Recent contracting missteps, as reported by the Washington Business Journal (WBJ) and Microtech by the Washington Post, seem to have endangered the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) programs for certifying firms as either Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) or Veteran Owned Small Business (VOSB).
Although the current certification process is challenging enough, this recent issue by VA really is inexplicable, and a glaring example of the overall mismanagement of the VA contracting process for a program that supposedly is “critical” for the VA mission:
The Department of Veterans Affairs abruptly ended a three-year contract with an Alexandria company nearly three months earlier than planned, leaving in limbo the crucial task of processing applications from contractors hoping to be verified as veteran-owned small businesses…
To give VA cover, in typical bureaucratic fashion, was Tom Leney, chief of small and veteran business programs at the VA:
…The VA’s head of small and veteran-owned business programs is apologetic about the change, though short on details. He’s also vowing that the agency’s application processing work — which has drawn fire from critics — will continue, and be done efficiently…
…”I recognize the impact that this change has and I am sorry that we have not been able to avoid this situation,” Tom Leney, the VA’s executive director of the small and veteran business programs, wrote in an email to Ardelle employees who support the contract, which was obtained by Washington Business Journal…
Where Do Certifications Go From Here?
What to make of all this? Well, one of the main contractors processing applications, Ardelle Associates, is trying to figure out what do. Ardelle President, Art Forcey, had some interesting ideas as to what is happening:
…”I think it was political. I think delays in getting a new competition started caused infighting about what to do and people took some heat for extending our contract,” he said. “But this wasn’t the right way to go.”…
Was it political? Of course it was. However, one of the principal reasons that I believe caused this misstep was simply a lack of proper acquisition planning. I am sure there was infighting, but this program is a great foundation for “empire building”, as I like to call it, and as further demonstrated by the recent power grab by the VA to take control of SDVOSB eligibility away from the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Nonetheless, we can only hope that these continued issues will allow the VA to get back to its core mission, which should not include certifications of SDVOSBs and VOSBs. In fact, the $40 million being spent on these programs should be diverted to the backlog of claims that are both an embarrassment, and a disservice, to veterans waiting in almost perpetuity for their claims to be processed.
Common Sense Legislation Can Solve This Problem
Recent investigations and legislation into the certification process by both the House Small Business Committee and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will hopefully correct these VA lapses and bring improved efficiency and consistency to the process, currently known for mismanagement and waste.
Further, legislation to this effect can hopefully now move forward. Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO), has introduced or co-sponsored several pieces of legislation to correct these issues, most notably H.R. 2882, “Improving Opportunities for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Act of 2013,” which requires VA to relinquish control over the verification of SDVOSBs and VOSBs to the SBA.
I believe this is the way to go, as this exercise in futility is simply not working, and drastic change is needed. There is simply too much overall, redundancy, and a lack of defined methodology and processes that subject the firms seeking verification to subjective terms. Furthermore, the process is needlessly complicated and cumbersome, and lengthy delays and rejections are inevitable in this environment.
Although the numbers seemingly are gamed as to the length of time for certification coming out of the Center for Veterans Enterprise at 27 days, a line longer than Black Friday lines at Best Buy can be formed of firms that can refute this ridiculous statistic of the time and documentation required for certification.
I hope this legislation moves forward, as it makes sense. The SBA already has the processes, infrastructure, and experience in place to certify firms for socioeconomic certifications and eligibility. That is what they should be doing. It is a matter of sticking to your strengths, and certifications should not be part of the VA mission any longer.
Contact your Congressional representative, and get them on board with H.R. 2882. You can do this directly from govtrack.us.
Don’t our veterans deserve better?