SMALL BUSINESS FAIRNESS IN CONTRACTING ACT -- (House of Representatives - May 09, 2007)
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Mr. CHABOT. Mr. Chairman, tonight I rise in support of H.R. 1873, the Small Business Fairness in Contracting Act. As an original cosponsor of this legislation, we worked closely with Chairwoman Velázquez and Representative Braley to draft a good, bipartisan bill that passed the Small Business Committee by voice vote and was cosponsored by nearly all the members of the committee.
Our legislation was intended to reform the contracting process, increase competition and provide a better value to the taxpayer. The legislation also takes steps to provide greater opportunities to small businesses and addresses problems with the Federal procurement database.
Promoting competition and increasing suppliers depends on the active participation of small businesses, the fastest growing segment of the American economy.
Without small business's participation, the government is forced to rely on fewer and fewer businesses to satisfy its need for goods and services. This concentration is bad for the government and worse for the tax-paying public. For that reason, utilization of small businesses to fulfill government contracts has been a long-standing policy, a policy that is neither Republican nor Democrat.
Unfortunately, the bill we are considering today, while making many important reforms, is watered down from the original version we introduced.
I commend Chairman Velázquez and her staff for working tirelessly to try and protect the sound work done by the Committee on Small Business.
I also want to thank the Rules Committee, and especially Chairwoman Slaughter and Ranking Member Dreier, for allowing me to offer three important amendments, along with three of my Democratic colleagues, to restore significant provisions of the original bill.
One amendment that I proposed with Mr. Sestak, however, was not ruled in order. This amendment would have restored a provision of our original Small Business Committee bill related to contract bundling. Contract bundling is a procurement strategy that represents a potential obstacle to small business participation in the Federal marketplace. Contract bundling allows Federal procurement officials to manage the procurement process using fewer contracts. At times, contract bundling may be appropriate. At other times, it may reduce competition by combining multiple contracts for goods or services that could be provided separately into a single contract that small businesses are incapable of performing.
Nothing in our original bill as reported by the Committee on Small Business would have completely prevented the Federal Government from bundling contracts, nor is there anything in the bill that we are debating
today that prevents contracts from being bundled. Instead, we take the view that bundling can be beneficial if the government gets substantial, measurable benefits in terms of better prices or higher quality or critical delivery terms.
However, our original bill would have required that Federal contracting officers examine their contracting strategies to ensure that the government was receiving real benefits through bundled contracts and also consider the potential loss of competition from small businesses being excluded. Or as President Reagan might have put it, trust but verify.
The bill we are debating now reduces the amount of contracts subject to the trust but verify standard as compared to our original bill. It does, however, represent an increase from current law in the number of contracts that will be scrutinized. With that in mind and with the amendments made in order, including a separate amendment by Mr. Sestak, the bill moves us modestly in the right direction.
I would hope that as we proceed, and especially in conference, we continue to strengthen the trust but verify standards relative to bundled contracts.
While this may create more work for Federal contracting officers, it also ensures that the Federal procurement process protects competition in the long run while ensuring that the government benefits in the short run from necessary bundled contracts.
As we work through the legislative process with the Senate, it is important that a sensible mechanism exist for an independent arbiter to resolve disputes between the SBA and the agency issuing a bundled contract. It seems unfair that the SBA's only avenue of appeal is to the agency that is doing the procurement. Would anybody be surprised to learn that the administrator has never won an appeal on an agency head on a disputed bundled contract? Not once.
Nor should the legislation as it works its way to final passage substitute an appeals process by affected small businesses for that of the Small Business Administrator. Requiring a small business to challenge an agency's decision pits a David against a Goliath. But, unlike the biblical account, Goliath usually win these battles.
In addition to the provisions on bundling, the bill we are considering today increases the goals for prime Federal contracts to small businesses. But in my estimation and why I offered amendments is that the increase in the bill does not recognize the 10 percent growth in the number of small businesses since 1997, the last time the goals were raised. Nor does the modest increase from 23 to 25 percent recognize substantial technological changes and the capacity of small businesses to perform contracts overseas. Amendments we will be considering will raise those standards to appropriate levels and recognize the capacity of small businesses to perform work overseas.
