GAO doubles down on FedBid ruling

The GAO has sustained a second protest based upon FedBid’s suspension of a contractor from its system.

For the second time in less than one week, the GAO held that the contractor’s suspension from FedBid–and resulting inability to bid on a contract–was improper because the matter was not referred to the SBA under the SBA’s Certificate of Competency procedures.

GAO-GovernmentAccountabilityOffice-SealThe GAO’s decision in Latvian Connection, LLC, B-410981 (April 6, 2015) involved a Department of the Interior RFQ for the fabrication and installation of mobile shelving system components.  The procurement was conducted through FedBid’s electronic reverse auction system.

Latvian Connection, LLC, wished to compete for the award.  However, in July 2014, FedBid suspended Latvian Connection’s FedBid user account.  The FedBid suspension notice stated, in part: “System and Business Integrity: Latvian Connection has taken actions to repeatedly and purposely interfere with FedBid’s business relationships.”

Since Latvian Connection’s FedBid account was suspended, it was unable to compete for the procurement.  Latvian Connection filed a GAO protest.  It argued, in part, that its exclusion from the competition was a negative responsibility determination, which should have been referred to the SBA.

Keep reading this article at: http://smallgovcon.com/gaobidprotests/gao-doubles-down-on-fedbidcoc-ruling/

Florida company pays $250K to resolve alleged False Claims Act violations involving HUBZone status

Florida-based Air Ideal Inc. and its majority owner, Kim Amkraut, have agreed to pay the United States $250,000 to resolve allegations that they made false statements to the Small Business Administration (SBA) to obtain certification as a Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) company, the Justice Department announced April 8, 2015.  Under the settlement, the defendants must also pay five percent of Air Ideal’s gross revenues over the next five years.

“When companies falsely claim eligibility for government contracts set aside for HUBZone businesses, they not only misuse taxpayer funds, but they also deprive HUBZone communities of the benefits of the program,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “This settlement shows that there is a stiff price to pay for obtaining government contracts through false statements.”

“The HUBZone program is an important tool in the government’s effort to strengthen our economy by encouraging businesses to grow in underutilized and disadvantaged areas,” said U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III of the Middle District of Florida.  “We will not tolerate contractors who use deception to undermine its objectives and effectiveness.”

The purpose of the HUBZone program is to stimulate job growth in areas that have historically had low business investment.  Under the HUBZone program, companies that maintain their principal office in a designated HUBZone and meet certain other requirements can apply to the SBA for certification as a HUBZone small business company.  HUBZone companies can then use this certification when bidding on government contracts.  In certain cases, government agencies will restrict competition for a contract to HUBZone-certified companies.

The United States’ complaint alleged that Air Ideal and Amkraut originally applied to the HUBZone program in 2010 by claiming that Air Ideal’s principal office was located in a designated HUBZone.  The complaint further alleged that, in fact, this location was a “virtual office” where no Air Ideal employees worked, and that Air Ideal was actually located in a non-HUBZone location.  Allegedly, the defendants not only misrepresented the location of Air Ideal’s principal office to the SBA, but also submitted to the SBA a fabricated lease agreement and other fabricated documents for its purported HUBZone office.  The complaint further alleged that during the government’s investigation of this case, the defendants fabricated another version of its agreement for the virtual office and submitted that false document to the government.

The complaint alleged that Air Ideal used its fraudulently-procured HUBZone certification to obtain contracts from the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of the Interior.  Each of those contracts had been set aside exclusively for HUBZone companies.  The government’s complaint asserted claims against Air Ideal and Amkraut under the False Claims Act and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989.

The settlement resolves allegations brought in a lawsuit filed under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act by Patricia Hopson, who is employed in the construction industry.  Under the act, a private citizen can sue on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery.  The United States is entitled to intervene in the lawsuit, as it did here.  As part of the resolution, Ms. Hopson will receive $42,500.

This matter was handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Middle District of Florida, in conjunction with the SBA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) and Office of General Counsel, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.

The case is U.S. ex rel. Hopson v. Air Ideal, Inc. and Kim Amkraut, No. 6:13-cv-775-Orl-37GJK (M.D. Fla.).

