The number of federal agency Sources Sought Notices for small businesses appears to have increased dramatically in recent years. Sources Sought notices for small businesses referenced on the Federal Business Opportunities website FBO.gov rose to 2,610 in fiscal 2014, more than quadruple the 565 counted in fiscal 2004, according to an analysis by Set-Aside Alert.
That is good news for small business owners, because they are often advised to search for, and respond to, Sources Sought Notices that match their capabilities in order to get a foot in the door early in the process as opportunities are developing.
“We are seeing an explosion in Sources Sought Notices,” Gloria Larkin, government contracting consultant, said at a recent industry conference for small business federal contractors. She credited the Obama administration for promoting the sources sought notices to stimulate more buys from small firms. The administration met the 23% small business procurement goal in fiscal 2013 for the first time in eight years.
Numbers trending up
The upward trend in Sources Sought notices and related announcements on FBO.gov has been consistent over the last 10 fiscal years, with a boost in the number every year, according to Set-Aside Alert’s analysis. Our review counted all references to the notices, including modifications and cancellations. The cancellations were relatively few in number.
Sources sought references on FBO.gov grew steadily from 565 in fiscal 2004 to reach 1,297 in fiscal 2008, and continued the upward trend: to 1,639 in fiscal 2009; 1,640 in fiscal 2010; 1,746 in fiscal 2011; 1,864 in fiscal 2012; 2,325 in fiscal 2013 and 2,610 in fiscal 2015. With 1,865 such notices referenced on FBO.gov in the first five months of fiscal 2015 year, the government is on track to possibly hit 3,000 or more such notices this fiscal year.
What are Sources Sought Notices?
Sources Sought Notices, sometimes called Requests for Information, are not solicitations; they are a means for federal agencies to gather information about the market to prepare to meet a mission requirement. Federal agencies publish Sources Sought Notices on the FBO.gov website and other sites to determine if there are two or more small businesses that are capable of meeting the requirement. If two or more capable small businesses respond, then the agency often will create a small business set-aside contract for that requirement. If no small businesses respond, it may go to “full and open” competition, for large and small businesses. If only one small business responds, the solicitation may go to full and open competition, or less commonly, the single small vendor who responded may win a sole-source contract.
Should you expect a response?
Some business owners complain that after they respond to the Sources Sought Notice, they receive no phone calls in return. But Larkin said that’s normal and you should not expect a callback. Sometimes the solicitation is months away, or the agency may change direction and abandon that particular requirement. But other times, you might get a call quickly because the requirement needs to be filled as soon as possible.
That may be especially true in the final quarter of the fiscal year as agencies strain to meet their small business goals with additional year-end buys.
(By Alice Lipowicz, Editor, Set-Aside Alert, June 12, 2015 edition)