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.
To encourage joint venturing, the SBA’s size regulations provide a limited exception from affiliation for certain joint venturers: a joint venture qualifies for award of a set-aside contract so long as each venturer, individually, is below the size standard associated with the contract (or one venturer is below the size standard and the other is an SBA-approved mentor, and they have a compliant joint venture agreement). In other words, the SBA ordinarily won’t “affiliate” the joint venturers—that is, add their sizes together—if the joint venture meets the affiliation exception.
Because of this special treatment, it can be easy for the venturers to assume that they are completely exempt from any kind of affiliation. But as the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals recently confirmed, however, the exception isn’t nearly so broad.
The SBA has corrected a flaw in the profit-splitting provisions of its new joint venture regulations.
Under the corrected regulations, which became effective on December 27, all of the SBA’s joint venture regulations–those for small businesses, SDVOSBs, HUBZones, 8(a)s, and WOSBs–will require that each joint venturer receive profits commensurate with the work it performs. The SBA’s revisions clear up an inconsistency between the 8(a) joint venture regulations and the regulations for the SBA’s other set-aside programs, and eliminates a potential disincentive for joint venturers to avail themselves of the protections of a formal legal entity such as a limited liability company.
Stating that populated joint ventures have now been eliminated, the SBA has revised its 8(a) joint venture regulations to reflect that change.
In a technical correction published today in the Federal Register, the SBA flatly states that an earlier major rulemaking eliminated populated joint venture, and tweaks the profit-sharing piece of its 8(a) joint venture regulation to remove an outdated reference to populated joint ventures. But even following this technical correction, there are three important points of potential confusion that remain (at least in my mind) regarding the SBA’s new joint venture regulations.
An 8(a) joint venture was unable to show that its mentor-protege agreement had been renewed by the SBA for a particular year–and the missing reauthorization caused the joint venture to be ineligible for a small business set-aside contract.
In a recent decision, the SBA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals held that an 8(a) joint venture could not avail itself of the mentor-protege exemption from affiliation when there was no evidence to show that the SBA had renewed the mentor-protege relationship for the year in which the joint venture’s proposal was submitted.
An 8(a) mentor-protege joint venture didn’t qualify for an SDVOSB set-aside because the mentor firm was not a small business.
In a recent decision, the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals held that a SDVOSB-specific regulation requires all members of an SDVOSB joint venture to be small–notwithstanding language in the SBA’s size regulations and 8(a) Program regulations specifying that an SBA-approved mentor-protege joint venture may bid, as a small business, on any government contractor or subcontract, provided that the protege is small.
The SBA’s Utah District Office has imposed tough new restrictions on the approval of 8(a) mentor-protege agreements and joint ventures.
The Utah SBA obviously hopes that these restrictions will lead to more successful 8(a) mentor-protege and joint venture relationships–but I worry that these District-specific restrictions may backfire, and put Utah 8(a)s at a significant competitive disadvantage against 8(a)s serviced by other SBA District Offices.