Back to Basics: SBA’s OHA Reminds SBA Area Offices How to Apply the Ostensible Subcontractor Rule

We’ve discussed the “ostensible subcontractor rule” quite a few times on the blog (including most recently here and here) because it is one of the most frequent grounds for size protests. It’s also frequently misunderstood. A recent SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals decision, Contego Environmental, LLC, SBA No. SIZ-6054 (May 19, 2020), demonstrates how even SBA Area Offices can misapply the rule and provides useful reminders to contractor looking to avoid violating it.

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YouTube Tuesday: What is Affiliation? An Overview

Affiliation is a broad and often confusing concept that commonly arises in the context of government contracting. In this YouTube video, I walk you through the basics of affiliation, including the main types of affiliation and the implications of being found affiliated.

Stay tuned to our blog for additional overviews of important government contracting concepts. And if you need more personalized assistance or advice regarding affiliation or any of your government contracting needs, please call us at Koprince Law. We are always here to help.

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Too Late for Take-Backs: Ostensible Subcontractor Analysis Won’t Consider Post-Proposal Changes

In Warrior Service Company, LLC, SBA No. SIZ-6046 (Jan. 24, 2020), the SBA reminded small business contractors that it determines whether a contractor has violated the ostensible subcontractor rule as of the date of bid submission; SBA won’t consider any changes that come later.

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SBA OHA: Contracting Officer’s Termination Decision Won’t Change Size Appeal Deadline

Following a size determination, any person adversely affected by that determination may file an appeal with the SBA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals. To be timely, the appeal has to be filed within 15 calendar days from the date the person receives the determination. If not timely-filed, the appeal will be dismissed.

This 15-day deadline is strict. The OHA doesn’t have the power to extend it, even if good reason exists to do so. In fact, the OHA’s recent decision in Sentient Digital, Inc. dba Entrust Government Solutions, SBA No. SIZ-5963 (2018) makes clear that this deadline applies even when an agency changes its decision to terminate a contract following an adverse size determination.

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“Similarly Situated Entities” Exempt From Ostensible Subcontractor Affiliation, SBA OHA Confirms

A “similarly situated entity” cannot be an ostensible subcontractor under the SBA’s affiliation rules.

In a recent size appeal decision, the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals confirmed that changes made to the SBA’s size regulations in 2016 exempt similarly situated entities from ostensible subcontractor affiliation.

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Ostensible Subcontractor Affiliation: Who Manages The Work Matters

So you’ve teamed with an ineligible incumbent contractor to bid on some government work and, to try and maintain continuity, the incumbent would like to retain project management functions. “No big deal,” you think, “I’ll just create a management position to oversee the project manager.”

Actually, it could be a big deal if you’re trying to avoid ostensible subcontractor affiliation. Among the four key factors for determining ostensible subcontractor affiliation is whether the management previously served with the subcontractor under the incumbent contract. And according to a recent SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals decision, creating a figurehead management position to oversee the project manager won’t negate this indicia of ostensible subcontractor affiliation.

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Reminder: No Ostensible Subcontractor Protests At GAO

The GAO lacks jurisdiction to consider a challenge to a contract awardee’s size status, including questions of whether the awardee is affiliated with its subcontractor under the ostensible subcontractor rule.

In a recent bid protest decision, the GAO confirmed that it will not adjudicate an allegation of ostensible subcontractor affiliation.

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