Is the AUTHORITIES Failing SMALL COMPANY?

In a year when federal contracting opportunities have become limited for smaller businesses, the federal government receives a “D” in entrepreneurship from Congress.

For entrepreneurs, a contract with the government could possibly be the key to growth and success. And with the federal government promising to create a host where smaller businesses can flourish, it could seem that lots of entrepreneurs are certain to get that shot at success. But is that basically the case? Not according to a recently available report published by congressional Democrats.

The U.S. federal marketplace, totaling $235.4 billion in 2002, “remains largely closed to small enterprise in the us,” says Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y), ranking person in the home Committee on SMALL COMPANY. She says she’s very concerned that, as the federal marketplace keeps growing, the small-business share is in fact shrinking.

Velázquez’ comments are backed by the fourth annual Scorecard, a written report issued by congressional Democrats in June that presents the government has missed its small-business goals for the 3rd year in a row. This failure cost smaller businesses around $13.8 billion in federal contracting opportunities. The entire grade received by the federal government in Scorecard IV was a D; out from the 21 agencies examined (accounting for 96 percent of federal procurement), there have been no As, 4 Bs, 5 Cs, 9 Ds and 3 Fs. For students, such grades would signal the sad end of his academic career.

“It is rather frightening that federal agencies consistently miss their small-business goals, and how cavalier they are about any of it,” says Velázquez. “This season, the grades will be the worst they’ve ever been, despite the fact that President Bush put checking contracting to small company near the top of his small-business agenda. I’m also concerned that women- and minority-owned companies are essentially shut from the federal procurement arena.” She noted that in 2002, minority-owned firms lost approximately $2 billion in federal contracting opportunities and women-owned businesses lost almost $5 billion.

Kristie Darien, director of government affairs at the National Association of the Self-Employed, praises Velázquez’s efforts to obtain the agencies to do a more satisfactory job with their procurement and considers the Scorecard assessments regarding procurement to be “pretty accurate.”

“Procurement specifically pertains to doing business with the government, and it certainly hasn’t improved,” Darien says. “Small-business owners need to go through all group of paperwork to carry out business with the government. And even though they’re finished with the certification, it generally does not mean anything, because the government includes a quota for smaller businesses it wants to use.” She adds that the administration that claims its determination to market entrepreneurship must do more to give smaller businesses a good shot at competing with larger businesses. And, as the knowing of the issue grows, the problem should progress, “since it can’t worsen,” says Darien.

A representative of the SBA agrees that the federal agencies didn’t reach their small company goals in 2002, but she says she wouldn’t supply the government a D.

Linda Williams, associate administrator at the SBA’s Office of Government Contracting, says that rather than giving the agencies numerical or alphabetical grades, the SBA, in its report, talks about percentages. “We use the agencies to determine goals in a way that on the aggregate we are able to achieve 23 percent small-business goals and the rest of the associated sub-categories goals. Towards the end of the fiscal year, we measure the accomplishments against the goals,” explains Williams. “In the event that you read Mrs. Velázquez’s report, you see that she will grade the goals plus the achievements.”

Even considering different method of grading, however, the SBA’s yearly report also implies that they didn’t achieve their small-business goal in the 2002 fiscal year. According to Williams, accomplishments for 2002 stand at 22.62 percent, a slim 0.38 percent short of the target. The results also transpired when compared to previous fiscal year (22.81 percent).

To attain the 23 percent goal for 2003, Williams says, the SBA tries to utilize the agencies to create a host where small businesses could be competitive. “We’re very active in outreach training, dealing with the agencies, performing a large amount of nationwide matching events,” she says, “all of this is to greatly help increase opportunities for smaller businesses.”

A business matchmaking initiative may be the SBA’s latest nationwide effort to gather small-business owners and the federal procurement agencies. The SBA has recently held matchmaking events in Orlando, Florida; Birmingham, Alabama; and Chicago. “The procedure of finding contracts is no more like searching for a needle in the haystack. Our matchmaking initiative is a great method of matching up supply and demand,” says SBA spokesperson Tiffani Clements. “We pre-screen all of the businesses and setup actual appointments to allow them to actually sit down and also have ranging from 7 and 21 appointments and sign a contract,” Clements explains, adding that the participating businesses range between hi-tech services to embroidery businesses.

Among the matchmaking initiatives other goal’s is to increase contracting opportunities beyond your nation’s capital, because, according to Clements, currently about 80 percent of federal contracts head to firms within the Beltway.

If you are interested in taking part in the SBA’s matchmaking events, visit www.businessmatchmaking.com, where one can flick through the participating buyers, find out about past events and sign up for another matchmaking event in your area.

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