The federal government places great importance on providing opportunities for small, disadvantaged businesses to gain experience and learn how to compete in the federal marketplace. In partnership with the Small Business Administration, GSA is helping the federal government provide a level playing field for small businesses owned by the socially and economically disadvantaged. Competition is intentionally limited on certain contracts to businesses that participate in SBA’s 8(a) Business Development program.
As a small disadvantaged business set-aside that provides flexible access to customized IT services and IT-services based solutions from a large, diverse pool of 8(a) industry partners, 8(a) STARS II has been a critical mission-enabler for agencies. We couldn’t be more proud of our 8(a) partners and their long track record of success. STARS II has exceeded our expectations at every turn and has been increasingly successful in serving the IT solutions needs of the federal government. As a result of the important work that agencies are doing through STARS II, we recently reached the contract’s ceiling for the third time.
Partnering closely with the SBA, GSA took quick action and raised the contract’s ceiling by $7B to $22B. This will help preserve the IT services supplier base during a national crisis, minimize disruption to agencies purchasing during the pandemic, and provide agencies continued access to STARS II until STARS III is available. SBA has been a great partner throughout this process. They see the unprecedented health and economic emergency caused by COVID-19 and how the pandemic is threatening the survival of many small businesses. Sustaining America’s small businesses, and ensuring maximum, practicable opportunity for small businesses, is at the heart of SBA’s mission. Their support was critical in meeting the statutory requirements under the Competition in Contracting Act that made this modification possible.
Without this much-needed increase, no new task orders could have been awarded on STARS II and all businesses on STARS II would have been ineligible for any additional business through this GWAC. The ceiling increase allows each of the 787 businesses on STARS II to continue offering Best-in-Class IT solutions to agency clients through the current contract ordering period ending August 30, 2021.
Unexpected Consequences of Demand
If GSA and SBA had not increased the ceiling, agencies could not have responded to COVID as quickly and none of the STARS II firms would have received new awards. We quickly determined that the only way to help enable a rapid agency response to the pandemic and to protect the industrial base was to increase the ceiling and keep all firms eligible during the response to the crisis.
GSA and SBA only had two viable options to raise the ceiling: 1.) to only allow firms in the SBA 8(a) program (excluding contract holders who had graduated) to receive directed task order awards, or 2.) to raise the ceiling for all industry partners, but reduce the Period of Performance (PoP).
GSA in coordination with SBA determined raising the ceiling and decreasing the PoP to 2 years was the best business decision for several reasons:
- GSA and SBA anticipated the 2-year PoP would permit agencies to respond to the immediate agency needs for the COVID-19 pandemic.
- All of the 8(a) STARS II vendors will now have the opportunity to pursue $7 billion in new business. Approximately 538 vendors have graduated from the 8(a) Program and, thanks to the ceiling increase, are still benefiting from the opportunities on 8(a) STARS II. In addition, the 204 current 8(a) firms and 45 Joint Venture firms also now are able to compete for up to $7 billion in new opportunities.
- A 2-year PoP will allow 8(a) program graduates the opportunity to transition out of the STARS II program. Both GSA and SBA provide a wide variety of training courses and other resources to assist small businesses that have graduated from the 8(a) Program with positioning themselves to win Federal contracts. Examples include training and guidance on finding Federal procurement opportunities, pursuing small business set asides, and becoming a mentor-protege. More information is available at SBA Learning Center and GSA Small Business.
STARS II is a flexible and high-performing contract that agencies need now more than ever as we navigate new ways of providing employee and citizen services. This contract vehicle is doing a lot of good and important work for industry and government during the pandemic and, as a good partner to the 8(a) community, we’re pleased to ensure that it can continue.
For more information, you can view a recording of our recent town hall with industry on the topic of the ceiling increase on YouTube.
What’s Next: The Future of the 8(a) STARS GWAC Program
We are excited to move forward to the next phase of the STARS franchise as we prepare for 8(a) STARS III. The solicitation for 8(a) STARS III was released on July 6, 2020.
We have developed an aggressive solicitation and evaluation timeline to make awards for 8(a) STARS III as soon as possible. The 8(a) STARS III GWAC will continue GSA’s commitment to providing world-class information technology solutions, and also add innovation in the areas of emerging technology and Outside Continental United States (OCONUS).
We expect STARS III to remain a go-to contract vehicle for agencies wanting to work with small, disadvantaged businesses, trusted for responsiveness to the IT solutions demands of our customer agencies.
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