NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry

Setting Aside Set-Asides

Posted on May 13, 2011 by John M Grau

We all like to feel that we operate within a parameter of well-defined values and principles.  Establishing these standards is relatively easy.  Living up to them is another thing.  At some point, we tend to justify exceptions to our rules.

The labor movement in the United States is a strong proponent of “Buy American.” Many NECA-member contractors share that philosophy.  Yet, I often run across the German sports car exception or the French wine exception or other such compromises.

Small businesses are proponents of “free enterprise,” yet we’re not adverse to business licensing or other restricted access to our trade or profession.

My point here is not to be critical but to note that statements of principle are not as clear-cut as we would like them to be.

NECA is currently struggling with its position on business set-asides.  What I’m talking about is federal programs that give special subsidies or preferences to some types of business over others.

NECA has a position against federal procurement set-asides.  The policy adopted by our Board of Governors states that NECA is in favor of the “elimination so far as is practicable of all federal and federally assisted procurement programs or practices which discriminate on the basis of size, race, sex, or business location.” In other words, we believe in open competition on an equal basis.

But what about help for small businesses?  The small business set-aside program has helped a number of our members get their businesses established.  We’ve encouraged government to break up large jobs into smaller packages so our average member can compete against large international constructors.

How about provisions in bid packages that give preferences to local versus traveling contractors?  How do you look at this if you’re one of NECA’s woman-owned enterprises?

See.  It’s not so easy.

How do you view this issue?  Should there be exceptions to the rule and what should they be?  Should we strictly adhere to this position, or is it time to set aside our policy on set-asides?

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NECA Transmissions is a collaborative effort from CEO John Grau and NECA staff to provide insight and feedback on key issues from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry.

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