In addition, I would ask the chairwoman that we work together to remove a provision included in the bill by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that treads on the sole jurisdiction of the Committee on Small Business. I believe that sets a bad precedent for future legislation in the House.
I also find that the provisions in title III of the bill are worthy of support. I congratulate the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as well as members of the Committee on Small Business on working to eradicate errors in critical Federal procurement databases. These changes, although seemingly arcane, will ensure that contracting officers award contracts intended to small businesses to actual small businesses.
While this bill is not as strong as the version adopted by the Small Business Committee, it nevertheless represents an improvement over existing law. I will continue to work to further strengthen this bill and to ensure that small businesses have their fair opportunity to participate in the Federal procurement process
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Mr. CHABOT. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself as much time as I may consume. I will be brief.
The amendment offered by Mr. Sestak will increase the protections against inappropriate contract bundling. It represents a compromise between the Small Business Committee's version and the Committee on Government Reform's version of H.R. 1873. I believe it represents an adequate resolution of the issue and pledge to work to make the protections in the Sestak amendment even stronger as we work through the legislative process.
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Mr. CHABOT. I want to thank the gentleman for his hard work on this particular amendment. I think it's a good amendment. I would urge its passage.
The amendment expands the pool of contracts included in the Federal governmentwide goal for participation of small business concerns and procurement contracts to include United States small business concern contracts performed overseas. Current law and regulations apply the small business concern Federal governmentwide goal only to contracts performed in the United States.
The bill as currently written would continue to apply the small business concern Federal governmentwide goal to contracts performed only in the United States. This methodology clearly does not address small business concerns involvement in today's global economy. When small business policy was first developed in the 1940 to 1950 timeframe, small business concern participation in the overseas markets was fairly limited.
In today's global economy, adding contracts where United States small business concerns perform overseas work is reasonable because the availability of the Internet and advances in technology allows contracting officers to acquire information on such activities.
Therefore, United States small business concerns global activity should be recognized and, thus, included as a part of the overall Federal governmentwide small business concern goal.
Again, I want to thank the chairwoman and I want to thank Mr. Shuler for their work on this particular amendment
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Mr. CHABOT. I thank the gentlewoman for yielding, and I thank her for her leadership on this amendment and her hard work, as well as the chairwoman's.
This is a simple amendment. The amendment increases the Federal government-wide goal for participation of small business concerns in procurement contracts from 23 percent to 30 percent. The bill, as currently written, would increase the Federal government-wide goal from 23 percent to 25 percent, which is only a 2 percent increase, which is really pretty miserable when one considers it. It ought to be, I think, significantly more than that, especially when you consider that the Federal market for goods and services has doubled in the past 10 years, and the number of small businesses has increased by 10 percent during that period of time.
So to maintain the congressional standard in the Small Business Act that a fair share Federal government procurement contracts are awarded the small business concerns, this amendment increases the goal a modest 8 percent, which is, quite frankly, long overdue.
Finally, the goal increase recognizes small business concern's role in the economy. Small businesses employ more than 50 percent of all employees in the United States, and this would cause increased competition, resulting in a downward pressure on pricing, which ultimately benefits the taxpayer. Small businesses are the main contributors to major technological paradigm breakthroughs, as opposed to simply advancing the current knowledge in a specific technological field.
I think this is a very good amendment. I, again, want to thank the gentlelady for offering it.
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Mr. CHABOT. I thank the chairwoman for yielding.
I want to thank the gentlelady from Texas for offering this very helpful amendment. We've looked over it, and we think it's a very good amendment. I've had the pleasure to serve on the Judiciary Committee with the gentlelady for the past 13 years. I've agreed with some amendments. Unfortunately, oftentimes, I've disagreed with her amendments. But it's very nice to be able to agree with one that the gentlelady has offered. So we thank the gentlelady for offering it.
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