There are a bunch of things that happen pretty regularly in Washington that would probably outrage the average citizen but which both political parties don’t really care much about. One example is the constant awarding of federal “small business” contracts to megacorporations. Defenders of the practice point out that the government has a small business contracting “target,” not a requirement. (The target is 23 percent, but although it awards many of the “small business” contracts to businesses that aren’t actually small, the government misses that goal anyway.) They also argue that some contracts are just too complicated or sensitive to be carried out by small businesses. But that doesn’t make it sting any less when a Fortune 500 company like Bechtel Bettis is awarded an $128 million “small business” contract.
The contract in question seems to be for the Energy Department’s Pittsburgh Naval Reactors Office, which is associated with the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, which is basically a joint DOE-Bechtel venture. (This isn’t unusual. The public and private sector are inextricably intertwined throughout much of America’s defense infrastructure. The people who work at the Bettis lab are Bechtel employees, not federal employees.)
Anyway, none of this is a good excuse for counting the deal as a “small business” contract. Sure, it could be an error, but it’s probably not: In recent months, other “small business” contracts have gone to General Dynamics, Xerox, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, British Aerospace (BAE), and Dell, according to the American Small Business League. Maybe it’s too much to ask that the federal government not rely on big corporate contractors for this kind of work. But it shouldn’t be so hard for them to be honest about it.