Making A Difference On The Hill

You don't always need piles of loot to influence legislation

Who says a regular guy can’t influence big-city Washington politics? Certainly not Harrison Boyd, president of the Largo, Maryland-based HBA Management Services Group (MSG). Boyd learned firsthand that initiative and pulling on the right influential ear in Washington can do wonders.

Most entrepreneurs justifiably believe they don’t have the deep pockets to influence legislation on the Hill. But Boyd was forced into action after his livelihood came under attack because of “bundling,” the consolidation of several federal contracts invariably won by larger, often more competitive companies. MSG, which relies heavily on government contracts, offers management consulting and facility management services to federal agencies for data centers and mailrooms, warehouse and reprographics operations. But the proliferation of bundling threatened to lock out smaller firms like his. Boyd estimates he lost more than $1 million worth of business to bundling over a three- to four-year span.

In a situation like this, a suggestion to “call your local congressman” might seem outdated and ineffective–but that’s exactly what Boyd did. His experience as a fundraising organizer in 1993 for Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Maryland) came in handy, and Boyd used his old contacts to his advantage.

Through Boyd’s participation in the National Minority Business Caucus and the Black Presidents Roundtable, he convinced Wynn that a host of small, minority-owned firms were now at risk by bundling because they couldn’t compete with larger corporations scooping up government contracts by the handful.

After investing some time and energy on the subject, Boyd represented Wynn at a 1995 White House Conference on Small Business where he learned just how widespread the bundling situation was. Arming himself with facts and figures as well as anecdotal data from the conference, Boyd met repeatedly with Wynn, who eventually drew up the Small Business Preservation Act of 1997.

Boyd was also present when it was time to negotiate the language of the bill with members of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the Office of Management and Budget, which had their own concerns. “That’s when you find out what kind of tradeoffs have to be made so everyone can get something accomplished,” Boyd says.

Following consideration in both the House and Senate, the anti-bundling legislation was eventually incorporated into the Small Business Administration Reauthorization Act of 1997 (S.1139), which was signed into law by President Clinton last December. In part, the legislation states that each government federal agency must “structure its contracting requirements to facilitate competition by and among small business concerns, taking all reasonable steps to eliminate obstacles to their participation.”

“Harrison took this issue and brought together other business people who shared the concern, and I think that made it happen,” says Wynn.

“Let’s face it,” says Boyd, “small business owners cannot keep up the financial pace set by larger companies, so they have to find more creative ways to remain competitive and support members and their initiatives.” The best way to do that, he says, is to become a resource they can rely on to keep them informed about issues. “If you don’t invest in

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