Procurement

VA to build better small-business verification system

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The Veterans Affairs Department is developing long-term plans for the department’s small business contracting office, including integrating a new business verification system, as the department tries to both strengthen internal controls and steer work to veteran-owned firms.

The Government Accountability Office released a report on Jan. 14, pushing VA officials to provide the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization better ways to monitor its verification program’s progress.

In response, John Gingrich, VA’s chief of staff, wrote that the OSDBU is incorporating an updated vendor verification system into its longer term plans. The new system, the Next Generation Verification Case Management System, will be built in two phases. In the first, the department will develop a prototype. After getting feedback and addressing concerns, VA plans to launch the production version of the system, using an increment-based contracting approach.

“VA believes the proper development of a longer-term strategic plan is an iterative process,” Gingrich wrote in a Dec. 28 letter to GAO.

Gingrich did not set a timeline for either phase of the build-out, but VA officials expect to submit a strategic plan to Secretary Eric Shinseki for final approval by March.

GAO found the department has improved operations and dealt with program weaknesses. Yet, officials continue “to face challenges in establishing a stable and efficient program to verify firms on a timely and consistent basis.”

Under law, the VA must give contracting preference to service-disabled and other veteran-owned small businesses. It must also verify that the companies meet the eligibility standards, and that verification has proved problematic.

The OSDBU’s current system does not collect key data and is limited in its reporting and workflow management, GAO reported.

Since 2008, when VA began verifying companies, it has relied on data systems it developed on an ad hoc basis and in response to immediate needs. Officials had no overarching plan. In addition, they did not have VA’s Office of Information and Technology playing a key role in the system setup.

VA plans to modify or replace the system, but until now has not directly tied this effort into its long-term strategic planning efforts.

About the Author

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

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