Small and Disadvantaged Businesses:

Most Agency Advocates View Their Roles Similarly

GAO-04-451: Published: Mar 22, 2004. Publicly Released: Apr 22, 2004.

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The Small Business Act is one of several laws designed to enhance the participation of small and disadvantaged businesses in federal procurement--a market that reached more than $200 billion in fiscal year 2002. Section 15(k) of the act requires that all federal agencies with procurement powers establish an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) and specifies eight functions that OSDBU directors are responsible for carrying out in their roles as advocates for small businesses. GAO surveyed OSDBU directors at 24 agencies to obtain information on the extent to which the respondents (1) viewed the functions listed in section 15(k) as functions of their offices, (2) viewed other potential activities as OSDBU duties, and (3) saw potential challenges to carrying out their functions.

At least 19 OSDBU directors, or almost 80 percent, said that they viewed five of the eight functions identified in section 15(k) as their duties. A smaller majority of OSDBU directors (from 13 to 17) viewed the remaining three functions as responsibilities of their offices. However, the extent to which respondents said they carried out these functions varied. Directors who did not view all of the functions as responsibilities of their offices provided explanations. For example, the OSDBU directors at the Departments of the Army and the Navy explained that their role is one of developing policy for small business programs at their agencies. Most of the OSDBU directors responded that they also viewed functions other than those listed in section 15(k) as their responsibilities. These functions included outreach activities, such as holding meetings and hosting conferences for small businesses and trade associations, and reviewing plans for how prime contractors would use small businesses as subcontractors. A much smaller number of respondents reported that they viewed participating in their agencies' procurement process as one of their duties. While most OSDBU directors reported experiencing few challenges in carrying out their responsibilities, some reported challenges in three areas--lack of influence in the procurement process, limited budgetary resources, and lack of adequate staffing levels.

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