On April 7, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs heard a parade of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal and business leaders urging Congress to protect Native participation in the Small Business Administration section 8(a) government contracting program.
Lance Morgan, chairman of the Native American Contractors Association (NACA) and president and chief executive of Ho-Chunk, Inc., the economic development arm of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Nebraska, told Congress that tribes are just now starting to benefit from the federal contracting marketplace “after being left out, locked out, and elbowed out for decades.”
“The Native 8(a) program has resulted in just what Congress intended—building stronger Native communities that have been [previously] devastated by economic distress,” Morgan said.
NACA reported in February that new regulations by the SBA “could significantly impact” Indian participation in the 8(a) program. It also quoted Eric Trevan, president of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development as saying the National Defense Authorization Act, enacted in 2010, “adds an additional layer of scrutiny on any large sole-source contract to a Native 8 (a).”
Larry Hall, a member of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes of Montana, told the committee how the 8(a) program was instrumental in his successful firm, S&K Electronics, Inc. (he serves as president and general manager of the firm), helping it to grow from 35 employees to more than 100. “That’s over 100 jobs for our people that didn’t exist before 8(a),” he said.
Morgan told the committee that the 8(a) was extended to tribes in the 1980s, and the Laguna Pueblo of New Mexico was the first to gain the designation. “Now, hundreds of Native 8(a)s are at work, vying for federal contracts with over a hundred thousand other federal contractors and with each other.”
He pointed out that Native enterprises received just 1.3 percent of all federal contracts in 2007, and even fewer in the controversial “sole-source” contracts.
He said that on his own Nebraska reservation, the 8(a) has helped Ho-Chunk, Inc. provide more than $96 million to benefit the tribe.
This includes Ho-Chunk Village, “a modern, mixed-use commercial/residential development with walking and bike paths, parks and cultural landmarks.” Ho-Chunk has also provided funds for affordable housing on the reservation, adding 20 additional home owners. A new fire truck, entrepreneur training, educational programs for tribal youth and other community activities have also been provided.
In Alaska, Morgan said a NACA survey of 11 Alaska Native Corporations involved in the SBA program showed that between 2000 and 2008 these ANCs “provided over $530 million in various categories of benefits to more than 67,000 Native shareholders.”
Julie E. Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, admitted to the committee “there have been isolated instances of abuse or lapses in judgment by some involved in the 8(a) program. We do not condone such abuses or lapses and are committed to helping ensure they are not repeated.”
She noted that the regulatory changes include “changes in the joint venture requirements, require more assistance from mentors in the mentor-protégé relationship, and require greater reporting on the benefits to Native members and communities resulting from 8(a) contracts, including the reporting of dividends, funding of cultural programs, employment and other programs.”
She said the new regulations should be given a chance to work before further action is taken.