Among all the concerns small business owners have with government contracting, contract bundling rarely ever comes up in conversation. Part of the issue is that many business owners are only exposed to the negative stereotypes and don’t actually know about many of the real obstacles their company faces with successfully obtaining contracts with Uncle Sam. Contract bundling can potentially be a real impediment to small businesses trying to compete in the government contracting arena.
Now that we’ve identified a possible bump in the road, let’s go into a little detail to ensure that small business owners are aware of and fully understand the problem. According to the Small Business Reauthorization Act of 1997, contract bundling is “consolidating two or more procurement requirements for goods or services previously provided or performed under separate, smaller contracts into a solicitation of offers for a single contract that is unlikely to be suitable for award to a small business concern.” What this really means is that contract bundling happens when two or more contracts intended for small businesses are combined, making it difficult for a small business to complete.
There are circumstances that allow Uncle Sam to combine small business contracts if award to a small business is deemed unsuitable. If the conditions of the contract require work spread out over a geographical region too large for one small business to handle, the total dollar value of each contract isn’t suited to a small business, the diversity, specialized nature, or size of the task at hand, or any combination of these, contracts may be bundled without issue.
However, the Small Business Reauthorization Act requires that the government try to avoid these four issues in order to give small businesses equal opportunities to participate in the bidding process. In addition, the act requires the responsible contracting specialist to do market research with an aim to justify whether or not the contract needs to be bundled. The government agency can then validate combining contracts when there are “measurably substantial benefits,” which include cutting costs, better quality, less time to fulfill the contract, or better contract terms and conditions.
So what can your small business do to prevent contract bundling? Unfortunately, it isn’t an easy task. It involves convincing the agency and those involved in the process that your small business, contrary to their research, can and will perform one or more of the contracts. If you think that it is happening, contact a Small Business Administration Procurement Center Representative (PCR). In every federal agency with major contract programs there will be one with whom you can speak. There is also a bundling report, which you can fill out and submit to the Small Business Administration.
Sometimes bundling cannot be stopped. The decision to bundle contracts comes from many hours of meetings and research that leads agency officials reluctant to change their mind. If that happens, try befriending the larger company that wins the bundled contract. Just because they’re a large business doesn’t mean they won’t hire small businesses as sub-contractors. In addition, sub-contracting is a great way to get your business’s foot in the government’s door without the hassle of doing it all yourself.