Effective January 1, 2023, the certification process for veteran-owned small businesses (“VOSBs”) and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (“SDVOSBs”) will be transferred from the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) to the Small Business Administration (“SBA”). Except for implementation transitioning discussed below, to be eligible for sole-source and set-aside acquisitions, VOSBs and SDVOSBs will need to be certified by the SBA.
Previously, VOSB and SDVOSB verifications were made by the VA’s Center for Verification and Evaluation (“CVE”). To be eligible for VA contracts, VOSBs/SDVOSBs had to be verified by the CVE; there was no government-wide certification program, and firms seeking SDVOSB sole-source or set-aside contracts outside the VA only needed to self-certify their status pursuant to Section 36 of the Small Business Act, 15 U.S.C. 657f.
On November 29, 2022, the SBA published a final rule implementing Section 862 of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) transferring authority for VOSB/SDVOSB certifications from the VA to the SBA. The final rule consolidates the eligibility requirements for the Veteran Small Business Certification Program, and the SBA is assuming control of VOSB/SDVOSB certification for purposes of nearly all small business federal contracting. SBA also published a Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQ”) page regarding the final rule.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA”) recently issued a final rule that creates new opportunities for small businesses to submit relevant past performance, and new requirements for large/other than small prime contractors to provide past performance reviews to first-tier small business subcontractors.
The final rule is intended to help small businesses overcome the hurdle of having minimal past performance to use in competitive procurements. The rule creates new mechanisms to permit small businesses to use the past performance of a joint venture in which it was a member, or to use its performance as a first-tier subcontractor. The new rule takes effect on August 22, 2022.
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As the federal government prepares to roll out infrastructure grants and contracts in amounts not seen since the New Deal and the defense industrial base (“DIB”) gears up to support billions in new spending to support Ukraine, a new Department of Defense (“DoD”) report raises serious concerns about the state of competition within the DIB. The report recently released by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment analyzes the state of competition within the DIB and concluded that it can be summarized in one word: poor. The report discusses the causes for the lack of competition and makes recommendations for improving the solicitation process to increase competition, inspire innovation, reduce prices, and improve quality.
Foremost among the causes for the lack of competition identified by the report is consolidation of the DIB. Of 51 aerospace and defense prime contractors in the 1990s only five exist today. Although the report failed to find significant correlation between this consolidation and increased pricing, the consolidation raises additional concerns for DoD, such as national security, mission risk, and strategic technology innovation. The report notes that “having only a single source or a small number of sources for a defense need can pose mission risk and, particularly in cases where the existing dominant supplier or suppliers are influenced by an adversary nation, pose significant national security risks.” The report recommends that when a merger is likely to harm one of these interests, DoD work closely with the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice to take structural or behavioral measures deemed necessary, up to and including blocking the merger.
June 2021 marked the five-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Kingdomware decision, which is best known for broadly interpreting the so-called “Rule of Two” requirement flowing from the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 (the “VBA”). The Rule has been criticized for delaying Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) procurements and increasing the prices the government pays for goods and services. However, the importance of the Rule’s purpose—to prioritize and increase the government’s use of small businesses owned by veterans—cannot be credibly challenged.
Over the past five years, the Federal Circuit, Court of Federal Claims, and Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) protest decisions have created some bright-line rules interpreting the VBA’s Rule of Two. After a brief summary of the Rule of Two, this post lays out these bright-line rules, and concludes with predictions regarding future VBA Rule of Two protests.
In our last post on this topic, we touched on how the acceptance, use, and forgiveness of Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loans can be viewed in the context of a Defense Contract Audit Agency (“DCAA”) audit. This post focuses on audits and investigations involving PPP loans. Close scrutiny of PPP loans is not a prediction; it is reality. The Small Business Administration (“SBA”) has announced it will audit all PPP loans in excess of two million dollars following a lender’s submission of a borrower’s loan forgiveness application, and it reserves the right to “spot check” any PPP loan of a lesser amount at its discretion. The Department of Justice has already charged multiple individuals with PPP fraud. And this is just the beginning of what many think will be a tidal wave of enforcement activity involving PPP loans.
Overview of the PPP
The PPP is the largest relief measure for small businesses under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”). The government has made available nearly one trillion dollars in PPP relief funds through four separate funding measures ($349 billion via the CARES Act; $310 billion via the PPP and Health Care Enhancement Act; $284 billion via the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021; and $7.25 billion via American Rescue Plan Act of 2021).
The PPP makes available guaranteed SBA loans to small business that meet certain eligibility requirements. In addition, PPP loans can be forgiven fully if used properly to cover specified business expenses such as payroll, rent, utilities, mortgage interest, and other limited uses. As of April 11, 2021, the SBA had approved more than 9.5 million loans totaling more than $755 billion using more than 5,400 lenders.
Recently, I hosted the second session of Blank Rome’s new on-demand webinar series, “Strategically Speaking,” with featured guests Gilbert Dussek of Gunnison Consulting Group and Kevin Robbins of Blue Delta Capital Partners about the key issues that growing government contracts firms face in their business life cycle as they transform from small to “other-than-small” businesses. You are invited to watch the recording on demand here; I hope you find it helpful and informative.
