Small Businesses, What Can Pennsylvania Do For You?

For my very first post on my very first blog, I decided to write about a topic that is not only important to me but also, thanks to a recent development, an opportunity to create awareness.  If you are a small business owner in Pennsylvania, chances are you have tried or have thought about doing business with the Commonwealth. Having spent over a decade helping PA’s small business owners do just that, I want to discuss the recent Executive Order signed by Governor Tom Corbett last November.

“The purpose of the Small Business Procurement Initiative is to direct the Department of General Services to develop and implement policy initiatives to increase opportunities for small businesses to compete for award of commonwealth contracts a prime contractors.” Let’s take a look at what the PA Department of General Services (DGS) is tasked with doing:

  • DGS has to determine what qualifies as a small business. One thought is to use the same size standards developed by the Small Business Administration based on industry. If PA chooses to develop its own qualifications, which will increase the time it takes to implement this policy, how will they do it? What will they base it on?
  • DGS has to establish goals for contracting officers to use in doing business with small business owners. It is surprising to see the word “goal” used here because government tends to shy away from it for the legal ramifications. If they do in fact use goals, how will they be determined? The PA Department of Transportation currently sets goals on its projects.
  • DGS has to develop guidelines to be used in awarding contracts slated for small business competition. Before that can happen, however, DGS has to formulate the guidelines for determining which contracts are to be bid on by small businesses only. What criteria will be used?
  • DGS has to develop policies to change the current bonding requirements and payment structure in commonwealth contracts. Developing a policy is different from implementing a procedure. Does DGS only have to develop the policy without getting into any actual implementation? Will this policy and eventual procedure be available to any firm doing business with the Commonwealth, regardless of size?
  • DGS has to develop a way to monitor and report on the effectiveness of its efforts. This may be one of the most important aspects of this initiative. Great ideas can only be validated if desired outcomes are set, measures are formulated, and progress is reported. This task may also slow down implementation if a new mechanism for monitoring and reporting has to be built or if a current system has to be tweaked.
  • DGS has to ensure the eligibility of small businesses benefiting from this initiative and investigate any improprieties. But the wording falls short by not offering any enforcement measures. What happens when allegations of fraud are found to be true? Will there be sanctions?
  • DGS has to assist the other state agencies a) identify contracts that can be reserved for small business competition and award, b) identify small businesses to compete, and c) assist in training those responsible for contracting within each agency. What will be the criteria for identifying these contracts? How will small businesses be qualified and how will they be identified? Will there be a database like the searchable one that is found online for certified minority and women business enterprises?
The Small Business Procurement Initiative also requires that each agency under the Governor’s jurisdiction designate an employee as the point of contact for implementation. Will these contact be made public and accessible ? Small business owners could benefit by meeting with them to talk about their business and find out how to qualify for state contracting work. Each agency also has to prepare and submit reports to DGS on its progress in meeting expectations. How often will these reports be required? What will DGS do with them once they are submitted? Will these reports be made public? Currently, DGS prepares an annual report on minority and women business enterprise spend within the Commonwealth and posts it on their webpage.
The PA Department of General Services is a vast department consisting of 15 bureaus divided into five major operational groups. It seems logical that the Bureau of Procurement would be responsible for implementing the Small Business Procurement Initiative but it is not spelled out specifically in the Governor’s Executive Order so we have no one to watch for progress on this. And although this initiative is to take place immediately, there is no timetable for implementation.
What can PA’s small business owners do?
  1. Contact the Governor’s Office and seek answers to the questions posed above.
  2. Meet with DGS procurement personnel to see how your business can benefit from this initiative.
  3. Join a lobbying group like your local chamber of commerce or an organization specific to your industry cluster to show strength in numbers that this initiative be implemented.
  4. Visit the DGS site to learn more about how to do business with the state and make suggestions.

What else do you think Pennsylvania can do to help its small business community?

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