Source: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/florida-company-and-owner-agree-resolve-alleged-false-claims-act-violations-regarding

Agencies gave SBA the wrong data for small business research contract spending

Most agencies submitted incorrect data about Small Business Innovation Research programs for fiscal 2013, so the Small Business Administration can’t fully determine compliance with spending requirements for the programs, says an April 15 Government Accountability Office report.

Agencies are required to submit the actual amount obligated for research and development, which is generally conducted by nonfederal employees outside of federal facilities. Those obligations are the basis for calculating the agencies’ spending requirements for small business programs, the report says.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/agencies-gave-sba-wrong-data-small-business-research-contract-spending/2015-04-16

GAO: Small business FedBid suspension was improper

The suspension of a small business’s FedBid account was improper because the matter was not referred to the SBA under the SBA’s certificate of competency procedures.

In an important decision for small businesses participating in reverse auctions, the GAO recently held that FedBid could not properly suspend a small business’s user account for a supposed lack of “business integrity,” thereby causing the small business to be ineligible to bid on a federal solicitation, without a referral to the SBA.

The GAO’s decision in Latvian Connection, LLC, B-410947 (Mar. 31, 2015) involved a Department of State solicitation for first aid kits and related medical supplies.  DOS conducted the solicitation as a reverse auction on FedBed.  The solicitation was set aside for small businesses.

Latvian Connection, LLC, wished to compete for the award.  However, in July 2014, FedBid suspended Latvian Connection’s FedBid user account.  The FedBid suspension notice stated, in part: “System and Business Integrity: Latvian Connection has taken actions to repeatedly and purposely interfere with FedBid’s business relationships.”

Keep reading this article at: http://smallgovcon.com/gaobidprotests/small-businesss-fedbid-suspension-was-improper-says-gao/

Small is big in DoD business systems contracts … and that’s a good thing

Thirty-six years ago, a young computer programmer working out of his parents’ garage was looking for investments so he could create the world’s most user-friendly personal computer. “The programmer in question is the late Steve Jobs, and the fund that helped seed Apple in its infancy was part of the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program – the SBA’s investment arm,” said the December 19, 2014 SBA Blog.

Until recently, the Air Force struggled to meet SBA “negotiated” small business goals (SBA Agency Small Business Contracts Data), but there have been steady improvements due to a number of factors, such as implementation of the AF Small Business Improvement Plan. On January 20, the headquarters of the Air Force Materiel Command announced they’d met small business goals for the first time in nine years.

From my perspective as a member of the Air Force for 31 years who has been working on small business contracts for the Air Force the past two years, I have observed the following 10 factors driving the recent success of small business in the Air Force and other services/agencies:

Defense budgets are puckered up. Our Department of Defense (DoD) is painfully trying to balance the needs for research and development, modernizing major weapon systems, increasing personnel costs, heavy deployment requirements and soaring sustainment costs and risks for weapon systems and infrastructure. Amidst all the sequestration, continuing resolutions for funding, budget cuts and racking and stacking priorities, DoD still confronts greater requirement vs. resource deltas than ever before.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.hstoday.us/blogs/guest-commentaries/blog/new-small-is-big-in-dod-business-systems-contracts-and-that-s-a-good-thing/cd9ad5f0c912386bd3f76e9be0ba3296.html

Congress moves forward on measures for small business contractors

Under the direction of former Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the House Small Business Committee over the past six years made overhauling the federal contracting process one of its top priorities, spearheading a number of initiatives intended to funnel more work – and by extension, taxpayer money – to small businesses. When Graves stepped down from the panel at the end of last year, it was unclear whether that effort would continue, or at least whether it would remain near the top of the committee’s to-do list.

Instead, it’s like he never left.

Now led by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), the small business committee has picked up right where Graves left off. Chabot and crew recently held a series of hearings on a number of challenges facing small contractors, and last week, the panel marked up and approved a comprehensive package of changes stemming from those conversations.

