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Lawmaker: Agencies must obey law to help vet-owned businesses

Apr. 16, 2013 - 10:35AM   |  
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A House committee is asking 34 government agencies, including the Defense Department, military services and defense-related agencies, to prove they are complying with a new law aimed at helping veteran-owned small businesses win government contracts.

Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the House Small Business Committee, suspects that most if not all of the agencies have failed to comply with a change in law that took effect Jan. 2. It requires an agency to make helping veteran-owned businesses a priority by appointing someone to work exclusively on behalf of these and other small businesses.

Graves said he believes some agencies are either unaware of the new rules for Small and Disadvantaged Businesses Utilization offices or have not yet implemented the changes, so he is asking agency heads to report to him by May 13.

The new rules were included in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which became law when President Obama signed it on Jan. 2. Beyond the order that each agency’s advocate for veteran-owned small businesses have no other duties, the law mandates other changes that Graves said his committee believes “would improve the ability of each agency to ensure that small businesses receive the maximum practicable opportunity to compete for contracts.”

Graves said he already knows that the Veterans Affairs Department is not complying with the law after a March 19 hearing at which the head of VA’s small business office admitted he had other duties, but said he saw no conflict.

Graves has asked VA Secretary Eric Shinseki why VA isn’t complying with the law and what steps will be taken to comply. But he has not yet received a reply, according to Graves spokesman Darrell Jordan.

Every federal agency with procurement powers is supposed to have a Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization Office, headed by a senior executive service officer who has experience with federal acquisition programs and contracting.

One of the primary purposes of the office is to review agency purchasing plans to determine which contracts are a good fit for small businesses, especially for veteran-owned and disabled veteran-owned businesses. For small businesses that win contracts, the office also is supposed to help them get payments and to collect late payments from the government.

Graves’ letters went to the Defense Department, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Defense Contract Management Agency, Defense Information Systems Agency, Defense Logistics Agency and Department of Defense Education Activity.

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