By Kent Hoover

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, introduced legislation that would increase the federal government's procurement goal for small businesses from 23 percent of all prime contracts to 30 percent by fiscal 2006.

Kerry's bill also calls for the Small Business Administration to appoint an ombudsman to investigate the complaints of small businesses who feel they are being treated unfairly by government procurement officers or prime contractors.

Small businesses who fear retaliation would be guaranteed confidentiality.

The Massachusetts Democrat says his bill is needed because "the administration is allowing bureaucratic excuses to shortchange millions of small businesses every year when it comes to competing for the federal procurement dollar."

Small businesses have complained in recent years that procurement officers are combining separate contracts into large packages that then are awarded to big contractors. President Bush promised in March to break apart these bundled contracts "wherever possible."

Under Kerry's bill, agencies that fail to meet their small business contracting goal would have to explain why and draft a plan for meeting the goal. Kerry's bill also would make the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization a senior-level position at each agency.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, the ranking Republican on the small business committee. Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., plans to introduce similar legislation in the House.

The text of the Small and Disadvantaged Business Ombudsman Act (S. 2753) is available at http://thomas.loc.gov.