Alaska Native Corporations:

Increased Use of Special 8(a) Provisions Calls for Tailored Oversight

GAO-06-874T: Published: Jun 21, 2006. Publicly Released: Jun 21, 2006.

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David E. Cooper
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Alaska Native corporations (ANC) were created to settle land claims with Alaska Natives and foster economic development. In 1986, legislation passed that allowed ANCs to participate in the Small Business Administration's (SBA) 8(a) program. Since then, Congress has extended special procurement advantages to 8(a) ANC firms, such as the ability to receive sole-source contracts for any dollar amount and to own multiple subsidiaries in the 8(a) program. We were asked to testify on an earlier report where we identified (1) trends in the government's 8(a) contracting with ANC firms, (2) the reasons agencies have awarded 8(a) solesource contracts to ANC firms and the facts and circumstances behind some of these contracts, and (3) how ANCs are using the 8(a) program. GAO also evaluated SBA's oversight of 8(a) ANC firms. GAO made recommendations aimed at improving SBA's oversight of 8(a) ANC contracting activity and ensuring that procuring agencies properly oversee 8(a) contracts they award to ANC firms. The procuring agencies generally agreed with our recommendation. SBA expressed concern with aspects of the report and disagreed with several of our recommendations. We believe implementation of our recommendations would provide better oversight of 8(a) ANC contracting activity and provide decision makers with information to know whether the program is operating as intended.

While representing a small amount of total federal procurement spending, obligations for 8(a) contracts to ANC firms increased from $265 million in fiscal year 2000 to $1.1 billion in 2004. Over the 5-year period, agencies obligated $4.6 billion to ANC firms, of which $2.9 billion, or 63 percent, went through the 8(a) program. During this period, six federal agencies--the departments of Defense, Energy, the Interior, State, and Transportation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration--accounted for over 85 percent of 8(a) contracting activity. Obligations for 8(a) sole source contracts by these agencies to ANC firms increased from about $180 million in fiscal year 2000 to about $876 million in fiscal year 2004. ANCs use the 8(a) program as one of many tools to generate revenue with the goal of providing benefits to their shareholders. Some ANCs are heavily reliant on the 8(a) program for revenues, while others approach the program as one of many revenue-generating opportunities. GAO found that some ANCs have increasingly made use of the congressionally authorized advantages afforded to them. One of the key practices is the creation of multiple 8(a) subsidiaries, sometimes in highly diversified lines of business. From fiscal year 1988 to 2005, ANC 8(a) subsidiaries increased from one subsidiary owned by one ANC to 154 subsidiaries owned by 49 ANCs. In general, acquisition officials at the agencies reviewed told GAO that the option of using ANC firms under the 8(a) program allows them to quickly, easily, and legally award contracts for any value. They also noted that these contracts help them meet small business goals. In reviewing selected large sole-source 8(a) contracts awarded to ANC firms, GAO found that contracting officials had not always complied with certain requirements, such as notifying SBA of contract modifications and monitoring the percentage of work that is subcontracted. SBA, which is primarily responsible for implementing the 8(a) program, has not tailored its policies and practices to account for ANCs' unique status and growth in the 8(a) program, even though SBA officials recognize that ANCs enter into more complex business relationships than other 8(a) participants. Areas where SBA's oversight has fallen short include determining whether more than one subsidiary of the same ANC is generating a majority of its revenue in the same primary industry, consistently determining whether awards to 8(a) ANC firms have resulted in other small businesses losing contract opportunities, and ensuring that the partnerships between 8(a) ANC firms and large firms are functioning in the way they were intended.

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