Can small or minority owned businesses obtain federal contracts?

Small businesses--especially minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, and businesses otherwise owed by disadvantaged individuals—may benefit from programs that are specifically designed to cultivate small businesses.

Some of these programs are administered by the Small Business Administration ("SBA"). The SBA provides counseling and advice for such businesses to aid their development and may provide financing. Further, the Government sometimes will set-aside a contract for those firms that qualify as small businesses. And to make it more attractive and favorable, some of these contracts may be awarded without competition.

One popular program administered by the SBA seeks to aid businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. Information concerning the program is located in part 24 of Title 13 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which may be accessed at http://www.sba.gov/.

The SBA also administers an electronic gateway of procurement information called "Pro-net." Pro-net is available as a marketing tool for small firms and as a link to procurement opportunities and information.

Finally, there exists a number of schedules or multi-agency contracts that allow commercial vendors to market their commercial products or services directly to the agencies under the terms and conditions of the schedule or multi-agency contract. These contracts are sometimes considered more akin to "hunting licenses" than true contracts.

Perhaps the most well-known of these multi-agency or schedule programs is the Federal Supply Schedule Program administered by the General Services Administration ("GSA"). Through this program, the Government buys everything from forklifts to personal computers and test tubes to office furniture.

The GSA negotiates and awards contracts to multiple vendors of comparable products and services, at varying prices. GSA then creates a "supply schedule" for a particular good or service, identifying all vendors that have won contracts as well as the negotiated prices. These supply schedules are available to the federal agencies to "catalog" shop and choose the products or services that best meet their needs. Sales through this program may exceed $7 billion for fiscal year 1998 (see http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/101598).