For small and large businesses alike, joint venturing and prime/subcontractor teaming on federal contracts can bring powerful benefits. But the rules governing teaming and JVs can be complex, and in focusing on compliance, sometimes best practices can get lost in the shuffle.
On April 20 through 22, please join me and Nicole Pottroff for a special, three-part course on joint ventures and prime/subcontractor teaming, hosted by Govology. We’ll cover the key compliance rules in plain English, dispel common myths, and discuss best practices to help your teaming documents go beyond bare-bones compliance. It’s easy to register: just click here.
We hope to see you starting on April 20!
If you’re setting up your first joint venture under the SBA’s rules, you may be tempted to download the SBA’s template joint venture agreement and use it as-is.
But, as of the date of this post, the SBA’s template joint venture agreement is outdated–and it also has some other quirks and potential problems you should know about. If you’re planning to use the SBA’s joint venture template, read this first.
The ostensible subcontractor rule says that, for a small business or socioeconomic set-aside such as 8(a), the small business prime contractor must perform the primary and vital parts of the contract and can’t be unduly reliant on a subcontractor. If the small business is found to violate the rule, the size of the small prime contractor and the large subcontractor are grouped for size purposes, which can result in loss of award. But the ostensible subcontractor rule is different from SBA’s joint venture rules, because SBA rules (and other federal law) distinguish between a prime-sub team and a joint venture. In a recent decision, OHA reversed a determination that a small business prime was affiliated with a subcontractor where the Area Office mixed up the analysis of the ostensible subcontractor rule and the joint venture rules.
If you are part of a joint venture between a small protege and its large mentor under the SBA’s Mentor-Protege Program, heads up: the SBA recently amended its list of mandatory requirements for joint venture agreements to cover what happens to funds left over in the joint venture bank account at the end of a project.
Like the revised recordkeeping rules I discussed in an earlier post, the new required provision only applies to mentor-protege joint ventures pursuing small business set-aside contracts–not to JVs seeking 8(a), SDVOSB/VOSB, WOSB/EDWOSB or HUBZone work. Confusingly (and again, like the recordkeeping rules), SBA’s decision to change only the small business set-aside regulation, 13 C.F.R 125.8, means that the same joint venture agreement may not be valid for both small business set-aside contracts and socioeconomic contracts.
The SBA’s joint venture rules can be strict. Mistakes like failing to update a joint venture agreement, inserting ambiguous provisions in a joint venture agreement, or relying on an expired mentor-protege agreement can be costly.
Good faith mistakes are one thing–the joint venture may lose out on a contract, but probably won’t face other penalties. But when the government believes that a contractor knowingly violated the joint venture rules, the repercussions can be much more serious–as seen in a recent False Claims Act settlement involving allegations of fraud under the 8(a) joint venture regulations.
As you make your plans for 2021, be sure to mark down Pub K’s Annual Year In Review. I’m excited to be part of a panel on small business contracting! There are other helpful panels on items ranging from claims to cybersecurity from January 25 through 28, so take a look at the entire schedule.
I’ll be speaking at 3 pm eastern on January 27. The event is free to the public. Check the site for details on how to register.
Joint ventures operating under the SBA’s All Small Mentor-Protege Program may need to adjust their joint venture agreements because of a little-noticed change to SBA’s joint venture rules.
In its recent final rule, effective November 16, SBA amended two of the mandatory requirements for mentor-protege joint ventures pursuing small business set-aside contracts. SBA did not make corresponding changes to the joint venture rules for SBA’s four major socioeconomic programs–meaning that a joint venture agreement that complies with the small business set-aside rules may not be valid if the joint venture pursues 8(a), SDVOSB/VOSB, HUBZone or WOSB/EDWOSB contracts (and vice versa).