Panel backs measure to curb contract bundling

In a show of strong bipartisan support, the House Small Business Committee on Tuesday quickly pushed through a bill that would make tougher the practice of "contract bundling."

The bill (H.R. 1873) reauthorizes the Small Business Administration's procurement programs under the Small Business Fairness in Contracting Act. It scales back "contract bundling" - the practice of grouping small government contracts together and awarding them as one large contract.

House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., said the bill was needed to help small businesses gain more opportunities, because the federal government has been "bundling" individual contracts into mega-contracts out of the price range for small businesses to place bids.

"While this may be more convenient for the contracting officer, barring small businesses from the marketplace reduces competition," Velazquez said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, said over the last five years the federal government has increased its use of contract bundling, causing small business contracts to decline by 55 percent - even as overall government contracting has risen by 60 percent.

The bill seeks to increase small business contracts to 30 percent of federal contract dollars, up from the previous goal of 23 percent. The SBA would be required to negotiate contracting goals with government agencies each year, with the 30 percent goal being the minimum.

"Small businesses are the number one job creators in this country, and we must ensure that this engine not only remains healthy, but also has the support it needs to grow," Braley said.

The measure also enhances the appeals process for small businesses. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy within the Office of Management and Budget would arbitrate disputes between the SBA and the purchasing government agency. Businesses and trade organizations negatively impacted by government agency contracting decisions will also be allowed to appeal on behalf of small businesses.

The markup hearing began with a tribute to the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Calif., a committee member who passed away April 24. "So many times we forget the great people we work with day in and day out," Velazquez said.

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