SBA OHA Explains “Key Employee” for Affiliation Purposes

A contractor successfully challenged an adverse size determination that found affiliation under the newly organized concern rule, by establishing that its president and chief executive officer was not a former key employee of its supposed affiliate.

In a recent size appeal decision, the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals clarified the definition of “key employee” under the newly organized concern rule, by noting that such a former employee’s title was not conclusive—instead, to be a key employee, that person had to have influence or control over the operations of the business as a whole.

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Newly Organized Concern Affiliation: “Key Employee” Must Influence Entire Company

Newly organized concern affiliation under the SBA’s affiliation rules did not exist when the alleged former key employee of the affiliate did not exercise influence over the entire company.

In a recent decision, the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals held that no matter the size of the alleged affiliate, a former “key employee” must have had the ability to influence the entire company in order for the newly organized concern affiliation rule to apply.

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Newly Organized Concern Affiliation Rule: GovCon Manager Not a “Key Employee”

The SBA’s newly organized concern affiliation rule is designed to prevent former officers, directors, principal stockholders or “key employees” of a large business from evading the SBA size rules by spinning off a new company.

But who is a “key employee” for purposes of the newly organized concern affiliation rule?  As demonstrated in a recent SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals decision, the mere fact that an employee has the word “manager” in his or her title does not necessarily make that person a key employee under the newly organized concern rule.

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SBA OHA: Tribal Companies Entitled to Broad Affiliation Exceptions

Indian tribes, their holding companies, and companies owned by those holding companies are entitled to broad exceptions from the ordinary SBA affiliation rules, according to a recent SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals size appeal decision.

SBA OHA’s decision in Size Appeal of Roundhouse PBN, LLC, SBA No. SIZ-5383 (2012), holds that the SBA cannot use non-applicable affiliation rules to circumvent the regulatory exception from affiliation between tribal companies.  In its ruling, SBA OHA also sidestepped an interesting tribal size question: did Congress truly intend for some tribal companies to be “small” for 8(a) program purposes, but “other than small” for all other government contracts?

As you can probably tell, the Roundhouse PBN case is not your run-of-the-mill SBA OHA size appeal decision, meaning a slightly longer-than-normal blog post is in order.  Let’s dive right in.

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SBA Affiliation Rules and Spin-Offs: Beware ‘Newly Organized Concern’ Affiliation

When a small business draws close to its size standard ceiling, it may consider forming a small business “spin-off” company as one way to keep itself in the small business set-aside game.  Done right, a spin-off may be able to successfully compete for and win small business set-aside contracts.

But be careful: if the spin-off doesn’t pass muster with the SBA, the “newly organized concern” affiliation rule may cause the spin-off to be ineligible for small business set-aside contracts, as occurred in Size Appeal of eTouch Federal Systems, LLC, SBA No. SIZ-5280 (2011), a decision of the SBA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals.

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