Dussek has been a successful high-level operator on both large and small govcon platforms and in 2019 became CEO of Gunnison, a leader in software development, data analytics, and enterprise system testing for leading government customers. Robbins has served multiple roles as a consultant to and an owner/investor in govcon companies and is a co-founder of Blue Delta, a growth capital firm focused on the U.S. federal government services marketplace, particularly technology-enabled solutions and services companies.
Our session includes an informative and helpful discussion focused on:
Reviewing Blue Delta’s and Gunnison’s decision to team up:
Factors that went into Blue Delta’s decision to invest in Gunnison; and
The driving and differentiating attributes that Blue Delta looks for in “investable” target companies
Strategically growing from an SBSA to full & open govcon company:
Building, scouting, and acquiring talent; and
Competitively bidding on and winning, or acquiring, F&O contracts
Identifying and filtering acquisition targets and structuring acquisitions:
The roles of company culture, chemistry (of personnel), and vision; and
How Blue Delta thinks about portfolio company construction; and
Gunnison’s near-term and long-term visions and plans
*Dean Nordlinger is a partner in our Corporate practice whose new “Strategically Speaking” webinar series includes discussions with a variety of seasoned professionals and subject matter experts about critical and challenging issues that government contractors and other companies (and business owners) face throughout their life cycle.
With apologies to Paul Simon, this is another in a series of articles on the 50 ways contractors can lose awards on federal contracts. These cautionary tales should inform anyone in a contractor organization with responsibility for authorizing, preparing, or negotiating competitive federal contract proposals.
Like the inverse of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People bestseller, the mistakes that lead to lost awards are well known and include: carelessness, greed, lack of attention to detail, procrastination, and cursory (or omitted) red-team reviews. This article highlights another surefire path to disaster: failing to adequately correct proposal weaknesses after discussions.
Treasury’s solicitation required that offerors both describe their search solutions in technical proposals, and have a working computing solution, active for government testing. After initial proposal submissions and initial evaluations, the government advised offerors of weaknesses and deficiencies in their proposals and in their computing solutions. Treasury advised Lexis that its proposal suffered from a significant weakness due to Lexis’ computing solution’s return of erroneous search results. Discussions were opened and offerors were permitted to submit final proposal revisions. Offerors were also permitted to correct any deficiencies in their computing solutions before another round of government testing.
This is the first in a series of blog posts concerning the audits and investigations related to the contracts and grants awarded, and relief funds provided, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of February 2021, pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), which created the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) and supplemental funding such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the United States government has made available an estimated four trillion dollars in relief funds to businesses and individuals, and the Biden administration is proposing roughly two trillion dollars more.
In addition to the relief funds, the Government has easily awarded more than billions in pandemic-related contracts for everything from vaccines to PPE to hand sanitizers. These levels of funding and spending are unprecedented and have been made at breakneck speed (for the government). Based on these factors and lessons from the past, audits of relief recipients and contractors to confirm appropriate use of government funds are inevitable. And the government has said as much. Of course, if an audit reveals potential wrongdoing or malfeasance, relief recipients and contractors should expect follow-on investigations and enforcement activity.
This first post identifies the myriad of entities that are or will be reviewing—and potentially investigating—relief recipient and contractor representations made to obtain, and subsequent use of, government funds.
On July 21, 2020, Blank Rome Government Contracts Partner Albert B. Krachman presented a webinar with PW Communications, Inc. Founder and CEO Phyllis Orenstein Bresler to address the recently released GSA STARS III Solicitation, a Multiple Award, IDIQ contract to provide information technology (“IT”) services and IT services-based solutions. The webinar addressed issues that potential offerors should consider when formulating a compliant, well-written, and compelling proposal response. The contract ceiling for STARS III is $50 billion over five years, with the potential to grow.
The recent cancellation of the Alliant 2 Small Business Contract positions STARS III as one of the premier acquisition vehicles for federal IT acquisitions.
Identified opportunity areas, risk issues, RFP ambiguities, open questions, and key concepts.
Addressed Solicitation Sections L and M and presented lessons learned from the trenches.
Click here to view a recording of the webinar, and here to view the presentation slides.
A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office decision involving a Small Business Administration-approved small business joint venture, or JV, suggests that JVs between large and small firms should adjust their proposal strategies to avoid downgrades on past performance when the small business JV member, and the JV itself, lack relevant past performance.
Proposing on a set-aside contract as an SBA-approved JV between a small and large business has been an effective strategy for many years. A basic assumption of this approach—and a primary motivation for using a JV structure—has been that an agency evaluating the JV’s past performance would normally look at the combined past performance of the JV members.
In many respects, this evaluation assumption has been a main motivation for using the JV structure, in contrast to a prime-subcontractor structure.
Typically, the large business JV member will have greater and more relevant past performance than the small business. The thinking had been that the JV structure would allow both members to leverage the large JV partner’s past performance for evaluation purposes by imputing the large business’ past performance to the JV.
However, the recent GAO bid protest decision in ProSecure LLC calls this assumption into doubt, suggesting the need for adjustments to proposal strategies for large and small firms in JVs or that plan to use JVs.