By Scott Denniston
For too long, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has circumvented a policy known as VETS First, refusing to give preference to veteran-owned small businesses despite being directed to by Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the U.S. Supreme Court.
This refusal hurts not only veteran-owned small businesses, but the millions of veterans who depend on the VA.
In 2006, Congress passed The Veterans Benefits, Health Care and Information Technology Act, which among other things established the VETS First program. But the VA, under administrations controlled by both parties, never followed through. On several occasions, the GAO has ruled that the VA has failed to follow the law. And still, it does nothing.
In 2016, a veteran owned small business called Kingdomware Technologies mustered up the capital to file a lawsuit that made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court came to a unanimous decision that not only was the VA disregarding VETS First, but in moving forward, the department’s “rule of two” should be used for all VA procurements.
The “rule of two” states that if a reasonable expectation exists that two or more veteran-owned small businesses will submit offers that meet the requirements of the contract at a fair price, then the award should be restricted to one of those businesses.
Even in the wake of a unanimous Supreme Court decision, VETS First remains unimplemented. The VA has stated that the policy is administratively burdensome and costly and is causing large businesses to leave the VA market without providing any empirical data to substantiate their concerns. The VA should establish a price differential and allow veteran-owned small businesses to fill any voids that may be left by large businesses leaving the market.