The challenges and difficulties for the small business in government contracting are not so much in the areas of barriers as they are in lack of knowledge (which I concede is a form of barrier but one that can be dealt with).
Large business and government agencies take advantage of the small enterprise lack of knowledge or make poor assumptions regarding what a small business knows about the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and associated Cost Accounting Standards (CAS). This leads directly to abusive practices.
A prime example of an abusive practice is large corporations signing teaming agreements during proposal efforts and then not awarding subcontracts to the small enterprise as agreed, keeping the majority of work for themselves.
Agencies take forever these days to put in place actual prime contracts after source selections and award to a small business. They do not realize that a small enterprise does not have deep pockets and must have cash flow to sustain a new program with new employees.
Funding levels on IDIQ and Omnibus programs are insufficiently committed and the small enterprise is not adequately informed about limitation of funds and funding exposure.
Managing Government Contract Limitation of Funds and Funding Exposure
I have seen enough small businesses succeed in the government contracting field that I am convinced that the government needs more active roles in education of the small enterprise and more trained contracting officers that understand the limitations of a small business.
The most common traumatic situation I encounter is with newly established businesses who have won their first government contract and have no CAS compliant job cost accounting system in place to bill it out. The government has assumed that capability will materialize and when it does not they audit the bills, find no backup and shut down the cash flow until the system is fixed. At that point the business can fail. The company should have been educated much earlier in the process about these requirements.
What Small Business Should Know About FAR and CAS
The number of poorly performing SETA contractors in roles not suited to them in contract administration support is increasing in federal agencies. These firms need to be vetted and better managed for the omissions and commissions they contribute to the above.
Is Federal Government System Engineering and Technical Assistance (SETA) Contracting for You?
Not every small enterprise can get into a class on government contracting at George Washington University, The Defense Acquisition University or send their personnel to lengthy and costly seminars conducted by organizations like the National Contract Management Association. These are great education sources but do not come close to filling the complete requirement and they cost time and money.
The contracting officer and his staff as well as larger enterprises need to be upgraded in the skills necessary to guide - not abuse - the small business in federal government contracting.