In fiscal 2013, the U.S. government entered into contracts to be performed in Rhode Island with a value of more than $766 million. These contracts were for goods and services as diverse as construction services, underwater sound equipment and clambakes.
Because federal law requires that a “fair proportion” of these contracts be issued to small-business enterprises, the federal government steers business to small businesses. This is especially true if the small business qualifies for specific set-aside programs intended to benefit disadvantaged businesses, women-owned small-business concerns, service-disabled, veteran-owned small-business concerns and businesses located in historically underutilized business zones.
These government efforts can give qualified companies valuable access to a profitable source of business. The government is a highly regulated customer, however, so it is critical that small businesses become fully versed in the regulations governing the process.
• The first question to address is whether the business qualifies as a small-business concern. A business seeking to qualify for a contract reserved for small business, known as a “small-business set-aside,” must meet the small-business size standard for the NAICS code that the contracting officer assigns to the procurement.
• The next step is to register a business profile with the System for Award Management, the primary database used by federal agencies to locate contractors, which is required prior to the award of any contract or agreement. This process is sometimes referred to as “self-certifying.”
• If the small business qualifies for specific set-aside programs intended to benefit disadvantaged small-business owners, additional certification and registration before the business is required, which are fairly specific and straightforward.