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U.S. SBA reinvents 8(a) program contracting

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U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Aida Alvarez May 6 took a major step to make the 8(a) business development program stronger and better for the 21st century by signing "delegation of authority" agreements with 25 federal agencies that will substantially streamline the program's contracting process, according to a release from the SBA.

SBA's 8(a) program helps small, disadvantaged businesses compete for federal contracts. Up to now, SBA has acted as "middle man" when federal agencies contracted with 8(a) firms for goods and services.

Now, following a successful pilot project between the Department of Transportation and SBA, the agencies will work more directly with 8(a) firms, the release stated.

"Today's action makes good sense and will help our small businesses grow," stated Vice President Al Gore in the May 6 release. "These are the kinds of straightforward, easy-to-use government services the American people want."

"This agreement represents 'reinventing government' at its best," said SBA's Alvarez. "It makes 8(a) contracting easier, and it will make the 8(a) program stronger and better. SBA can now devote more time and resources to business-development services for 8(a) firms. It's a big win-win for the 8(a) business community and for the federal government."

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater said the SBA-DOT pilot program has worked well. "The immediate and most visible benefit has been a major reduction in the time required to award these contracts," Slater said in the release. "DOT obligated $28 million in FY97 using the streamlined contracting process. The face value of the contracts was significantly higher. Approval time for agency offers for sole-source awards has generally been reduced from several weeks to five days."

In a related announcement, SBA reported that the 8(a) program accounted for $6.4 billion in federal contracting for fiscal year 1997, or nearly 3.5 percent of overall federal procurement.

"This is the third consecutive year that 8(a) contracting has achieved this level. That's a significant achievement at a time when the federal government is getting smaller and buying less," Administrator Alvarez said.

The SBA's 8(a) program, named for a section of the Small Business Act, is a business development initiative that helps socially and economically disadvantaged American citizens gain access to the economic mainstream.

More than 6,000 firms currently participate, and they employ nearly 179,000 workers. By law, the SBA must function as an intermediary for 8(a) contracts, but can delegate its authority through special agreements.

The agencies signing delegation of authority agreements with the SBA are:

Agency for International Development

Consumer Product Safety Commission

Department of Agriculture

Department of Commerce

Department of Defense

Department of Energy

Department of Health and Human Services

Department of Housing and Urban Development

Department of the Interior

Department of Justice

Department of Labor

Department of State

Department of Treasury

Department of Veterans Affairs

Environmental Protection Agency

Executive Office of the President

Federal Emergency Management Agency

General Services Administration

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

National Archives and Records Administration

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Office of Personnel Management

Smithsonian Institution

Social Security Administration

United States Information Agency

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