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Amata’s Small Business HUBZone bill passes House

Congresswoman Amata speaking to the House
Source: Media release from Cong.Uifaatali Amata's office



Washington, D.C. — Thursday, December 02,2020 — Congresswoman Uifaatali Amata spoke on the House floor in support of her bipartisan small business bill, which was passed by the full House and sent to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

In September, Congresswoman Amata introduced the bipartisan bill in collaboration with Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pennsylvania). The Parity for HUBZone Appeals Act (H.R. 8229) directs the Small Business Administration (SBA) to authorize the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) to hear HUBZone appeals.

The Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) federal contracting program assists small businesses in economically disadvantaged areas (HUBZone qualified areas) by providing them with better access to federal contracting opportunities. The business must meet eligibility criteria in order to be HUBZone-certified. For instance, effectively all of American Samoa is a HUBZone-qualified area under those requirements. This change would increase objectivity and transparency for small businesses upon appeal.

“The HUBZone program can help level the playing field for small businesses in remote or economically challenged areas, including American Samoa,” said Congresswoman Aumua Amata. “This bill makes processing small business appeals more transparent and even-handed. Thank you to the House for passing our bill, and Congresswoman Houlahan for working with me to establish these principles of fairness for small businesses.”

Currently, a final appeal of a HUBZone business’s status in the program goes to the Associate Administrator of the Office of Government Contracting & Business Development (GCBD), which also oversees the program office that signs off on the certifications. Yet, OHA already hears status protests or appeals regarding a company’s eligibility in the program for all of the other SBA contracting programs, except for the current HUBZone program, which this bill rectifies.

This change would eliminate conflict or appearance of conflict by removing oversight of the appeals from the entity that issues those HUBZone certifications.

•                OHA is a separate body from the offices that issue certifications, making it a more appropriate and objective venue to process status inquiries.

•                It makes sense for both the SBA and taxpayers to have all appeals heard under one roof. OHA already handles appeals for the WOSB (women-owned small business), and SDVOSB (service-disabled veteran-owned small business) programs, and eligibility determinations for the 8(a) program, and under this common sense reform, would take on HUBZone appeals.

•                OHA offers more transparency, to the benefit of the public and small businesses. OHA’s decisions are published online and searchable, providing a clear “paper trail.”

Congresswoman Amata’s House Remarks:

“Thank you, Ranking Member Chabot, for yielding time. I rise in support of H.R. 8229, the Parity for HUBZone Appeals Act of 2020. I would like to thank Ms. Houlahan for her collaboration on this important legislation. 

The SBA’s various small business contracting programs support different types of entrepreneurs, from women and service-disabled veterans to minorities and the economically disadvantaged, by providing these businesses with special federal contracting preferences.  Whether a business holds a specific status is critical in determining whether that company is eligible to compete for these special contract opportunities.  Not only does the business have a vested interest in obtaining and maintaining its status, but the federal government also has an interest in making sure these special contracts are not awarded to fraudulent firms. 

If a company is suspected to be ineligible for a status it claims to hold, an interested party can protest the firm’s status.  Currently, for Historically Underutilized Business Zone, or HUBZone-qualified small businesses, the final arbiter of a firm’s special HUBZone status is the Associate Administrator of the Office of Government Contracting and Business Development, or AA-GCBD.  This differs significantly from SBA’s other federal contracting programs, in which the SBA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, or OHA, is the final decision-maker of a firm’s protested status.  OHA, unlike the AA-GCBD, is an independent office of the SBA.   Leaving the appeal decision to the AA-GCBD raises questions of conflict of interest, whereas housing that process at OHA will ensure the decision remains separate and independent from any influence. 

Furthermore, the AA-GCBD has many competing priorities and responsibilities in overseeing all the SBA’s federal contracting programs.  In contrast, OHA administrative judges are primarily tasked with adjudicating similar types of appeals and thus are well trained and well versed in making educated decisions objectively and impartially.  Thus, passage of this bill means that small businesses will have a greater chance of having a fair and knowledgeable assessment of their case. 

Finally, the AA-GCBD’s appeals decisions are currently made in a vacuum; there is no visibility into the reasons why a decision was reached.  In contrast, all of OHA’s decisions are published online and easily searchable.  These opinions are critical for small businesses to obtain a greater understanding of the rules surrounding their eligibility.  Therefore, shifting the responsibility to hear HUBZone appeals to OHA will provide the public with much-needed guidance and transparency.    

In sum, H.R. 8229 will bring greater parity, fairness, and transparency between the SBA’s HUBZone program and its other federal contracting programs.  I urge my colleagues to support this commonsense legislation and I yield back.”

See video of speech below.