Bush closes veterans business offices

The Bush administration has closed an office at the Small Business Administration that was dedicated to helping veteran-owned small businesses gain access to federal contracts, according to a statement released May 24 by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

The administration also informed the Veterans Advisory Committee that its charter will not be extended and instead will expire this September.

Kerry said the administration made the decisions without consultation or notification.

“This complete lack of commitment to our veterans is really appalling, especially just before Memorial Day,” said Kerry, ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, in the statement.

The contracting assistance office was the one SBA organization solely focused on achieving the government's goal of awarding 3 percent of all federal contracting dollars to firms owned by service-disabled veterans.

The government has consistently failed to meet the goal -- in fiscal 2005 the rate was .38 percent -- and also failed to develop and support the advisory committee, as a 1999 law required, according to Kerry's statement.

“It is shameful that in a time of war, the administration saw fit to abandon our commitment to those who have honorably served our country and the brave men and women serving today who will be the proud veterans of tomorrow," Kerry said. "Now, it should be our turn to serve them."

“During the short time the SBA's [Office of Veterans Business Development] existed there were meaningful actions that gave us a belief that someone cared," said Bob Hesser, a member of the Task Force for Veterans Entrepreneurship and president of Vetrepreneur, who was quoted in Kerry's statement. "I am just not sure of that today.”

Kerry also criticized the administration for waiting three weeks before alerting more than 26 million veterans that a laptop computer containing their personal information had been stolen from the home of a Veterans Affairs Department employee.

SBA officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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