An interesting aspect of the new socioeconomic parity rules issued in Federal Acquisition Circular 2005-50 (see 76 FR 14566) is that we now have some scenarios where a contractor is better off not being a small business concern. The Discussion and Analysis section of the Federal Register notice contains the following statement:
For acquisitions exceeding the simplified acquisition threshold, the contracting officer must consider a set-aside or sole source acquisition to a small business under the 8(a), HUBZone, or SDVOSB programs before the contracting officer proceeds with a small business set-aside. See FAR 19.203( c ) and 19.502-2(.
This policy is implemented at the new FAR 19.203( c ). Further, the new FAR 19.203(d) states the following:
Small business set-asides have priority over acquisitions using full and open competition.
Thus, for acquisitions over the simplified acquisition threshold (SAT), an agency must first consider the 8(a), HUBZone, SDVOSB, and WOSB programs (the latter recently being added by FAC 2005-51). If a requirement can be satisfied under one of these programs, the agency must use one of these programs. The agency is free to choose which of the four programs to use. If a requirement cannot be satisfied under one of these four programs, then the agency must consider a small business set-aside. If the requirement cannot be met by means of a small business set-aside, then the agency may solicit offers on an unrestricted basis.
Let?s assume the following scenario. There?s a requirement over the SAT and under the threshold for a HUBZone sole source (currently $6.5 million for manufacturing and $4 million for other acquisitions) that can be satisfied by three potential offerors. We?ll call them Offerors A, B, and C. Offeror A is a HUBZone small business concern and Offerors B and C are plain old small business concerns. Pursuant to FAR 19.203( c ), the agency would be required to proceed with a HUBZone sole source, since the HUBZone program takes precedence over small business set-asides. Offerors B and C would not have a chance to compete for the requirement.
Now let?s assume the same scenario, except Offerors B and C are large businesses. In this case, the agency would not be required to proceed with a HUBZone sole source. Offerors B and C would have an opportunity to compete for the requirement, if the agency chose not to proceed with a HUBZone sole source. FAR 19.203 gives priority to HUBZone sole source over small business set-asides, but is silent on the relationship between a HUBZone sole source and full and open competition (ditto for 8(a) sole source and SDVOSB sole source). FAR 19.1306 simply states:
A contracting officer may award contracts to HUBZone small business concerns on a sole source basis (see 6.302-5((5)) before considering small business set-asides (see 19.203 and subpart 19.5), provided none of the exclusions at 19.1304 apply; and?
(1) The contracting officer does not have a reasonable expectation that offers would be received from two or more HUBZone small business concerns;
(2) The anticipated price of the contract, including options, will not exceed?
(i) $6.5 million for a requirement within the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes for manufacturing; or
(ii) $4 million for a requirement within all other NAICS codes;
(3) The requirement is not currently being performed by an 8(a) participant under the provisions of Subpart 19.8 or has been accepted as a requirement by SBA under Subpart 19.8;
(4) The acquisition is greater than the simplified acquisition threshold (see Part 13);
(5) The HUBZone small business concern has been determined to be a responsible contractor with respect to performance; and
(6) Award can be made at a fair and reasonable price.
According to FAR 2.101, ?may denotes the permissive.? ?May? is also used at FAR 19.1406 regarding SDVOSB sole source awards.
It would be reasonable to infer that competitive 8(a), HUBZone set-asides, and SDVOSB set-asides take precedence over full and open competition, because the conditions permitting any of these would imply that the conditions for a small business set-aside were present. However, the same cannot be said for HUBZone or SDVOSB sole source. The conditions permitting either a HUBZone or SDVOSB sole source do not imply that the conditions requiring a small business set-aside exist.
So there you go. Sometimes you?re better off being large. It will be interesting to see if the FAR Council will leave things as they are when the rule becomes final. If they do, we can expect this to be the next great debate in small business program policy.