By Rick Maze - Staff writer Posted : Tuesday Feb 21, 2012 16:29:12 EST
An Ohio congressman has introduced legislation that would move veteran-owned businesses closer to the front of the line when seeking contracts from the Veterans Affairs Department.
Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s oversight and investigations panel, is pushing a bill that would make veteran-owned small businesses more competitive for contracts to supply goods and services on the federal supply schedule for purchase by VA. It would not apply to other federal agencies.
If enacted, HR 4048 would open a wide range of contracts to veteran-owned and disabled veteran-owned businesses that are now exempt from veterans’ preference rules. General Schedule vendors provide a variety of goods and services, from food, cleaning equipment and supplies to furniture, medical and dental equipment and supplies, shipping and packing supplies, security systems and a variety of professional services.
The bill was referred to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee for consideration, joining a pile of other employment-related legislation that the committee could package together into an election-year initiative aimed at reducing the unemployment rate among veterans.
Johnson’s bill would help veterans, but would still not make them No. 1 on the list of preferred contractors. Under the government’s complicated contracting procedures, if VA needs something, the top priority is to search its current inventory, then search the inventory of other federal agencies, before buying anything.
If VA does buy goods, priority goes to Federal Prison Industries, then to the blind, then to wholesale suppliers as the third, fourth and fifth choices. Purchasing from the federal supply schedule ranks sixth and seventh in priority, first for a mandatory schedule and then for a supplemental purchasing schedule.
Under current procedures, veteran-owned businesses rank eighth in priority for contracts. They would rise to sixth under Johnson’s bill.
Veterans’ preference in contracts was the subject of a November hearing of Johnson’s subcommittee, with the veterans who owned small businesses complaining that purchasing rules were limiting their opportunities.
One disabled veteran, Bob Hesser, a retired Navy master chief and owner of Vetrepreneur, a Virginia-based company, recommended the change in law as a way to improve chances for a veteran-owned business to receive a contract. He said the current policy seems to be “vets last.”
Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the American Legion’s national economic commission, shared Hesser’s concerns about the contracting practices. Veteran-owned businesses “have been relegated to last in VA’s procurement hierarchy,” he said. “The irony and greatest insult is that this agency, which was created to help veterans, appears to be actively and knowingly shutting them out when it’s time to award government contracts.”