GAO again supports Vets First law in protest decision

GAO again supports Vets First law in protest decision

Last week I was very critical of the Government Accountability Office for a recent protest decision. The agency made up for it, however, by once again picking the right side in the fight between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the veteran-owned small businesses that the agency is charged to serve.

Protesting contractor: Kingdomware Technologies, Waldorf, Md.

Protest Issue: The VA’s refusal to recognize that the 2006 Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act – often called the Vets First law — applies to purchases made through the General Services Administration’s Federal Supply Schedule.

GAO decision, Dec. 19, 2011: Sustained.

Post-mortem: The Kingdomware case is the latest battle in the fight between veteran small business owners and the VA. According to the Vets First Law, the VA must do research to determine whether there are veteran-owned businesses capable of doing work before awarding any contract. If so, then it must set aside the purchase for that community.

The VA is of the opinion that this does not apply to purchases made using the General Services Administration’s Federal Supply Schedule, which awards pre-negotiated contracts to companies that can then sell their goods and services to agencies at discounted prices.

This is not the first time that GAO has considered a protest that stemmed from the VA’s refusal to set aside contracts awarded under the GSA schedule. In deciding the Aldevra case — a purchase of two griddles and a food slicer — the GAO found that Vets First did apply, recommending that the VA cancel the solicitations and reissue them as set asides. Here the agency has made the same finding.

Trying to determine the goals of the VA in this fight is a head scratcher. The law is crystal clear, and the VA’s decision to not comply does little but damage its reputation as an advocate for the veteran community.

My compliment to the GAO on a good decision.