Effective May 25, 2018, the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) amended its regulations regarding a contractor’s size and/or socio-economic status following a novation, merger, or acquisition. Specifically, through a “technical correction,” the SBA revised its regulations to dictate that when a company becomes “other than small” or no longer has a certain socio-economic status (veteran-owned, woman-owned, HUBZone, etc.) as a result of a novation, merger, or acquisition, the business is no longer eligible to compete for set-aside task orders on multiple-award contracts held by the company. This change in eligibility is applicable even where the contracting officer does not specifically request a recertification.  Continue Reading Contractor Beware: SBA Expands Impact of Novation, Merger, or Acquisition on Size and Socio-Economic Status

Hand with megaphoneHello from Nashville, Tennessee! I’m currently at the National 8(a) Association’s Winter Conference and had the privilege of participating in a great panel discussion with some of the leading small business scholars and practitioners in the country. It was truly a great experience. Since I’m here and it’s fresh on my mind, I thought I’d share something that all SDVOSBs should know: Your world is about to change.

Continue Reading National 8(a) Winter Conference – Changes Coming for SDVOSBs

This article was originally published by Law360 on December 16, 2015.

In the past year, the Small Business Administration has issued proposed rules that will likely result in major regulatory changes. Some of the most important changes are those relating to its mentor-protege program, and the performance of work requirements for prime contractors. The proposed rules affecting these areas have the potential to substantially alter the landscape of small business contracting in 2016.

Continue Reading Small Business Contracting May Be Very Different in 2016

It’s been an eventfulNovember wooden blocks with many-coloured pumpkins and decor against an old wood background November for the Federal Government’s VOSB/SDVOSB programs.  First, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) issued a proposed rule outlining changes that would drastically change the manner in which eligibility requirements are analyzed (you can read about it here). Now, Congress is proposing additional changes to the VOSB and SDVOSB verification process.  Continue Reading Additional Changes Concerning VOSB/SDVOSB Verification?

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Listen up, VOSBs and SDVOSBs!  Major changes are in store for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ VOSB/SDVOSB program.

On November 6, 2015, the VA issued a proposed rule, which could drastically change the way the two eligibility requirements for VOSBs and SDVOSBs are interpreted.  The VA explained the changes as follows:  Continue Reading VA Proposes Changes to VOSB/SDVOSB Regulations, Aims for Consistency with COFC Ruling in Cohen Seglias’ Miles Construction Case

Please join us on NoveNVSBE logomber 18th and 19th for Maria Panichelli’s three seminars at the 2015 National Veterans Small Business Engagement in Pittsburgh, PA. To view the dates and times of Maria’s seminars, and to register, visit the NVSBE website Continue Reading The 2015 National Veterans Small Business Engagement

The SBA is on a roll!  It seems that ringing in the new year has invigorated the agency, prompting it to act on the various outstanding directives set forth in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (“NDAA”).

Game_Changer

Last Thursday, the agency issued its long-awaited proposed rule on the expansion of the Mentor-Protégé Program.  There were also proposed changes impacting the 8(a), HUBZone, and other small business programs. We gave you a sneak preview of that rule here, the day before it was issued.  In addition to those proposed mentor-protégé changes, the SBA also recently rolled out a second proposed rule ,which included various changes to the small business regulations. Over the next several weeks, we will provide you with our take on various aspects of these two proposed rules. For purposes of this article, though, we’re going to focus on the changes to the affiliation regulations set forth in the December 29, 2014 proposed rule.  These proposed changes would fundamentally alter the SBA’s analysis regarding the “ostensible subcontractor” rule, economic dependence, and “identify of interest” affiliation.

The rule proposes that a small business would be exempt from ostensible subcontractor affiliation where it subcontracts with a “similarly situated entity.”  In fact, the rule proposes a complete overhaul of contractor performance requirements set forth in 13 C.F.R § 125.6.  Rather than mandate the percentage of work a prime must perform, the revised 125.6(a) limits how much work a prime can subcontract to other contractors, a subtle but important distinction.  Subcontracts issued to “similarly situated entities” are not counted toward the subcontracting limit. For example, under the proposed rule, an 8(a) contractor performing a general construction contract cannot subcontract more than 85% of the contract work to non-8(a) entities.  Similarly, a SDVOSB prime contractor cannot subcontract more than 75% of a specialty construction contract to non-SDVOSB concerns. In these examples, the required 15% or 25% of the work would have to be performed by either the prime itself, or by the prime in combination with a “similarly situated entity” – i.e. a concern that is eligible for the same small business program as the prime.  Strangely enough, the language of the revised regulation does not require any of the work to be self-performed by the prime, so long as the requisite percentage is performed by a combination of the prime and entities that are “similarly situated.”  Consistent with this concept, the proposed revision to §125.6(b) creates an exception to ostensible subcontractor affiliation for prime contractors who subcontract in this manner.  The revised rule would ensure that a prime that subcontracts a majority of its work will not be “affiliated” with its subcontractors, so long as its subcontractors are “similarly situated.”

