Gao Finds Almost Half Of Federal Agencies Fail To Comply With Small, Disadvantaged Business Mandate
A study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) finds that almost half of federal agencies are not complying with certain laws in effect to help small and disadvantaged businesses get their fair share of contracts, potentially hampering the ability of small contractors to benefit from an estimated $250 million in federal contracts awarded each year, U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) said today.
“Congress has taken very specific actions to encourage federal agencies to comply with federal small business contracting goals and to help put small and disadvantaged contractors on a more equal footing with big business,” said Snowe, Chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
“The GAO’s findings, with regard to the operation of the Offices of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU), are troubling, since it is essential that these offices perform as Congress intended — as tireless advocates for small business working with direct access to top agency officials,” Snowe added.
At issue in the GAO’s report (GAO-03-863), released today, is compliance with a section of the “Small Business Act” that requires OSDBU directors to report directly to the head of the agency in which they serve. This direct link between the agencies’ top tiers and their small business contracting advocates is part of an effort by Congress to uphold another provision in the law – the 23 percent small business contracting goal.
According to the report, GAO investigators found that 11 agencies out of the 24 largest, as measured by dollars spent for procurement, are not in compliance with the law. “Compliance by the contracting agencies is a serious matter with a direct impact on the ability of small and disadvantaged contractors to expand their business and the nation’s employment base,” Snowe added.
Snowe, joined by the Committee’s Ranking Member, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), today sent letters, highlighting the report’s findings, to each of the agencies failing to comply with the direct reporting process.
“Immediate access to the agency head or the second in command is critical to an OSDBU’s ability to advocate effectively for small and disadvantaged business participation in federal contracting,” Snowe and Kerry wrote. “Any effort to reduce the stature and standing of the OSDBUs would be contrary to congressional intent and detrimental to the small-business community.”
GAO investigators identified the 11 agencies not in compliance as: the Department of Agriculture; the Department of Commerce; the Department of Education; the Department of Health and Human Services; the Department of Justice; the Department of State; the Department of Interior; the Department of Treasury; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the Social Security Administration.
At those 11 agencies, the OSDBU director: reported to officials below the level of agency head or deputy head; was not responsible only to the agency head or deputy head but also to a lower level agency official; or had delegated the responsibilities of the OSDBU director to officials who did not report to the agency head or the deputy head, according to the GAO.