Service-disabled veterans to benefit from new bill

The House has passed a bill that would require a company or agency working on behalf of the Veterans Affairs Department to give preference when making purchases to small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans.

The Improving Veterans' Opportunities in Education and Business Act (H.R. 6221) would mandate the VA to include provisions in its contracts and agreements by requiring the contractor to meet the VA's annual small business contracting goals for veterans.

"Our veterans deserve to receive the necessary resources to succeed in life after the military," said Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee. "We must work together to ensure that our nation's heroes are equipped."

The House passed the legislation Aug 1.

Through the years, Congress has developed specific programs to assist certain segments of the small business community, particularly service-disabled veterans, to enter the federal marketplace. Similarly, President Bush in 2004 issued an executive order establishing a goal for agencies to direct three percent of their contracting dollars to small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans.

However, agencies have continued to fail in meeting the goal. In fiscal 2006, the Small Business Administration's latest small-business contracting data, agencies as a whole reached a total of only 0.87 of a percent of the goal. The VA that year sent 3.6 percent of its contracting dollars to service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses.

In its report on the legislation, the committee said it found in 2008 that the VA entered an agreement with the Army to provide contract services to the department, and it also learned that the VA's Office of General Counsel issued an informal verbal opinion stating that statutes regarding the veteran-owned small business preferences didn't apply to agencies or contractors acting on behalf of the VA, according to a committee report on H.R. 6221.

The committee disagreed with the counsel's opinion, and H.R. 6221 would override that opinion by clarifying that any organization working on the VA's behalf is bound by the small business provisions, the report states.

"This bill reinforces business contracting opportunities at the VA, which must set an example for the rest of the federal government," said Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.), who introduced the bill.

Matthew Weigelt writes for Federal Computer Week, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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