Buying a small business government contractor may not be as simple as a standard acquisition. This is particularly true if the small business wants to continue to qualify for federal small business set-aside and sole-source awards during negotiations. The U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA”) treats stock options, convertible securities, and agreements to merge (including agreements in principle), as having a “present effect” on the power to control a concern. So if a letter of intent is sufficiently firm to be considered an agreement in principle, the SBA’s regulations require such agreements be given “present effect” on the power to control a concern – deeming the two entities are immediately affiliated. In other words, the small business likely is no longer small (and, if it is a specialty small business concern, like woman-owned or service-disabled veteran-owned, it is likely ineligible for those programs as well) before the deal even is done. On the other hand, agreements to open or continue negotiations towards the “possibility of a merger or a sale of stock at some later date” are not considered agreements in principle, and are not given present effect. In practice what this means is that a letter of intent must be carefully drafted to ensure that it does not trigger the present effect rule before the parties are ready or willing to be considered affiliated.
Emily Theriault is an associate in the Governmental Practice in the firm's Washington, D.C. office.