Veteran Hiring Preferences: Not Always — 18 Times No, GAO Says of V.A.

A veterans job fair in Naperville, Illinois. Photograph by Tim Boyle/Bloomberg

Vets come first under a 2006 law designed to give small business owners who served in the military first dibs on contracts with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

That is, unless they’re up against a few other preferred groups, according to the V.A.

The veterans agency violated the “Veterans First” act at least 18 times in the past year, the Government Accountability Office, a federal agency that arbitrates contracting disputes, said in a letter to Congress today. In each case, the V.A. gave contracting preference to non-veteran owned companies, typically so-called “supply schedule” firms, which are pre-selected vendors that often give the agency discounts for buying in bulk.

Eighteen times, the GAO directed the V.A. to determine whether there were at least two qualified veteran-owned small businesses that could perform the work at a reasonable price before turning to other vendors. And 18 times, the V.A. refused.

“In each instance, the VA has declined to implement our recommendation,” Lynn Gibson, general counsel for the GAO, said in the letter.

Aside from these incidents, agencies have refused to follow GAO guidance no more than five times during the past decade, Ralph White, the GAO’s managing associate general counsel for procurement law, has told Congress. V.A. leaders have argued the agency is meeting its goals for contracting with veterans and can prioritize spending with certain groups before turning to veteran firms.

If the agency followed the GAO’s guidance, it may steer as much as $3 billion more to small companies owned by veterans each year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Jo Schuda, a V.A. spokeswoman, didn’t provide immediate comment.


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