We all know that the mission of the Veterans Administration (VA) is ‘to fulfill President Lincoln's promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.’ In the hundreds of years since its inception, the VA has offered a wealth of programs designed to foster a sense of physical, emotional and mental well-being among those who have so bravely served this country. Yet, until recently, efforts to support veterans’ financial well-being and bolster their economic status have been somewhat inconsistent beyond the most popular education and career-advancement programs, such as the GI Bill.
Yes, the VA’s Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) is working hard to give veteran-owned small businesses (VOSB) and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSB) a means to achieve sustainable growth via public sector procurement channels. And, yes, the VA as a federally funded agency is obligated to buy from VOSBs and SDVOSBs in certain circumstances using the “Rule of Two” as outlined in the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006, (VBA). Ironically, though, VA buyers were not giving VOSBs and SDVOSBs the priority consideration they were entitled to per the VBA in recent years – despite the resources being committed to encourage and facilitate entrepreneurship in these above-mentioned programs. That’s because a second, somewhat conflicting, piece of regulatory guidance that predates VBA was making AbilityOne the mandatory source for a number of goods. The need to prioritize AbilityOne, per the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act (JDA), was putting many veteran businesses at a competitive disadvantage and debilitating the financial strength of the veteran community.
That’s why the new U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruling in the case of PDS Consultants, Inc. v. United States, No. 16-1063C (2017) is such a huge victory for both the VA and veterans. Moving forward, the VA must try to source from VOSBs and SDVOSBs first using the Rule of Two method. If, and only if, “the Rule of Two analysis does not demonstrate that there are two qualified veteran-owned small businesses willing to perform the contract, the VA is then required to use the AbilityOne List as a mandatory source.”
What does that mean for you?
The VA will be actively looking for VOSBs and SDVOBs that can fulfill their procurement requirements. Pay attention to the solicitations being posted by local, regional and state VA facilities. Bid notification sites such as BidSync will make it easy to track new VA business opportunities and submit timely bid responses. But don’t forget to qualify with the VA before spending time on a proposal.
You need to be more proactive in building relationships with VA buyers. Make it known that your VOSB or SDVOSB is interested in doing business with the VA and promote the goods and/or services you provide. That way, when it comes time to source via “The Rule of Two,” VA procurement officials will know that they have at least one company to consider. It makes their market research (i.e. their job) easier, and makes it easier for you to gain new opportunities to compete for (and hopefully win) revenue-generating business.
You Need To Understand How The “Rule Of Two” Works And Be Up-To-Speed On Other Relevant Regulations, rules, and acts that could impact your proposal and/or obligations if awarded a contract with the VA. The VBA states that “the VA must procure goods and services from SDVOSBs and VOSBs when the Contracting Officer has a reasonable expectation of receiving offers from two or more qualified veteran-owned companies at fair market prices.” Those last three words are critical: “fair market prices.” If you aren’t priced fairly, you may not be considered a viable source. Pay attention to how the VA spends on the goods and services you sell. Also pay attention to any labor laws, financial obligations or technical requirements that impact your eligibility as a VA-approved vendor.
Note: Whether you’re building your entire new business strategy around VA opportunities or just trying to find that one perfect opportunity, lean on the VA’s small business experts. Specifically, the OSDBU.
Remember that eligibility requirement? Well, OSDBU will help you: