No SBA Certificates of Competency for GPO Contracts, Says GAO

The Government Printing Office is not required to refer non-responsibility determinations involving small businesses to the Small Business Administration under the Certificate of Competency program.

According to a recent GAO bid protest decision, the GPO’s status as a legislative entity exempts it from the Certificate of Competency process–much to the disappointment of the small business protester in question.

The GAO’s bid protest decision in Colonial Press International, Inc., B-408031, B-408055 (May 6, 2013) involved two GPO solicitations for printing services.  In each case, Colonial Press International, Inc. submitted the lowest bid.  However, the GPO determined that Colonial Press was nonresponsible, a determination stemming from Colonial Press’s delivery problems on prior GPO contracts.  The GPO awarded the contracts to competitors.

Colonial Press filed a GAO bid protest.  Colonial Press argued, in part, that because it is a small business, the GPO’s concerns regarding responsibility should have been referred to the SBA under the Certificate of Competency program.

The GAO rejected Colonial Press’s contention.  Citing prior bid protest decisions, the GAO wrote, “our Office has consistently held that GPO, as a legislative branch agency, is not subject to the COC referral requirements of the Small Business Act.”  The GAO concluded, “[a]ccordingly, the GPO was not required to refer its nonresponsibility determinations of Colonial Press to the SBA.”  The GAO denied the protest.

The Certificate of Competency program allows small business contractors to “appeal” non-responsibility determinations to the SBA, which is empowered to overrule the procuring agency.  As such, the Certificate of Competency program can provide an important second bite at the apple for small contractors.  However, as Colonial Press International demonstrates, the COC program has its limits–including that it does not apply to the GPO.

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