The Section 809 Panel, created by Congress in the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to streamline and codify defense acquisition, recently published the third and final volume of its Final Report. In this volume, the panel made a bold recommendation (No. 35) to replace current, cumbersome buying practices with a new authority called readily available. In part, this recommendation would eliminate mandatory small business set-asides and instead provide a 5% price preference to small businesses while keeping utilization goals in place.
Hysteria quickly ensued, with headlines stating the 809 panel recommended the “Elimination of Federal Small Business Program” and “Eliminate Most DoD Small Business Set-Asides.”
These reactions are more sensational than accurate. The panel recommended creating a new way for the Defense Department to obtain competition, thus eliminating mandatory set-asides when using readily-available procedures. This change would not eliminate small business set-asides, nor would it eliminate the federal small business program. Under these procedures, DoD would still have the option to set-aside procurements for small business.
Some are concerned that implementing this recommendation would lead DoD to stop setting aside work for small business. A prominent real-world example shows that this is unlikely. Under the General Services Administration (GSA) Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) program, solicitations are frequently set-aside despite the fact that the “rule of two” is not applicable to these purchases. Agencies strive to meet their small business utilization goals, so they set-aside procurements when appropriate, even though they are not required to do so.