The second major change to affiliation is the adoption of a bright line test based on economic dependence. Pursuant to the proposed rule (to be inserted at 13 CFR 121.103(f)(2)), if a concern derives 70% or more of its revenue from another company over a fiscal year, the SBA will presume that the concern is economically dependent on that company, and, therefore, that the two businesses are affiliated.  It is not entirely clear from the language of the rule itself whether this will be considered a rebuttable presumption.  But an SBA representative who spoke about the proposed rule last week at the National 8(a) Association’s Winter Conference indicated that it would be rebuttable.

The third major affiliation change set forth in the proposed rule relates to “identity of interest” affiliation under 13 CFR 121.103(f).  In its current form, the regulation provides that:

Affiliation may arise among two or more persons with an identity of interest. Individuals or firms that have identical or substantially identical business or economic interests (such as family members, individuals or firms with common investments, or firms that are economically dependent through contractual or other relationships) may be treated as one party with such interests aggregated. Where SBA determines that such interests should be aggregated, an individual or firm may rebut that determination with evidence showing that the interests deemed to be one are in fact separate.

However, the current rule does not identify what types of family members are subject to the presumption identified in the rule.  The proposed rule would clarify this.  The revised regulation would state, in relevant part:

Firms owned or controlled by married couples, parties to a civil union, parents and children, and siblings are presumed to be affiliated with each other if they conduct business with each other, such as subcontracts or joint ventures or share or provide loans, resources, equipment, locations or employees with one another. This presumption may be overcome by showing a clear line of fracture between the concerns. Other types of familial relationships are not grounds for affiliation on family relationships.

This will certainly make it easier for contractors to tell if they are venturing into dangerous territory when doing business with a family member.

It is very important to keep in mind that these are just proposed changes.  The final rule may vary, so pay attention.  Comments to the rule are due February 27, 2015.  We will keep you posted on the status of the final rule.

Edward T. DeLisle is a Partner in the firm and a member of the Federal Contracting Practice Group. Ed frequently advises contractors on federal contracting matters including bid protests, claims and appeals, procurement issues, small business issues and dispute resolution.

Maria L. Panichelli is an Associate in the firm’s Federal Contracting Practice Group. Her practice includes a wide variety of federal contracting and construction matters, as well as all aspects of small business procurement.

You probably already know about set-aside programs offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), but did you know that provisions in your corporate governance documents could ruin your eligibility for those programs? Ed DeLisle and Maria Panichelli’s new article for Onvia covers critical corporate governance provisions that could potentially destroy your status under the VA’s new guidelines. “Three Provision Pitfalls in Small Business Corporate Governance Documents” contains critical information and the most problematic governance provisions for Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned and Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB/ VOSB) including definitional clauses or clauses dealing with authority, supermajority provisions and involuntary transfer provisions as well as limitations on transfer provisions. Learn more in the full article below:

The federal government offers a multitude of programs designed to assist small businesses. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is certainly at the forefront of such programs, but it is not the only agency. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ (VA) has created a very popular program of its own for Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned and Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB/ VOSB). Many contractors generally know about the benefits of participating in these programs. Some may even know about the applicable eligibility requirements. But what many contractors don’t know is that provisions in their corporate governance documents could destroy their eligibility for such programs. This article seeks to educate contractors about the three most common provisions affecting small business program eligibility.

The federal government’s Small Business Programs – the SBA’s 8(a)HUBZone,
VOSB/SDVOSB and WOSB/EDWOSB Programs, as well as the VA’s VOSB/SDVOSB Program – share certain eligibility requirements. Specifically, in addition to the threshold requirement of being a “small” business, each program requires at least 51% “unconditional ownership,” as well as “unconditional control,” of that business by particular individuals. For example, a veteran or service-disabled veteran has to unconditionally own at least 51% of a company and unconditionally control that company in order for that company to be considered a VOSB or SDVOSB, respectively. Similarly, a woman or an economically disadvantaged woman needs to unconditionally own and control a business if that business wishes to be considered an eligible WOSB or EDWOSB.

