A bill that would require agencies to do a better job of reporting when they combine what could be smaller contracts into a single solicitation would cost about $1 million over five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The 2014 Contracting Data and Bundling Accountability Act aims to improve how agencies report their consolidated and bundled contracts. Agencies consolidate contracts by including multiple requirements in a single solicitation, and if the resulting contract becomes unsuitable for small businesses to bid on -- because it’s too large or diverse, for instance -- it's considered a bundled contract. Agencies are supposed to identify and then justify the move when they've either consolidated or bundled a contract.
CBO said it believed agency data on consolidated and bundled contracts is already available, but the analysis conceded that the Small Business Administration would require better software to retrieve that data from the Federal Procurement Data System. The software upgrade would cost about $1 million between 2014 and 2019, CBO said.
Small business advocates argue that the real problem is federal procurement officials are not properly reporting their consolidated contracts.
The vast majority of consolidated federal contracts -- more than 80 percent in 2011 and 2012 -- are awarded by the Defense Department and the General Services Administration, but the Government Accountability Office found in November 2013 that these agencies didn’t even know how many they had consolidated. “This is the result of contracts being misreported in the federal procurement data system,” GAO said at the time, adding that the agencies frequently called contracts consolidated when they were not and didn’t when they were.
Part of the reporting problem stems from recent changes in the requirements. Legislation passed in 2010 expanded the reporting requirements to all civilian agencies and lowered the threshold for bundling justification to contracts with an expected value of at least $2 million -- previously it was $6 million.
Defense, GSA and SBA all concurred with the recommendations in the GAO report, and those efforts are already underway. Defense agreed to update its acquisition policy to reflect the lower threshold for reporting and GSA said it would swiftly implement new rules.
Still, Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., introduced the Contracting Data and Bundling Accountability Act in the House earlier this year as part of a suite of small business-related legislation he hopes will be included in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. The House Small Business Committee was able to get its legislation included in the 2012 and 2013 final NDAA bills.
“Improving small business opportunities for federal contracts is a triple play,” Graves told the House Armed Services Committee in April. “Small businesses win more contracts; workers win as the small businesses create jobs; and taxpayers win because small businesses bring competition, innovation and lower prices to save the government money and improve the health of the industrial base.”