Tester presses White House nominee on small business contracting opportunities

Senator pushes for more participation, competition from small firms

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester today pushed for a bigger role for small businesses in federal contracting while questioning President Obama’s nominee to serve as the White House budget director.

Tester raised concerns with Jacob Lew, nominee to direct the Office of Management and Budget at the White House, asking how Lew would ensure greater participation and competition from small firms in the contracting process.

“Government contracting, especially for small businesses, is a complicated thing,” Tester told Lew.  “It can take a lot of time and it can take a lot of staff.  What I see happen at the federal level, is they’re using big, general contractors and then subbing it out and hoping some of the small guys get work.  What can be done from your potential position as OMB director, to encourage more contracting for small businesses, not to tilt the field, but at least level it, so they can get a shot?”

Lew agreed, telling Tester he thinks it is important to maintain access to federal contracting work on a broad basis.

“From the perspective of the public good, there ought to be the kind of competition that comes from knowing that if you’re big and you do it, you don’t have a lock on it,” Lew said.

The Office of Management and Budget director partially oversees the development of federal contracting regulations.

Earlier this year, Tester introduced the Level Playing Field Act to help Montana’s local small businesses earn government contracting work.

Tester’s legislation would give equal footing to small businesses and contractors seeking government contracts by:

  • Breaking up potentially large contracts into more manageable projects that small businesses can compete for
  • Requiring agencies to indicate exactly what they’re looking for when it comes to the subjective components of a project, so that bidders aren’t rejected only because they incorrectly guess the “look and feel” of a particular project
  • Requiring the U.S. General Services Administration to enforce agreements to hire local subcontractors and improve outreach to small businesses

Since last year, Tester has hosted four well-attended Small Business Opportunity Workshops across the state to help boost Montana jobs, business and exports.

Tester also pressed Lew—who directed the office during the late 1990s, when the country enjoyed record surpluses—on the issue of the national debt.  Saying that “tough decisions” would have to be made to cut the debt, Tester pushed the nominee to help educate Americans about those decisions and about the importance of reducing the debt.

Tester noted that under Governor Brian Schweitzer’s leadership, Montana is one of the few states operating without a deficit.  Lew agreed, and stressed the need for government to set aside money and cut deficits during times of economic growth, especially to mitigate losses during tougher economic circumstances.