Because the Veterans Administration (VA) refused to abide by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommendations for a full year, it makes sense to review the GAO’s track record as a watchdog agency for the U.S. Government. How will VA’s refusal to follow GAO’s recommendations affect other government agencies?
The following information, available on GAO’s website, is condensed.
GAO heard its first protest in the 1920’s, and was significantly revamped as an independent watchdog agency in 1984 with the passage of the “Competition in Contracting Act.” According to its current statute, if GAO sustains a protest for any reason, the involved agency must issue a report to GAO within 60 days advising whether the agency has fully implemented GAO’s decision. When an agency advises GAO that it has not implemented a decision, GAO is required to prepare a report to all Congressional committees that have political leverage over the agency.
At that point, the matter becomes a political issue between the Executive and Legislative Branches of government, which the Veterans First mandate has become. Because VA is a cabinet-level Department, only the Executive branch (Office of the President) can compel the VA to follow existing law (PL 109-461).
Two thousand seventy-five GAO protests were filed in 2012, but only 106 of these protests were sustained for the plaintiff, or .05 per cent. GAO does not sustain bid protests without rigorous proof and compelling argument.
Between 1985 and 1997, only seven government entities ignored a GAO recommendation.
Aldevra, a food equipment vendor in Portage, MI issued more than three dozen protests to GAO the fall of 2012. GAO has sustained each one based on PL 109-461. The Veterans First mandate directs the VA to conduct market research to discover whether credible SDVOSBs or VOSBs in the marketplace can provide the specifics of a contract at a reasonable price. Aldevra, Kingdomware Technologies and Crosstown Courier Services, Inc. all filed GAO protests against the VA for not conducting research for a set-aside. See GAO 2012 Report to Congress:
( http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-162SP )
On November 30, 2011, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on the VA’s refusal to comply with the Veterans First mandate. ( http://tinyurl.com/7nzzhaj )
Though Subcommittee Chairman Bill Johnson and many other Subcommittee members found the VA in direct violation of PL 109-461, nothing was done. VA was NOT held accountable for violating a public law. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said at the Detroit VOSB conference “…we put Veterans first in everything we do, including contracting…”
The Executive Branch has not forced the VA to follow GAO’s recommendations. What’s next? Can the VA operate with impunity with no oversight from Congress? With no oversight from the White House? What about other GAO recommendations? Will VA’s ‘victory’ over GAO embolden other agencies to ignore GAO? Is there a disconnect between the White House and Congress?