Senators question success of vet-owned business program

As the Obama administration recently has emphasized the need to help America’s veterans find work, several senators are questioning whether Veterans Affairs Department officials are doing their part to make sure veterans are getting federal contracts.

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairwoman, Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) together sent a letter Nov. 3 to GAO Comptroller Gene Dodaro about the critical need to ensure the Veterans Affairs Department's Center for Veterans Enterprise works effectively and efficiently.

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In 2006, Congress created the Veteran First contracting program to help small businesses that are owned by veterans and service-disabled veterans have preference over other types of companies. VA was charged with putting procedures in place to verify the ownership and status of the companies that wanted to participate in Veterans First. CVE began verification of companies in 2008.

However, there has been problems ever since, according to the senators.

“Since that time, CVE has struggled to implement an effective verification program,” the senators wrote.That has led to ineligible firms getting veterans' benefits. The VA inspector general found that up to 1,400 contracts went to companies that improperly claimed veteran-owned status in fiscal 2010.

The senators want GAO to help CVE to get the resources and necessary skills for an efective verification process. Overall, they have asked GAO to figure out if the systems work smoothly as applicants go through the evaluation process. Are the processes efficient? What metrics is CVE using in evaluating its processes? Are the processes effective in reviewing and verifying businesses? Has CVE improved its capacity to reduce manual data entry?

The senators also asked for GAO’s advice on specific steps to get CVE working better.

“These veteran-entrepreneurs continue to face red tape, delays and hurdles as they work to verify their businesses with CVE,” Murray said. “After sacrificing so much to serve their country, they should not have to face such challenges when they return home.”

Days before the veterans holiday, the Obama administration too issued proposals for putting veterans back to work with jobs banks, online resources for finding jobs, and a tax credit for companies that hire veterans.

About the Author

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

Reader Comments

Sun, Nov 13, 2011 Jaime Gracia Washington, DC

From personal experience in trying to legitimately go through the process to designate my firm as a SDVOB, I can attest that the system is broken. The system is not working well. The required documentation is cumbersome, the process is confusing overall, and I probably have another year of pulling my hair out with the coming demands for additional information that seems to be the norm and never ends. Instead of asking out of touch lawmakers or GAO on the process, how about asking veterans like me what is wrong with the process? I have plenty to say!

Wed, Nov 9, 2011

To all policy makers: Please add clarity to solicitation designation for sdvosb / VOSB contract awards!!! Current wording only encourages contract officers to "consider" veteran status as a distant issue. Most contracting officers only review veteran status after contracts have been awarded to track veteran awards. SDVOSB & VOSB status should be equal to GSA, FSS and 8a solicitation requirements. SDVOSB & VOSB status is NOT currently being reviewed as a required standard. It is only being considered as a recommended guideline... Please add clarity for the contracting officers not adhering to the Veterans First Contracting Program principals!!!

Wed, Nov 9, 2011

If the senators are serious about helping veterans they should look for ways to put SDVOSB and VOSB status on par with 8a. And if anyone thins there isn't fraud in the 8a program they're crazy, blind or both.

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