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Navy to reserve work for firms in 8(a) program

The Navy has signed an agreement with the Small Businesses Administration to set aside services contracts for small disadvantaged firms in the 8(a) Business Development program.

Comment on this article in The Forum.Under the agreement, which has been in the works for the past four years, the Naval Sea Systems Command will allow more than 240 8(a) firms from all 50 states to compete for task orders under the SeaPort-e Web-based services acquisition vehicle. The Navy will accelerate the award process by working directly with the 8(a) firms without using SBA as an intermediary.

SBA's 8(a) program provides management and technical assistance and help in identifying federal contracting opportunities to socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses.

"This is monumental and historical moment for SBA" said Jovita Carranza, SBA's acting administrator, at a press conference on Monday, during which the two agencies officially signed a memorandum of agreement. "We owe [these 8(a) firms] our commitment, our due diligence and the enthusiasm and passion to develop these types of partnerships."

The 8(a) contractors will compete for 22 types of naval services, including information technology, research and development support, engineering, financial management and acquisition logistics support. SeaPort-e multiple award contracts are valid for five years and can extended for five more years.

The small businesses will compete for task orders in seven geographic zones. While many of the task orders are expected to fall below the $3.5 million threshold -- allowing the Navy to select a company without competition -- the memorandum states that all awards will be issued using competitive contracting procedures.

The Navy procured nearly $2.5 billion last year in support services through Seaport-e; about a third of this went to small businesses. The fiscal 2007 small business figure was nearly double that of fiscal 2006.

That figure now could grow significantly through the SBA agreement, according to Tim Foreman, the Navy's director of the office of small business programs.

"This is good for the Navy, it's good for the SBA, but more importantly, it's good for the small disadvantaged businesses that participate in the 8(a) program," Foreman said. "This gives us access at a level we have never had before."

SeaPort-e already has set-asides for general small businesses and for small firms owned by service disabled veterans and those operating in blighted communities under the HUBZone program. Some 8(a) firms hold Seaport-e multiple award contracts by virtue of falling into the broader small business category, but this is the first time 8(a) firms have had contracts reserved specifically for them.

"It will do nothing but expand their capabilities, their confidence and their ability to make inroads into the commercial marketplace, as well as with prime [contractors] and other government agencies," Foreman said.

The agreement provides for an annual rolling admissions period that will allow new 8(a) companies to become eligible for multiple award contracts under SeaPort-e. Participating companies will also be eligible to compete for non-8(a) task orders.

SBA officials hope that the agreement, which is valid for five years, serves as a standard that can be replicated throughout the Defense Department and eventually across the government.

"The SBA and the Department of the Navy have the unique opportunity through this alliance to create a model," said Fay Ott, SBA's associate administrator for government contracting and business development.

In addition to increasing federal contract opportunities, Carranza said SBA has improved its turnaround time for 8(a) applications from 145 days to 77 days. The agency is also developing a Web-based application tool for potential 8(a) firms.

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