The Washington Post

House lawmakers battle bundling with new bill

Republican lawmakers are expected to introduce legislation Friday that would require agencies to justify — and be prepared defend — the bundling of contracts, which they say would help prevent unfair competition and allow small firms to vie for more government work.

House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) are expected to propose the Contractor Opportunity Protection (COP) Act as part of the committee’s ongoing small business contracting reform initiative, under which lawmakers have already introduced six related measures in just the last three weeks.

“Thousands of small businesses around the country seek federal contracts every year and often have a difficult time navigating the process,” West said in a statement.

Currently, laws prohibit agencies from consolidating two or more procurement requirements previously provided in separate, small contracts into one large contract for which small businesses are not suited to compete. The idea is that large companies have an unfair advantage in the bidding process if several unrelated goods or services are lumped together into a single contract.

However, the law tends to be enforced merely through letters of appeal sent directly to the agencies that offered the contracts, which can dismiss the appeal without review by a third party. The COP Act would give the Small Business Administration the authority to formally appeal the bundling of any contracts to the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals or the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals, which would then determine whether the contracts should be unbundled.

“Contract bundling is a legitimate part of federal contracting but it can sometimes be carried out unfairly,” Graves said in a statement. “This legislation helps address this problem by adding more transparency and a stronger judicial check to the process.”

Should the SBA decline to appeal a bundling decision, the legislation would allow third parties — including small business advocacy groups or even a small business itself — to bring complaints before the General Accounting Office. The bill also requires agencies to make public their justification for bundling any contract and extends the bundling rules and restrictions to include new construction projects, to which the current laws are not applied.

Follow On Small Business and J.D. Harrison .

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.

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