Has the Federal 8a Program Worked for Your Business?

Here’s a question for those of you who work in small businesses that are owned by a socially- and/or economically disadvantaged individual or individuals: Has your company ever looked into acquiring an 8(a) Business Development Certification? 

If so, you’ll want to read on, but be forewarned that you might not like what’s discussed herein. To the point, the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has issued a report, entitled “SBA’s Business Development Assistance to 8(a) Program Participants,” that reveals that the 8a Program — an important set-aside for small businesses — has been shown to be ineffective.


Here’s the start of the story: The inspector general (a presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed officer) is, among other duties, responsible for keeping the SBA administrator and Congress briefed on any problems that arise in the program, as well as recommending corrective actions. If they’re implemented, the appointee monitors its progress.

The 8(a) program, which was reviewed at this time to ensure that business needs were being met during the COVID-19 pandemic, is intended to help the aforementioned category of small businesses/owners gain skills and access to federal contracting opportunities so they can more effectively compete in the open marketplace. Congress authorized the program for the purpose of business development and approved special contracting benefits to limit competition. 

Despite those good intentions, the OIG found that the “SBA did not have consistent practices in place to ensure program officials assessed the 8(a) firms’ development needs, counseled participants, or conducted field visits.”

But that’s not all. “SBA’s approach to monitoring 8(a) firms is more focused on reviewing for program eligibility, rather than the progression of the 8(a) firm’s business development. Without processes in place to objectively monitor an 8(a) firm’s progress and measure program performance, stakeholders cannot determine success of the program.”

Specifically, the OIG found that 15 of the 40 firms it reviewed did not have approved business plans, making them ineligible for $93 million in contract awards. A deeper dive also found the SBA did not consistently document that its staff assessed a business’ needs or counseled or conducted field visits with 8(a) firms to ensure they received the assistance needed to prepare to compete for contracts without further 8(a) assistance.

That said, there has also been some progress. The OIG found that the SBA had adapted the model in response to the pandemic and had offered flexibility to all 40 of the 8(a) firms the OIG reviewed. And the OIG made eight total recommendations for the SBA, which agreed with five recommendations (nos. 3 and 5-8), partially agreed with two (nos. 1 and 2) and disagreed with one (no. 4). For details, visit www.smallgovcon.com/8a-program/sbas-approach-to-monitoring-8a-firms-is-focused-on-eligibility-rather-than-business-development-says-sbas-oig.

To read the initial report, go to www.sba.gov/document/report-22-08-sbas-business-development-assistance-8a-program-participants and download the pdf.

Services MAC program update

GSA’s Office of Professional Services and Human Capital (PSHC) has finalized its small business acquisition strategy for the new Services Multi-Agency Contract (MAC) to ensure maximum small business participation and procurement equity.

After completing additional market research and holding discussions with key stakeholders, PSHC intends to solicit and award separate Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts designated under the following categories:

● 8(a) Small Business

●  HUBZone Small Business

●  Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business

●  Total Small Business

●  Woman-Owned Small Business

●  Unrestricted

PSHC is working to ensure offerors proposing on more than one solicitation can leverage one proposal to the maximum extent possible to reduce industry burden. The effort is intended to create a seamless experience for industry and our customers via streamlined business processes and the use of technology.

The office will soon share another program update focused on the proposed evaluation criteria. Questions or feedback should be emailed to PSHC-dev@gsa.gov.

Gloria Larkin is President and CEO of TargetGov and a national expert in business development in the government markets.  Email glorialarkinTG@targetgov.com, visit www.targetgov.com or call toll-free 1-866-579-1346 x 325 for more information.

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