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Government Section 8(a) Business Development Program for Disadvantaged Businesses

Filed under Running A Business.

The 8(a) Business Development Program provides on-going personalized business assistance and counseling to certified 8(a) small disadvantaged businesses in expanding their business, fostering profitable business relationships and becoming more effective in both the large business and government sectors.

The 8(a) Business Development Program, like the Small Disadvantaged Business Certification Program, is administered by SBA and designed to help small disadvantaged businesses compete in the American economy.

(Note that companies that are certified as 8(a) firms automatically qualify for SDB certification.)


The 8(a) Business Development Program was named for a section of the Small Business Act. In fiscal year 2003, more than 8,200 firms participated in the 8(a) program and were awarded $9.56 billion in federal contract awards.

In addition to the federal procurement benefits available through the SDB Program, for which 8(a) firms automatically qualify, 8(a) firms receive a broad scope of assistance, including one-on-one assistance and coaching from a Business Opportunity Specialist to help them grow and expand their businesses. Under this program, 8(a) businesses enter into a nine-year partnering relationship with the SBA; a four-year developmental stage and a five-year transition stage.

During the developmental stage, businesses are offered help in expanding their business and fostering meaningful business relationships. During the transitional stage, businesses are helped to become more effective in both the large business and government sector market in dealing with complex business deals and to prepare for post-8(a) program expansion and development.

The overall goal of the program goal is to graduate firms that will go on to thrive in a competitive business environment. To achieve this end, SBA district offices monitor and measure the progress of participants through annual reviews, business planning, and systematic evaluations.

At any time during a firm's term, the SBA may terminate a firm's participation in the 8(a) program for non-compliance with program requirements and regulations.

For requirements on the amount of work that must be performed by the prime contractor in order to be awarded an 8(a) contract, read the details about the Small Business Set-Aside Program.

Benefits of 8(a) Program

In addition to the on-going personal counseling services, the program offers specialized business training, marketing assistance, and high-level executive development provided by the SBA and its resource partners. Businesses may also be eligible for assistance in obtaining access to surplus government property and supplies, SBA-guaranteed loans and bonding assistance.

Moreover, recent regulations permit 8(a) companies to form beneficial teaming partnerships and allow federal agencies to streamline the contracting process. In addition, the recent rules make it easier for non-minority firms to participate by proving their social disadvantage. Specifically:

  • Participants can receive sole-source contracts, up to a ceiling of $3 million for goods and services and $5 million for manufacturing. There is also a limit on the total dollar value of sole-source contracts that an individual participant can receive while in the program: $100 million or five times the value of its primary NAICS code.
  • Federal acquisition policies encourage federal agencies to award a certain percentage of their contracts to SDBs. To speed up the award process, the SBA has signed Memorandums of Understanding with 25 federal agencies allowing them to contract directly with certified 8(a) firms.
  • Recent changes permit 8(a) firms to form joint ventures and teams to bid on contracts. This enhances the ability of 8(a) firms to perform larger prime contracts and overcome the effects of contract bundling (the combining of two or more contracts together into one large contract).

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