Competency Determinations: The SBA’s COC Program

government contracts

Certificate of Competency Program

As part of its procurement assistance efforts, the Small Business Administration (SBA) conducts reviews of prospective contractors to assist them with obtaining an award through its certificate of competency (COC) program.

The Small Business Act provides that it is the SBA’s duty to certify to government procurement officers with respect to all the elements of contractor responsibility. The SBA’s implementing regulations specifically require a contracting officer to refer a small business concern to SBA for a COC when the contracting officer refuses to consider a small business concern for award of a contract or order after evaluating the concern’s offer on a non-comparative basis under one or more responsibility type evaluation factors.

When the small business applies for a certificate of competency, SBA specialists conduct a detailed review of the firm’s capabilities to perform on the contract. If the business demonstrates the ability to perform, the SBA issues a COC to the contracting officer requiring the award (or further consideration for award) of that specific contract to the small business.

In the Matter of Competitive Range Solutions, LLC, GAO, B-413104

When contracting officers fail to refer an applicable case to the SBA for a COC, it can be grounds for protest. In the above mentioned recent GAO decision, Competitive Range Solutions, LLC (CRS) protested on the grounds that the agency’s reasons for exclusion of its proposal from consideration amounted to a non-responsiblity determination thereby triggering a COC review. The agency argued that its decision to remove CRS from further consideration for award was based not on the firm’s capability to perform, but on its failure to submit an adequate proposal offer.

The GAO disagreed and sustained the protest finding the agency’s decision to exclude CRS from possible award was because it determined that it did not meet a core factor of responsibility, which was a non-comparative factor under the solicitation. The GAO recommend a referral to the SBA for a COC and if favorable that the agency consider CRS for award. The GAO also recommended the agency reimburse CRS for its costs in pursuing the protest.


As demonstrated by this bid protest, the SBA’s certificate of competency program and an agency’s failure to follow the procedures that implement it can be vital to a small business concern’s ability to participate in the federal marketplace, especially those that are newly entering into the federal procurement arena. This program allows a small business to appeal a contracting officer’s determination that it is unable to fulfill the requirements of a specific government contract on which it is the apparent low bidder. It helps ensure that small businesses are given a fair opportunity to compete for and receive government contracts. As such, small business contractors should familiarize themselves with the COC procedures and be aware of any failure to adhere to these rules so as to take action to correct the procurement.

Kristi Morgan AronicaKristi Morgan Aronica, Government Contracts Attorney