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 mentor-protégé program offers powerful benefits. To help ensure that only legitimate small businesses take advantage of the program, the SBA asks applicants a series of questions about potential affiliation between the prospective mentor and protégé.
But once the SBA signs off on a mentor-protégé agreement, that’s that. As the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals recently confirmed, competitors cannot use the size protest process to challenge whether an SBA mentor-protégé agreement should have been approved in the first place.
The SBA has long had a lifetime limit of two mentors for each protégé–and this limit was enforced very strictly. Say the mentor ghosted the protégé, or the two just never did any contracts together. Well, too bad, that still used up one of the two lifetime mentors that a protégé could have.
They say there are no second chances, but the SBA’s new rule will allow for second chances on a mentor protégé arrangement in some circumstances, which should benefit protégés going forward.
For joint ventures operating under the SBA’s regulations (including SBA-approved mentor-protege joint ventures), dealing with security clearances has been a particularly vexing issue: some contracting officers have insisted that a joint venture (an unpopulated, limited-purpose entity) separately obtain a Facility Security Clearance, even when both joint venture members hold FCLs.
Soon, though, joint venturers will be able to stop worrying about obtaining separate FCLs for their unpopulated joint ventures. A new SBA regulation taking effect next month allows a joint venture to rely on the security clearances of its members.
In 2016, SBA established the All Small Mentor-Protégé Program, or ASMPP, enabling mentors of any size to provide business development assistance to small protégé businesses to enhance the protégé’s ability to compete for federal contracts. Since then, the ASMPP has served as a powerful tool for many businesses and, as of August 1, there were 885 active mentor-protégé agreements.
Recently, however, the SBA’s Office of the Inspector General released a report highlighting some opportunities to improve the program and recommending SBA take additional steps to ensure compliance with the program’s requirements.
SBA regulations say that size is determined as of the date an offeror submits its initial proposal, with price. On its face, this rule seems pretty straight forward. But what happens if the initial proposal was filed six years ago? And what if the joint venture that submitted the proposal has since expired?
Following OHA’s recent logic, the proposal-date rule stands even in these unique circumstances.
The SBA’s All Small Mentor-Protégé program offers a tremendous opportunity for participants to pursue set-aside contracts as joint venture partners. But misunderstandings and misconceptions about how SBA mentor-protégé joint ventures work are pervasive.
One very common misconception is that the SBA must pre-approve a mentor-protégé joint venture. In most cases, that’s not so. In a recent bid protest decision, even the GAO appeared a little confused, repeatedly mentioning SBA approval of a joint venture even though no such approval was required for the contract in question.