WASHINGTON – Sen. Lisa Murkowsi, R-Alaska, is once again showing that she is not shy to defend a popular Alaska Native and tribal contracting program. In a new interview with the Associated Press, the senator said she does not believe there is enough support in Congress to pass legislation that would rid Alaska Native Corporations and tribes of advantages they receive in securing federal contracts.
Murkowsi said that new, tighter oversight rules governing a Small Business Administration program meant to benefit American Indians and Alaska Natives should be allowed to work, rather than target the ANCs, as a bill sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, would do if it became law.
McCaskill’s bill, S.236, has already been referred to the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, but Murkowsi said it does too much without allowing new regulations to take root. The Alaska senator said she agrees that there has been a need for reforms to the SBA’s 8(a) program, which provides special status to for Alaska Native Corporations and tribes—a special status that some, including McCaskill, say allows for federal contracting abuse.
“Let’s see if these regulations that have been promulgated, how they provide for that level of accountability that we’re all looking for,” Murkowski told the AP.
Murkowsi has predicted in the past that McCaskill’s bill will fail. The legislation would strip ANCs of contracts with no monetary caps under the SBA program, which is designed to help small disadvantaged firms, including those run by tribes and Hawaii Natives. McCaskill, a former state auditor, has said only a small portion of ANC profits are reaching their tribal shareholders.
“The regulations do not crack down on creation of subsidiaries by ANCs and don’t require that ANCs prove economic or social disadvantage as other 8(a) participants,” McCaskill spokeswoman Maria Speiser told the AP. “McCaskill’s legislation would put ANCs on equal footing with other 8(a) participants.”
Under McCaskill’s bill, ANCs would still be eligible to participate in the SBA program, but they would no longer receive benefits “ushered through Congress two decades ago by then-Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens,” according to the report. As the AP reported, “the ANCs would have to qualify under the same rules as other program participants, such as being designated as socially disadvantaged businesses and managed by equally disadvantaged individuals. The corporations also would have to meet size requirements. The corporations would be able to receive no-bid contracts with $5.5 million caps for goods and $3.5 million for services. Larger contracts would require that they compete.”
The new, stricter rules at SBA already address many of the concerns, Murkowsi said, and they should be given time to show results. “What we have allowed American Indians and Alaska Natives the benefit of with 8(a) opportunity is to gain a level of self-sufficiency, self-determination, which is what this is really all about,” Murkowsi said in the interview. “Give them the opportunity to go out there and participate in this world of commerce, earn those revenues that can come back to them and their shareholders.”