Figuring out who must have ownership and control of the concern is the easy part: Definition sections of the applicable regulations are found here: 13 C.F.R. §§§ 124.01124.03 and 124.04  for 8(a) businesses; 13 C.F.R. § 126.200 for HUBZone concerns; 13 C.F.R. Part 125  for the SBA VOSB/SDVOSB program; 38 C.F.R. § 74.2 for the VA VOSB/SDVOSB program; and 13 C.F.R. §§ 127.102 and 127.200 for the WOSB/EDWOSB program. The difficult part is figuring out how the definitions are defined: How must these individuals own and control the company? The regulations tell us that ownership and control must be unconditional. But what does unconditional really mean? Said a different way, under what circumstances do these agencies consider ownership or control to be conditional? That is where trouble often lurks. Many times, a finding of conditional ownership or control is based on a provision or requirement found in a company’s operating agreement, shareholder’s agreement or by-laws. Several of the most problematic provisions are discussed below.

1) Definitional Clauses or Clauses Dealing with Authority

Corporate governance documents almost always contain a provision outlining who the members or owners are, or defining who will manage the entity. While these provisions are not problematic per se, they can cause issues when roles are not clearly defined or authority appears to be shared.

Example
The powers of the Company shall be exercised by or under the authority of, and the business and affairs of the Company shall be managed under the direction of, one or more managers. The Manager(s) shall be: Jane Doe, John Doe and Yogi Berra.

The problem with this clause is that it gives the impression that all three of these individuals have equal decision-making authority. What if Mr. Berra is the majority owner, and the service-disabled veteran upon whom the company’s SDVOSB eligibility depends? This provision, as written, would seem to indicate that he does not have ultimate authority over the company but, rather, shares control with the other two managers. Even if the corporate governance document otherwise demonstrates that Yogi is the 66% owner, or specifies that no decision can be made by the company without Yogi’s approval, the SBA and VA could very well question whether unconditional control exists based upon this clause. For that reason, it often makes more sense to name only the majority owner(s), upon whom eligibility depends, as managers or managing members. The remaining individuals can be given other titles.

2) Supermajority Provisions

As the name indicates, supermajority provisions are provisions that require an ownership vote of more than a simple majority to effectuate material change.

Example
Removal of Members: Members may be removed from the LLC by an affirmative vote of more the 66% of the LLC members.

The problem with these types of provisions is that they can divest a majority owner of his or her power to unconditionally control the company. Consider the following example: Bob, a service disabled veteran, owns 51% of Bob’s Electric Company, LLC and has applied for SDVOSB verification through the VA. The operating agreement contains a supermajority provision which requires at least a 2/3 vote to remove a member. Because Bob owns only 51%, he cannot, without the consent of other members, effectuate this change. In other words, Bob does not have unfettered authority to remove another member on his own. Therefore, in the eyes of the VA, Bob does not unconditionally control his company and Bob’s Electric is not a legitimate SDVOSB. For this reason, supermajority provisions should be avoided if a business wishes to participate in the Small Business Programs. The sole exception is if the majority owner owns more than is required under the supermajority provision (using the example above, this would mean Bob owned 67% or more) and therefore, could effectuate change without the consent of the minority owners.

3) Involuntary Transfer Provisions and Limitations on Transfer Provisions

Involuntary transfer provisions encompass an array of provisions, each of which operates to divest an owner of his or her ownership interest without consent. Common examples include a transfer upon insolvency or bankruptcy, a transfer upon criminal conviction or a transfer upon incapacity or death.

Example
Transfer Upon Insolvency:
 Upon the insolvency of any member, that member must transfer his or her shares to the other member at a price determined by [document pricing provisions].

Similarly, limitations on transfer provisions prevent a member or shareholder from freely transferring his or her ownership interest. Some examples include provisions that provide for a right of first refusal (i.e., a requirement that the selling or transferring member/shareholder must offer to sell his or her interests to other members/shareholders before any other individual or entity) or provisions that require consent of other members before a sale of ownership interest can be made.

Example
Restrictions on Transfer:
 No Member shall sell, assign, pledge, give or otherwise transfer or encumber in any manner or by any means whatsoever, any interest in a Membership Interest whether now owned or hereafter acquired without having obtained the prior written consent of all of the members of the Company.

