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Certificates of Competency

The Certificate of Competency (COC) program allows a small business to appeal a contracting officer's determination that it is unable to fulfill the requirements of a specific government contract on which it is the apparent low bidder. When the small business applies for a COC, SBA industrial and financial specialists conduct a detailed review of the firm's capabilities to perform on the contract. If the business demonstrates the ability to perform, the SBA issues a COC to the contracting officer requiring the award of that specific contract to the small business.

SBA's procurement assistance effort is greatly strengthened by the COC program. The COC program helps ensure that small businesses, especially those which are newly entering into the federal procurement arena, are given a fair opportunity to compete for and receive government contracts.

The Appeal Process

SBA is authorized by the Congress to certify as to a small company's "capability, competency, credit, integrity, perseverance and tenacity" to perform a specific government contract. If a contracting officer proposes to reject the offer of a small business firm which is a low offeror because of questions related to the firm's ability to perform the contract on any of the above grounds, the case is referred to SBA.

SBA personnel then contact the company to inform it of the impending decision, and to offer the firm an opportunity to apply to SBA for a COC, which, if granted, would require award of the contract to the firm in accordance with the Small Business Act. SBA may also, at its discretion, issue a COC in connection with the sale of federal property if the responsibility (capacity, credit, integrity, tenacity and perseverance) of the purchaser is questioned.

Who is Part of the COC Program?

The COC program is carried out by a specialized SBA field staff of individuals with technical, engineering, and government procurement backgrounds in cooperation with financial specialists, also of the field organization. Upon receipt of a COC application, the SBA notifies the contracting officer of the purchasing agency that the prospective contractor has applied, and a team of financial and technical personnel surveys the firm’s potential for the specific acquisition in question. During the evaluation, SBA considers credit ratings, past performance, management capabilities, management schedules, and the prospects for obtaining needed financial help or equipment.

The team's findings are presented to a COC Review Committee composed of legal, technical and financial representatives, which makes a detailed review of the case and recommends approval or disapproval.

  • If the decision is negative, the firm and the purchasing agency are so informed
  • If the decision is affirmative, a letter certifying the responsibility of the firm to perform the contract (the Certificate of Competency) is sent to the purchasing agency.

By the terms of the Small Business Act, the COC is conclusive on questions of responsibility, and the contract is awarded.

The COC and the Contract

A COC is valid only for the specific contract for which it is issued. A business concern which is capable of handling one contract may not be qualified to handle another. Each case is considered separately, and each case is considered only if and after the contracting officer has made a negative determination of responsibility or eligibility. Firms may not apply for a COC until a contracting officer makes a non-responsibility determination and refers the matter to the SBA.


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