From Eight Days to 105 Days: The Incredible Lengthening of the SBA’s Mentor-Protégé Program Application Timeline

In February 2017, the SBA announced that applications for its new All Small Mentor-Protégé Program were being processed, on average, in just eight days. Fast forward four-and-a-half years, and the SBA’s mentor-protégé application processing timeline has gotten just a wee bit longer.

As in, 105 days.

Unfortunately, that’s no typo. If you’re looking to establish an SBA-approved mentor-protege relationship, you better be willing to wait more than three months for your application to be approved.

I recently sent an email to the SBA’s main Mentor-Protege Program email address. The automatic response I received included this nugget:

The application process takes 105 days – 15 days for screening and 90 days for processing.

In fairness, the SBA was never going to maintain an eight-day pace. (And, in hindsight, it probably shouldn’t have set lofty expectations by touting that initial blistering pace back in 2017). But 105 days is . . . not good.

Among other problems, such a long wait makes it much more difficult for potential mentors and protégés to establish compliant joint ventures in advance of key solicitations, like the upcoming Polaris vehicle. And for 8(a) companies–who, following a November 2020 rule change, no longer have access to a separate 8(a) mentor-protégé program–the delay is especially troublesome. After all, 8(a) Program participation is strictly limited to nine years. Every extra day that an 8(a) company has to wait for its mentor-protégé agreement to be approved is one less day that the 8(a) protégé is eligible to use that mentor-protégé relationship to help it bid 8(a) contracts.

I don’t have any inside knowledge as to why the application processing timeline has expanded so dramatically in just a few years. I suspect the consolidation of the 8(a) and All Small Mentor-Protege Programs has played a role, as did the addition of new screening questions regarding affiliation. Nevertheless, the application itself is not terribly lengthy or complex–certainly far less lengthy and complex than the VA’s SDVOSB/VOSB application, which the VA says is processed in an average of 34 days.

If I had to guess, I’d speculate that the major culprit is likely a staffing/funding issue. Whatever the cause, I hope SBA works to address it, and soon. I don’t expect we’ll ever return to a world of eight-day application processing. But 105 days is far too long to force qualified applicants to wait to access this important program.

Need help with a government contracting legal matter? Email us or give us a call at 785-200-8919.

Looking for the latest government contracting legal news? Sign up here for our free monthly newsletter, and follow us on LinkedInTwitter and Facebook.