On July 21, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, introduced S. 1489, the Small Business Contracting Programs Parity Act of 2009. The measure seeks to amend the Small Business Act to create parity among small-business contracting programs by creating a more equitable and flexible method for federal agencies to fairly allocate federal procurement dollars to small-business contractors across the nation.
For years it's been unclear to the acquisition community if there is a true order of preference for determining which small-business contracting program is at the top of the SBA's priority list. The SBA's regulations state that there is parity among the programs.
This was general practice in effect until two Government Accountability Office decisions were released in September 2008 and on May 4. These decisions stated that the Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) program had preference over all other small-business contracting programs. While these interpretations benefit HUBZone businesses, they came at the expense of other vital small-business contracting programs, especially service-connected disabled veteran-owned businesses. S. 1489 seeks to provide equity for the SBA's small business contracting programs.
The bill provides federal agencies with the necessary flexibility to satisfy their government-wide statutory small business contracting goals. S. 1489 makes clear to purchasing agencies that contracting officers may award contracts to HUBZone, service-connected disabled veterans or women-owned firms, with equal deference to each program. It would provide these agencies with the ability to achieve their goaling requirements equally through an award to a HUBZone firm or a service-disabled veteran-owned small business. Of course, this list will also include women-owned small businesses once the women's procurement program is fully implemented by the SBA.
In addition, S. 1489 authorizes mentor protégé programs modeled after those used for HUBZones and service-disabled veteran and women-owned firms. During these difficult economic times, it is imperative that all small-business contractors have an equal opportunity to compete for federal contracts. This is especially true for service-connected disabled veterans seeking to thrive in the current economic climate.
The language of S. 1489 was originally included in the fiscal 2010 DoD authorization measure but was later removed. Snowe then introduced a freestanding bill.