Service-disabled veterans move beyond stereotypes

"I'd like to challenge the VA and Defense Department to bring out some substantial opportunities for service-disabled veterans, jobs for 150 to 200 people." ? Randy Slager, service-disabled veteran who owns Catapult Technology Ltd.

Dan Gross

Service-disabled veterans recently got what many women want: a new procurement regulation that allows contracting officers to set aside federal contracts specifically for their small businesses.

John Moliére, a service-disabled veteran who owns Standard Communications Inc., a small business in Hume, Va., said his three-person company has won several million dollars in contracts for service-disabled veterans since the set aside was created in May. The company, which offers program management, telecommunications and information technology services, is planning an acquisition that will let it grow to 75 people and $4.5 million in annual revenue this year, Moliére said.

The set aside is working well, he said. "We'd like to see more, but I liken it to trying to change the course of an aircraft carrier. You just don't turn it around like a speedboat."

Moliére said the acquisition leadership at federal agencies is on board with the service-disabled veterans program. But Moliére and other service-disabled veterans said many program managers and contracting officers either don't know about the set aside or haven't been encouraged to use it.

That's a valid complaint, said Bradley Scott, a regional administrator for the General Services Administration in Kansas City, Mo.

"That is a challenge I am working to surmount," Scott said. "You have thousands and thousands of contracting officers in every agency across the nation, and you have to communicate this change in policy to each and every one of them."

The new regulation allows contracting officers to set aside contracts for small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans when there is a reasonable expectation that two or more of those businesses will submit bids at a fair market price. It also allows sole-source contracts if it is unlikely that two or more businesses will submit bids, the business is able to perform the work at a fair and reasonable price, and the anticipated contract price does not exceed $3 million, or $5 million for manufacturing contracts.

The Veterans Benefits Act of 2003 authorized the set aside in part because federal agencies have never met their collective 3 percent goal for contracting with veterans who were disabled in the course of their military service. In fiscal 2003, 0.2 percent of federal prime contracts went to companies owned by service-disabled veterans. Three percent of federal spending equals about $8 billion annually, government officials said.

Randy Slager, a service-disabled veteran who owns Catapult Technology Ltd., an 8(a) small business in Bethesda, Md., said his company is responding to several service-disabled veteran procurements, but so far the set asides he's seen are small.

"I'd like to challenge the VA and Defense Department to bring out some substantial opportunities for service-disabled veterans, jobs for 150 to 200 people," he said. Catapult Technology provides telecommunications, IT, systems engineering, management consulting and critical asset protection services. It had more than $25 million in 2003 revenue and employs about 300 people.

Scott is leading a multi-agency effort to get contracting officers and program managers to use the new set aside. The agencies -- GSA, the Defense Department, Defense Logistics Agency and Small Business Administration -- are also teaching small businesses about the benefit.

Scott Denniston, director of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization at Veterans Affairs, is crisscrossing the country to teach staff at the VA and other agencies about the set aside.

The effort has resulted in a new GSA Web page for service-disabled veterans, a toll-free phone number for veterans interested in getting on GSA's schedules, and three conferences that have brought service-disabled veterans together with federal agencies and large government contractors. About 250 companies owned by service-disabled veterans have been added to the GSA schedules, Scott said.

Two more conferences are planned: in Kansas City, Mo., Oct. 19 and at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December. Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) has recorded a public-service announcement for radio promoting the toll-free number, Scott said.

GSA officials have written a business case for a contracting vehicle specifically for companies owned by service-disabled veterans. The Office of Management and Budget is reviewing the case, Scott said.

Veterans said no amount of outreach to them and agency staff training will mean lots of new work for service-disabled veterans unless a stereotype about people with disabilities is eliminated. That stereotype says people with disabilities can't perform as well as other people, and it exists even at the VA, Slager said.

"At the VA, they see disabled vets all the time, and they see some of the worst cases," he said. "Stereotyping is human nature."

Stereotyping "can be an issue," Denniston said. "I would hope our folks would judge a company on its merits, not a preconceived notion of what a service-disabled person can do. Our service-disabled veterans are doing a great job. I would hope that's a perception that's going to go away by itself."

The fear of being stereotyped prevents some veterans from identifying themselves as service-disabled, Denniston said, which in turn makes it difficult for contracting officers and program managers to find companies that can perform the set-aside work.

"One of the complaints from our agencies is that there are not enough service-disabled veteran-owned businesses to choose from to provide for the contracts we let," Denniston said. "That's why we've worked so hard to try to expand the pool. We are trying to convince them that they should self-identify [as service-disabled]. They would be doing the agencies a service if they did."

Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery can be reached at


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