“We know that when small businesses compete for federal work, it creates jobs, improves the quality of work, and saves taxpayers’ money,” Chabot said when rolling out the proposal, calling the proposed bill – dubbed the Small Contractors Improve Competition Act – “a commonsense approach to make sure that Washington is working with Main Street.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-small-business/wp/2015/03/27/congress-moves-forward-on-measures-for-small-business-contractors/

Small business federal contracting would change under House bill

The chairman of the House Small Business Committee introduced a bill that would include more categories for small businesses to get federal contracts.

The bill (H.R. 1481), introduced by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), would increase the number of industries small businesses can compete for contracts as well as identifying new ways to attract small businesses in those new industry categories.

“Small business contracting policies are intended to make sure we have a broad spectrum of small firms working with the government across industries, and when those policies are undermined, it is imperative that we find appropriate solutions,” Chabot says in a March 20 statement.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/small-business-federal-contracting-would-change-under-chabot-bill/2015-03-22

SBA seeks comment on mentor protégé program, small business size rules, government contracting

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is proposing to amend its regulations to implement provisions of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013.  Based on authorities provided in these two statutes, the proposed rule would:

  • Establish a Government-wide mentor-protégé program for all small business concerns, consistent with SBA’s mentor-protégé program for participants in SBA’s 8(a) Business Development program.
  • Make minor changes to the mentor-protégé provisions for the 8(a) program in order to make the mentor-protégé rules for each of the programs as consistent as possible.
  • Amend the current joint venture provisions to clarify the conditions for creating and operating joint venture partnerships, including the effect of such partnerships on any mentor-protégé relationships.
  • Make several additional changes to current size, 8(a) Office of Hearings and Appeals and HUBZone regulations, concerning among other things, ownership and control, changes in primary industry, standards of review and interested party status for some appeals.

SBA’s proposed rule, and a discussion of its provisions appears at: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=SBA-2015-0001-0001.

SBA is seeking comments on the proposed rule, and comments must be received on or before April 6, 2015.

 

San Antonio businessman sentenced in VA contract fraud

San Antonio 71-year-old Jonathan Patrick Saunders, president of Saunders MEP, Inc., was sentenced last week to one year and one day in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $1,494,000 restitution for defrauding the Department of Veterans Administration (VA) in connection with architectural and engineering contracts.

Justice Dept. sealOn January 6, 2015, Saunders pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud.  By pleading guilty, Saunders admitted that over a period of five years beginning in March 2008, he knowingly provided fraudulent information to the VA in order to obtain up to $2 million in task orders from the VA for projects to be performed in and around San Antonio.

On Feb. 19, 2015, United States District Judge Orlando Garcia found that Saunders made false representations to the VA.  In his SF-330 “Architect-Engineer Qualifications” package, Saunders falsely represented that his business qualified as a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, that certain persons with particular qualifications worked for his firm, and that certain projects were completed by his firm.  Saunders used interstate wires to execute his fraud scheme.

This case was investigated by agents with the Office of Inspector Generals from the VA and the Small Business Administration.  Assistant United States Attorney Thomas P. Moore prosecuted this case on behalf of the Government.

Source: http://www.justice.gov/usao-wdtx/pr/san-antonio-businessman-sentenced-va-fraud-scheme

Deadline for comments is Feb. 27 on proposed rule affecting small business federal contracts

Are you a small business owner doing business with the government?  As previously reported here, the Small Business Administration (SBA) recently published a proposed rule to implement Section 1651 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (NDAA), proposing to change several key areas that could impact you:

  • The performance requirements applicable to small business and socioeconomic program set aside contracts and small business subcontracting.
  • The nonmanufacturer rule and affiliation rules.
  • The performance requirements for joint ventures.

From the SBA’s point of view, the proposed regulations should benefit small businesses by allowing small business concerns to use similarly-situated subcontractors in the performance of a set-aside contract, thereby expanding the capacity of small business prime contractors and potentially enabling small businesses to compete for and win larger contracts. SBA also believes the proposed rules will strengthen the small business subcontracting provisions, which may result in more subcontract awards to small business concerns. The proposed regulations also seek to address or clarify issues that are ambiguous or subject to dispute, thereby providing clarity to federal contracting officers as well as small business concerns.

Have comments? Visit the Federal Register online for information and to submit your comments by February 27, 2015.