It has been a few years now since I decided to take my company into the world of government contracting, and in those years I’ve gained some pretty good experience on how to market to and navigate the government contracting space. I’ve also noticed something troubling about how contracts and would-be awards are setup and they come in the form of “minority businesses set-asides”, particularly the 8(a) program.
Before going further it is important to note that my dialogue is premised on my field of expertise and the opportunities that exist within it: logistics. Now depending on which side of the fence you are on (8a or not) your view on this subject may differ but this opinion is coming from the non 8(a) perspective.
We are a logistics and supply chain management company. We do a very good job for our customers, maintain higher than industry standards and efficiency through our investments in technology etc. so on and so forth… for argument’s sake, let’s just say we are a top-notch company and small business. It doesn’t matter. It is seemingly less and less relevant today how good we are or how well we execute – the fact that we are simply a “small business” is less important than I’d like to admit or accept.
Government excludes us from a lot of bids we are extremely qualified for and few large companies care about partnering with a “regular” small business. However, if I make a claim that we are part of an “8(a) joint-venture” (which we are) the audience’s ears perk up and instantly my company’s value goes way up. While this brings a smile to their face as they now see a competitive advantage in us, I’m deflated me every single time and constantly brings up the question “when did being a small business go out of style?” You see, the government has programs that exclude all companies (small or otherwise) from participating in various bids and RFP’s if you are not one of these SBA certified 8(a) companies.
What is an 8(a) company? From a very high-level it is a company owned by a minority class as designated by the government along with some other requirements, but the primary one being your ethnicity (that’s my take). Technically I am a minority, I’m just not recognized as the right “type” of minority to qualify for this lucrative, decreased competition, environment. While we are indeed part of an 8(a) joint venture, what that really means to us is “hey partner company, our company will identify opportunities, qualify them, establish contacts, bring our expertise to the table, and manage the RFP process in exchange for use of your 8(a) status AND you control 51% of the total contract” because we need you 151% more than you need us apparently.
I get that minorities need help in the business world (I guess) but I have serious trouble actually believing that as a minority myself. I see many folks in the 8(a) program that are very successful and could easily be classified more “American” than minority aside from skin color and identifiable physical traits; but in a world where government is seeking “sealed bids” and “best value” (actual standard buzzwords constantly used in gov RFP’s) are you genuinely achieving best value and efficiency by excluding qualified companies like mine (and many others I’m sure) in an effort to meet a quota? That may have helped at one point but times change and eventually the pendulum will swing past its midpoint or equilibrium to the other end of the spectrum unless something slows its momentum.
If you haven’t guessed by now, yes this is a direct challenge to the 8(a) program and other types like it. What happened to earning an award based on one’s merits and ideas? Or are the architects and practitioners of this system OK handing out awards in a closed system that likely may not be helping achieve a best value at all, while in fact alienating and hurting small businesses?