USA — Officials Commit to Disabled Veterans’ Businesses

WASHINGTON — Defense Depart­ment offi­cials are com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing ser­vice-dis­abled, vet­er­an-owned small busi­ness­es with con­tract­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, and are clos­er to its goal of award­ing 3 per­cent of depart­ment con­tracts to such busi­ness­es, the act­ing direc­tor for the Pentagon’s Small Busi­ness Pro­grams Office said today.

Tes­ti­fy­ing before the House Small Busi­ness Com­mit­tee, Lin­da B. Oliv­er said the depart­ment has seen a steady increase in its annu­al con­tract awards to such busi­ness­es since 2003, when $300,000 was award­ed to dis­abled-vet­er­an-owned small busi­ness­es.

In 2009, $4.3 bil­lion in con­tracts was award­ed to dis­abled-vet­er­an-owned small busi­ness­es.

“We are proud of this progress, one that shows a 14-fold increase,” Oliv­er said in her writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ny, which also not­ed the num­ber of con­tracts award­ed also has increased. “It is good for [vet­er­ans] when the per­cent­ages are increas­ing in an upward trend and also when the total dol­lars are increas­ing at an even faster pace.

“While these trends are pos­i­tive and encour­ag­ing, we can­not and will not relax our efforts until we achieve the gov­ern­ment-wide goal of 3 per­cent,” she con­tin­ued.

Also, the num­ber of firms award­ed defense con­tracts has steadi­ly increased from 751 in 2003 to more than 3,000 in 2009. Of the $7.4 bil­lion appro­pri­at­ed to the Defense Depart­ment in Recov­ery Act funds, $157 mil­lion was award­ed and being worked by dis­abled-vet­er­an small busi­ness­es, she said.

Oliv­er cred­its the Pentagon’s Men­tor-Pro­tégé Pro­gram and oth­er train­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties geared toward such con­trac­tors for the pos­i­tive trend. The pro­gram helps “pro­tégé” com­pa­nies learn from estab­lished “prime” con­trac­tors through a three- or four-year agree­ment, Oliv­er explained.

“As a result, pro­tégé firms that grad­u­ate from the pro­gram are gen­er­al­ly valu­able addi­tions to the department’s sup­pli­er base,” she added.

The Pen­ta­gon also has under­gone research to bet­ter under­stand the char­ac­ter­is­tics of dis­abled-vet­er­an con­trac­tors, she said. Oliver’s office mon­i­tors the Cen­tral Con­tract Reg­is­tra­tion, which has received reg­is­tra­tions from 500 busi­ness­es this year, she said.

Analy­sis shows that more dis­abled-vet­er­an con­trac­tors each year want to do busi­ness with the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, Oliv­er said. Also, a major­i­ty of these con­tracts are award­ed to busi­ness­es in spe­cif­ic cat­e­gories. These areas include pro­fes­sion­al, sci­en­tif­ic and tech­ni­cal ser­vices, con­struc­tion and admin­is­tra­tion spe­cial­ties, she explained.

“I believe that we are gain­ing insights that will help us devel­op mech­a­nisms that will, in turn, allow us to make even greater use of [ser­vice-dis­abled, vet­er­an-owned small busi­ness­es] in our con­tract­ing pro­gram,” Oliv­er said.

Anoth­er ini­tia­tive to help ser­vice-dis­abled, vet­er­an-owned small busi­ness­es attain fed­er­al con­tracts is elim­i­nat­ing fraud and enhanc­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion among deserv­ing busi­ness own­ers, said Tim­o­thy Fore­man, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Vet­er­ans Affairs Department’s Office of Small and Dis­ad­van­taged Busi­ness Uti­liza­tion, who also tes­ti­fied before the com­mit­tee.

“Small busi­ness enter­prise can best serve as an engine of inge­nu­ity and cre­ativ­i­ty with favor­able impact on both busi­ness and gov­ern­ment when it is free of fraud and enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly engaged in its work or mis­sion,” Fore­man said in his sub­mit­ted remarks.

Fore­man is set to become chair­man of VA’s new­ly-formed Sus­pen­sion and Debar­ment Com­mit­tee for non-fed­er­al acqui­si­tion reg­u­la­tion debar­ment actions, he said. The com­mit­tee will be a tool to deter fraud from com­pa­nies pos­ing as ser­vice-dis­abled, vet­er­an owned busi­ness­es, he added.

“Keep­ing the pre­tenders out of the com­pet­i­tive process will pre­vent them from steal­ing the statu­to­ry and reg­u­la­to­ry rights due only to real [vet­er­an-owned small busi­ness­es] and [ser­vice-dis­abled, vet­er­an-owned small busi­ness­es],” he said. “[The com­mit­tee] will pre­vent them from steal­ing the val­or of those who are enti­tled to mean­ing­ful pro­cure­ment advan­tages.”

VA award­ed 16 per­cent of its fis­cal 2009 con­tracts to dis­abled-vet­er­an busi­ness­es, exceed­ing its goal of 7 per­cent. Still, the VA stands to improve, he said.

Fore­man point­ed to VA’s cur­rent lack of track­ing vet­er­an sub­con­trac­tors as one such area. Also, he not­ed short­falls in ver­i­fy­ing vet­er­an- and dis­abled-vet­er­an owned busi­ness­es as anoth­er rea­son for fraud.

Cur­rent­ly, busi­ness­es appear in VA’s data base as “VA-ver­i­fied or self-ver­i­fied,” he said. But by 2012, he added, only VA-ver­i­fied busi­ness­es will be vis­i­ble in the data­base.

VA hopes to accom­plish this through the Sus­pen­sion and Debar­ment Com­mit­tee. VA’s robust frame­work to iden­ti­fy fraud may be mir­rored by oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies, Fore­man said, with hopes of deter­ring fraud through­out the gov­ern­ment.

As VA pro­grams grow, “our vet­er­an clients will con­tin­ue to receive qual­i­ty ser­vices and prod­ucts from increas­ing num­bers of ser­vice-dis­abled vet­er­an sup­pli­ers who, as fel­low vet­er­ans, bet­ter under­stand the needs of the com­mu­ni­ty VA serves,” Fore­man explained. “This sym­bi­ot­ic aspect of VA’s pro­gram is a win-win.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)