Tester Unveils Legislation to Help Small Business

By Beacon Staff

BOZEMAN – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester unveiled legislation Friday that he says will help small businesses in Montana land federal work contracts.

The Democrat, speaking during a small business workshop in Bozeman, became involved in federal contracting last year after news that stimulus money targeted for the state was being given to large, multinational, preselected companies to build five border ports along the Montana-Canada border.

Tester’s bill, which he said would be introduced in the next week or so, is meant to restrict most federal agencies from “bundling” large contracts and will require agencies to specify the aesthetic elements they want in a project so bidders aren’t rejected for not including those specifications in their proposals. It also will require the General Services Administration to enforce agreements to hire local subcontractors and improve outreach to small businesses.

“In many cases, the bidding process is set up so it weeds out the little guy,” Tester said. “This will help small business owners cut through the red tape.”

Cary Hegreberg, executive director of the Montana Contractors’ Association, said he supports Tester’s efforts to address a process that favors “large, out-of-state corporations,” saying, “we’re asking for a level playing field.”

He said that often times the criteria to bid on a project is so narrow — such as requiring a firm to have previously constructed projects similar to the proposal — that Montana contractors can’t qualify. He added that some firms also are chosen because an agency has experience with them, even if they aren’t the best choice for the job.