The SBA and VA commonly view provisions like this as placing “conditions” on ownership. In the agencies’ view, if an owner can be divested of its ownership without his or her consent, or if an owner does not have unfettered freedom to sell his or her ownership interest, that owner does unconditionally own the company. That said, in a 2013 case litigated by our firm, the Court of Federal Claims ruled that in certain cases, rights of first refusal are permissible, and do not render an owner’s control as conditional. However, it is important to keep in mind that the COFC’s decision in that case addressed VA regulations that pertain to SDVOSBs under that program only. It is not entirely clear if the SBA’s similarly-worded regulations would be interpreted in the same way. For this reason, and just to be safe, it is probably a better idea to exclude these types of provisions altogether.

Conclusion

The provisions identified here are not the only provisions that can cause eligibility issues — but contractors who learn to avoid these three common pitfalls will be way ahead of the game! Of course, the advice in this article represents general guidelines only and each company must assess for itself how best to draft its corporate governance documents. Drafting an operating agreement, shareholders agreement or by-laws that simultaneously address all of the company’s needs, balance the interests of the various owners, and comply with all relevant SBA and VA regulations can be a daunting task. If contractors have any questions about how to draft the best corporate governance documents for their company, the best course of action is to contact a legal professional to assist.

Edward T. DeLisle is a Partner in the firm and a member of the Federal Contracting Practice Group. Ed frequently advises contractors on federal contracting matters including bid protests, claims and appeals, procurement issues, small business issues and dispute resolution.

Maria L. Panichelli is an Associate in the firm’s Federal Contracting Practice Group. Her practice includes a wide variety of federal contracting and construction matters, as well as all aspects of small business procurement.

My firm is a big supporter of the National 8(a) Association and a proud sponsor of its Winter Conference, which is taking place right now in Orlando, Florida. I just left a presentation given by the SBA and several other SBA experts and found out that the SBA will finally issue its new proposed regulations governing the Mentor-Protege Program.

breaking news

The proposed regulations follow the Jobs Act of 2010 and the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, where Congress asked the SBA to expand the Program to firms other than 8(a) companies. There has been much speculation over the last several years regarding what this overhaul would look like. Well, we’re about to find out. Here are some highlights that I learned today:

First, the SBA is going to create two distinct and different Mentor-Protege Programs, one for 8(a) companies and one for other small businesses. The one designed for other small businesses will be geared to servicing SDVOSBs, HUBZone companies, WOSBs and small businesses, generally. Mentors will still have to demonstrate good financial health, among other things, to qualify as a mentor, but there were indications during today’s presentation that the new regulations would better define the meaning of “good financial health.” For Protégés, it appears as if the proposed regulations will make it easier to qualify. If you are a participant in any of the small business programs covered by the proposed regulation, you can be a protege.

The most important aspect to the proposed rule may be the following: all companies who become Mentor and Protege through the revamped program will be able to take advantage of the exclusion from affiliation. Many speculated that this exclusion might remain with the 8(a) Mentor-Protege Program and not extend to those newly covered by the revised regulations. That does not appear to be the case. All companies will benefit from the exclusion.

There are many more changes coming as part of the proposed rules. Once they are issued on Thursday, we will share our thoughts with you.

Edward T. DeLisle is a Partner in the firm and a member of the Federal Contracting Practice Group. Ed frequently advises contractors on federal contracting matters including bid protests, claims and appeals, procurement issues, small business issues and dispute resolution.

Join partners Michael Payne and Ed DeLisle at the 2015 National 8(a) Association Winter Conference in Orlando, Florida for their presentation, “How to Effectively Team on a Federal Project.” In this discussion, Michael and Ed will explore the importance of well-crafted teaming agreements and how they are viewed by courts of various jurisdictions. They will also explore the practical implications of negotiating terms from both the prime and subcontractor perspectives, as well as cover the nuts and bolts of executing teaming arrangements on federal projects. For more information, or to register, please visit the National 8(a) Association website.

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Cohen Seglias is a proud sponsor of the 2015 National 8(a) Association Winter Conference, which focuses on the federal, legal and business updates that impact the ever-changing world of federal contracting. This year’s conference will be held in conjunction with the TRIAD Winter Meeting, bringing over 85 additional Small Business Liaison Officers to the National 8(a) conference attendees.

With more than 500 companies and key government stakeholders represented, this is an event you can’t afford to miss!

Michael H. Payne is the Chairman of the firm’s Federal Contracting Practice Group and, together with other experienced members of the group, frequently advises contractors on federal contracting matters including bid protests, claims and appeals, procurement issues, small business issues, and dispute resolution.

Edward T. DeLisle is a Partner in the firm and a member of the Federal Contracting Practice Group. Ed frequently advises contractors on federal contracting matters including bid protests, claims and appeals, procurement issues, small business issues and dispute resolution.