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Government Data on Pact Bundling is Absent

May 24, 2000|LEE ROMNEY and MARLA DICKERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

So the good news about contract bundling is that small businesses still appear to be getting a sizable share of federal government contracts. The bad news is there is little hard data available as to how much bundling is going on across all federal agencies.

Those are the findings of a just-released audit by the General Accounting Office, which attempted to document the affect of contract bundling on the nation's small businesses. Government agencies have begun consolidating, or bundling, multiple contracts into single, large contracts in recent years in an attempt to cut purchasing costs and streamline the procurement process.

But what's good for taxpayers isn't necessarily good for small businesses (which also are taxpayers, by the way) trying to grab a chunk of the $200-billion federal procurement pie.

That's why Congress passed the Small Business Reauthorization Act of 1997, which requires federal agencies to structure their contracts to ensure the maximum small-business participation possible. It also directed the Federal Procurement Data Center to begin collecting data on bundled contracts. But it turns out that the center can't begin gathering those numbers until the Small Business Administration finalizes some regulations outlining the conditions under which federal agencies can bundle contracts.

The SBA hasn't done that yet, prompting Sen. Christopher S. Bond, chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business, to fire off one of his patented nasty-grams to SBA Administrator Aida Alvarez.

No one at the SBA was available for comment. But the GAO concluded that for fiscal 1998, the most recent year for which data were available, federal agencies awarded 23.4% of their prime contracting dollars to small businesses, exceeding the government-wide goal of 23%.

That was slightly more optimistic than a similar study by the SBA's Office of Small Business Advocacy, which reported that federal agencies awarded only 20.6% of prime contract dollars to small and disadvantaged businesses.

GAO auditors recommended that the SBA develop a strategy to figure out how the agency can get a grip on oversight of contract bundling. For a copy of the GAO report, check out its Web site at (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/gg00082.pdf).

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