Vet-owned business advocate criticizes VA bill

The House’s attempt to help service-disabled veterans get federal contracts lacks any real influence, a leading veteran business advocate said Aug. 7.

The Improving Veterans’ Opportunities in Education and Business Act (H.R. 6221), passed on Aug. 1, would mandate the Veterans Affairs Department to include provisions in its contracts and agreements with other agencies requiring them to give preference to service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses.

“This is feel-good legislation,” said John Moliere, a service-disabled veteran and president of Standard Communications. The amount of business done through interagency agreements doesn’t add up to much money, he said.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.), stems in part from a disagreement that Boozman and the Veterans Affairs Committee have with an informal opinion by the VA’s general counsel. According to the general counsel, the VA's service-disabled veterans preference does not apply to agencies working on the agency's behalf, such as the Army. 

Boozman said the bill would close a loophole that the general counsel found by requiring any agency or contractor working with the VA to give preference to service-disabled veterans’ small businesses.

But Moliere said Boozman and the committee are focused on the wrong problem if they want to help veterans get contracts.

The Defense Department is already required to provide service-disabled veteran preferences under existing law and in Executive Order 13360. The problem is the services are not complying, Moliere said.

DOD's goal is to spend 3 percent of contracting dollars with veterans, but the department spent only 0.67 percent in 2006, the latest figures available from the Small Business Administration. Meanwhile, the VA surpassed its service-disabled veterans contracting goal by sending 3.6 percent of its contracting dollars to the veterans.

“I’m not sure Congressman Boozman is aware how contrary the DOD can be,” Moliere said. “For many years now, the DOD, the source for service-disabled veterans, has not responded with much vigor” to statutes or presidential orders.

About the Author

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

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