting goals as required by Section 1614 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 (2014 NDAA). Specifically, the changes focus on aiding prime contractors possessing an individual subcontracting plan for a contract with a single executive agency. Now, in such instances, the prime contractor will receive credit toward its subcontracting goals for awards made to small business concerns employed at any tier by subcontractors through their respective subcontracting plans. This should be helpful news to prime contractors.

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On May 22nd, Practice Group Co-Leaders Franklin Turner and Alexander Major delivered a presentation on Effectively Prosecuting Contract Claims Against the Government to attendees at the annual Native Hawaiian Organizations Association Business Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii. After the presentation, Franklin and Alex also hosted a legal Q&A session for contractors of all sizes.

Section 8(a) of the Small Business Investment Act of 1958 authorizes the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) to enter into prime contracts with federal agencies and to subcontract the performance of the contract to qualified small businesses. As most are aware, the 8(a) program is designed to assist “socially and economically disadvantaged small business” concerns that are owned by one or more individuals who are from a socially and economically disadvantaged group and whose management and daily operations are controlled by such individuals. 15 U.S.C. § 637(a)(4)(A)-(B). Included in the definition of “socially and economically disadvantaged groups” are, among others, Indian tribes, Native Hawaiians, and Alaskan Natives, which allows each “maximum practical opportunities” to participate in the government contracting market. But in so doing, those companies must stomach the good with the bad, i.e., they must be prepared to (a) navigate the thicket of regulatory hurdles required to do business with the government and (b) combat potential allegations of fraud if there is a perception that one or more of those hurdles has not been cleared successfully.

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On Dec. 4, 2018, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council finally released a proposed rule to implement changes to certain small business subcontracting regulations required by the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). 83 Fed. Reg. 62540 (Dec. 4, 2018). This is a welcome, if not long-overdue sign of progress. Over the last half-decade since the

By now, we have all read the horror stories of federal employees who are either furloughed or forced to work without pay during this historic shutdown. Less well-known, however, is the impact this shutdown has had on small business contractors who rely on federal government contracts for much – if not all ‒ of their revenue. Whereas large government contractors may have ample cash reserves for a situation like this, small businesses are likely less fortunate. In fact, many small businesses hire highly skilled, in-demand personnel specifically in support of their government contracts. Unfortunately, with much of the government shuttered and its coffers empty, these highly skilled personnel, and the companies for which they work, find themselves emptyhanded and operating in the red. Absent a stream of revenue, small businesses cannot pay the employees they specifically hired for the contracts that are now unfunded. While many small business contractors have been able to weather the first few weeks of this shutdown by either diverting these employees to other projects or using vacation or sick leave, many thousands of contractors are now facing grim choices as the shutdown enters its fourth week. Simply stated, these companies are in real danger not only of losing those employees hired to support existing contracts, but of losing the opportunity to leverage those employees to compete for future contracts. To make matters worse, unlike federal employees who will likely receive back pay, most if not all contractors will not be reimbursed for the revenue lost during this time of political chicken.

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One common complaint we hear from our subcontractor clients is “HOW CAN WE GET PAID????” Our experience has shown that whether through inadvertence, lack of subcontract management resources – or even as a predatory business strategy – some prime contractors will dance, dither and delay upon receipt of requests for payment by their subs for work performed, services rendered and/or products delivered. This can be particularly onerous for small business subcontractors whose payroll and other obligations depend upon prompt payment by their customers. Subs are put in an untenable position. Should they stop work and risk breach of contract? Should they threaten to sue and risk breaching the relationship? New changes to the FAR now impose mandatory reporting obligations on primes should they fail to make timely and full payments to their small business subs. Chronic and unjustified payments now must go into an agency’s evaluation of the prime’s past performance in bidding contests. Primes are well advised to make sure their supply chain management is in order to minimize the additional obligations and risks confronting them should they fail to meet their obligations to their small business subs.
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