- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Democratic lawmakers yesterday criticized the federal government for failing to meet small-business contracting goals for the third consecutive year.

Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez, New York Democrat, at a press conference yesterday on Capitol Hill released a report showing the majority of agencies sampled fell short of meeting the federal contract requirements.

The federal government in 1997 ruled that agencies must award at least 23 percent of their contracts to small businesses, companies with fewer than 500 employees or $6 million in sales. Government agencies have only met those small-business goals in the first year of the 4-year-old report.

“Even though our government bought more last year — it still failed to meet a single one of its small-business goals for the third year in a row,” said Mrs. Velazquez, ranking member of the House Small Business Committee.

Thirteen of the 21 agencies selected, representing 96 percent of all federal contracts, awarded small-business contracts well below the set goal, according to the report.

The Agency for International Development, Education and Energy departments contracted the least with small businesses, the report stated.

Other “poor” agencies for small-business contracts included the Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Office of Personnel Management and the Defense, Transportation, Justice and Treasury departments.

The report, a score card put out by Democrats on the committee, said the overall shortfalls of federal agencies cost smaller companies $900 million in lost opportunities.

“We’ve put out this report for four years and things have not gotten better,” said Rep. Grace F. Napolitano, California Democrat.

“In order to have an economic recovery, we need the Bush administration to provide better procurement training and resources for small businesses.”

Last fall, the Bush administration released a nine-step plan to include more small businesses in the federal procurement process.

Among the solutions, the administration said it would review agencies’ use of contract bundling, the practice of lumping several contracts under one order to save time on the bid process.

Earlier in March, Angela Styles, administrator for the Federal Procurement Policy Office at the Office of Management and Budget, said agency officials would be held accountable for too much contract grouping.

A spokesman with the OMB did not return repeated calls for comment.

At the press conference, Jack Adgate, a sales vice president of an office-supply company in Springfield, said the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Postal Service dropped his company as a competitor when they bundled contracts for large suppliers.

Miller’s Office Products, with 103 employees, had a $250,000 contract with the IRS for several years before the agency grouped the contract with two others, making it impossible for the small company to bid, Mr. Adgate said.

“At that point, you have to be a larger supplier in order to carry out the request of the order,” Mr. Adgate said.

Darlene Mathis, owner of a Systems Design Inc., a D.C. interior design firm, said several agencies also have an uncooperative view of working with small businesses. “You may get the face time with the agency heads, but they don’t give you a chance to present your work and fairly compete for a contract,” Ms. Mathis said.

Ms. Mathis noted her six-person company does half of its work with government agencies.

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