5 Things You Should Know: SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program (The Basics)

If you’re a small business owner interested in government contracts, you’ve probably heard about the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program. The 8(a) Program itself is complex, but its potential benefits are tremendous. In this post, I’ll break down some of the very basics about the 8(a) Program, leaving some of its complexities for upcoming posts.

Let’s get to it: here are five things you should know about the 8(a) Program.

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8(a) Program: Loan Must Be “Bona Fide” To Reduce Net Worth

To qualify for the 8(a) program, a disadvantaged individual must fall below certain personal net worth thresholds. Loans can reduce net worth–but not all loans are treated the same.

According to the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals, if a disadvantaged individual intends to rely on a loan to reduce net worth, the loan better be bona fide.

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Recent SBA OIG Report Reveals Continuing Concerns With 8(a) Approvals

To be eligible to participate in the 8(a) Business Development Program, an applicant firm must be a small business that is at least 51% owned and controlled by a socially- and economically-disadvantaged individual (or individuals) who are of good character and citizen(s) of the United States. The firm, moreover, must show a potential for success.

The Small Business Administration’s internal watchdog (the Office of Inspector General, or OIG) recently raised its continuing concerns regarding the admission of several entities to the 8(a) Program. The OIG’s report is worth reading, as it may lead to changes in the 8(a) Program’s eligibility criteria.

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Unapproved Addendum Sinks 8(a) Joint Venture’s Bid

An 8(a) joint venture failed to obtain SBA’s approval of an addendum to its joint venture agreement—and the lack of SBA approval cost the joint venture an 8(a) contract.

In Alutiiq-Banner Joint Venture, B-412952 et al. (July 15, 2016), GAO sustained a protest challenging an 8(a) joint venture’s eligibility for award where that joint venture had not previously sought (or received) SBA’s approval for an addendum to its joint venture agreement.

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8(a) Program: SBA Final Rule Makes Important Changes

The 8(a) Program regulations will undergo some significant changes as part of the major final rule recently released by the SBA, and effective August 24, 2016.

Here at SmallGovCon, we’ve already covered big changes to the SDVOSB Program and HUBZone Program brought about by the new SBA rule.  But the 8(a) program is affected by the new rule too, and important changes involving eligibility, the application process, sole source awards, NHOs, and more will kick in later this month.

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SBA Didn’t Properly Justify 8(a) Termination, Says Court

SBA’s regulations provide that an 8(a) program participant that no longer is owned or controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged person can be terminated from the 8(a) program. But the decision to terminate is not one to be made lightly: SBA must make sure that it not only has evidence in support of its termination decision, it must also explain how that evidence demonstrates its conclusions.

This requirement was at issue in a recent court decision that found an SBA 8(a) program termination decision to be based on “numerous erroneous assumptions” and “unsupported conclusions, not substantial evidence.”

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8(a) Program Participation Down 34% Since 2010

Participation in the SBA’s 8(a) Program has declined from about 7,000 firms in 2010 to only around 4,500 today–a sharp drop of approximately 34% in only six years.

These startling numbers come from a recent SBA Office of Inspector General report, which focuses on whether the SBA properly documented the reasons for admitting certain 8(a) participants.  While that matter is interesting in its own right, the most revealing part of the SBA OIG report is the rapid decline in 8(a) Program participation, and the SBA’s plans to reverse it.

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