Helping veteran-owned small businesses win government contracts
With Veterans Day right around the corner on Nov. 11, here are the views of Wayne M. Gatewood Jr., who is president and CEO of Landover, Md.-based Quality Support, Inc. The company is a 23-year-old administrative, management, logistics and technical services firm operating as a Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) under Public Law 106-50. The company is incorporated in the state of Virginia. Gatewood, who owns the business, is a retired U.S. Marine and Vietnam veteran. The company successfully graduated from the SBA, Section 8(a) program on January 14, 2002.
Govpro: Is Quality Support successfully pursuing government contracts?
Wayne M. Gatewood: Yes, Quality Support has had and still maintains federal government contracts that were won during SDVOSB set-aside competition. The largest of these contracts is valued at $37M that was won during a very competitive proposal process among veterans.
Govpro: Are there any programs that help your firm land government business?
WG: Yes, the General Services Administration (GSA) Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) program gives small businesses like Quality Support an opportunity to bid on work that non-GSA contract holders cannot bid on. Although this process is still competitive, the field of competition is very much limited to such small businesses.
Once again, the SDVOSB Program established under Public Law 106-50, back in 1999, continues to give Quality Support, Inc. and other SDVOSBs an opportunity to bid on work that is set-aside strictly for qualified SDVOSBs.
Govpro: Do you think 2013 will be a good year for veteran-owned businesses to pursue government orders for goods and services?
WG: It’s hard to say really. If sequestration does in fact take place, I fear that both large and small federal government contracting businesses will be negatively affected. As budgets are reduced and programs cut across the federal government, there will be less work to go around. At present, because of the ongoing “continuing budget resolutions,” there is much uncertainty from fiscal year to fiscal year relative to spending. It is very difficult, especially for small businesses, to project growth given the uncertainty across the federal government. There was a time when all a contractor had to be concerned about was whether or not the option years to the contract were going to be exercised. Now, we are not sure if the program offices we support will even exist from one year to the next. It is no way to run a government, and such uncertainty is counter-productive to hiring, growth and success.
Another issue that will stem growth in future years will be the government’s activity regarding “in-sourcing.” Our company has already lost opportunities because of requirements being in-sourced. Large-scale in-sourcing robs small businesses of their best and most technically valuable employees, diminishes a firm’s capabilities and can result in a loss of entire contracts.
With all of the above mentioned, the fact remains that cost-effective, streamlined and professional services are needed throughout the government, and our company will continue to submit bids and proposals with the knowledge that we will win some and lose others. It is the nature of the contracting world in which we work.
Govpro: Do we need more legislation and programs to help veteran-owned businesses obtain government contracts?
WG: Absolutely! Public Law 106-50 established the Veterans Small Business Program in 1999, and Public Law 108-183 bolstered our program by infusing competitive set-aside and sole source procurement platforms into the program. Inherent in PL 106-50, was the establishment of a 3-percent set-aside procurement goal for federal government agencies and large prime contractors. Since the birth of the SDVOSB program, the same federal government agencies along with their large prime vendors have yet to attain their requisite 3-percent set-aside goals for SDVOSBs. It is an unfortunate reality that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has had one of the worst records when it comes to ensuring that veterans receive their required and fair share of DOD contracts. For more than 10 years running, DOD’s SDVOSB rate was at or below one-half of 1 percent. Other agencies are also failing to attain their 3-percent procurement goal for SDVOSBs. Today, nothing, absolutely nothing holds agency and prime vendors accountable for their continued failures.
Congress should pass and/or bolster existing laws to hold procurement executives accountable for such failings. Agency procurement executives [who don’t achieve set-aside procurement goals] should not be eligible for performance bonuses. Job performance evaluations of those agency executives should be based upon their success and/or failure to attain the 3-percent goal for SDVOSBs. Likewise, large vendors should be fined, lose option years, and not be eligible for future contracts with a given agency, unless they show a marked improvement in their outreach efforts to SDVOSBs, and an increase in the percentages of SDVOSDBs that receive subcontracts.
Finally, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Verification Program, established only for those veterans that want to pursue set-aside contracts at VA (under Public Law 109-461), needs to be completely overhauled. This program has hurt untold numbers of veterans applying for verification and/or re-verification because of outrageous and subjective overreaching by the Center for Veterans Enterprise (CVE) staff. Honest, hard-working, and eligible and qualified veterans are being denied verification for reasons that make no sense. Although the House Committee on Veterans Affairs has written to General Eric Shinseki on more than one occasion, and although senior staff of VA has been brought before House committees and subcommittees, the dysfunctional manner in which the verification program is being run continues to this day. Without verification, veterans are ineligible for set-aside opportunities at VA. Also, denial of verification is seen as a negative mark on otherwise highly qualified and honest and capable SDVOSBs. This can cause those businesses a loss of opportunities with other federal government agencies, even though self-certification is supposed to be accepted by them.
Lastly, the SDVOSB Program under Public Law 109-461, (at VA referred to as Veterans First), must be enforced. The VA continues to buy huge amounts of services, supplies, and equipment from large and small businesses that hold GSA Schedules without performing due diligence to confirm whether or not there is an eligible SDVOSB that can do the work or provide the goods. Over the past couple of years, the GAO has upheld numerous protests submitted to GAO against VA because of the VA’s failures not to administer Veterans First during a number of solicitations. To date, the VA has yet to correct its failing in this area, and most recently, simply stopped responding to GAO in a compliant manner. This is unsatisfactory. Also, the program called Fed Bid and the program called Reverse Auction do not take into consideration (as they should), small business participation required under the FAR Part 19. Even small purchases, that by law can only go to small businesses, are being awarded to non-small business entities that are resident on Fed Bid and active in the Reverse Auction program.
As budgets are cut and as agency staffs are reduced, I see fewer opportunities for small business along with more bundling of contracts.