A U.S. government watchdog agency said today it will no longer hear protests from military veterans seeking to use a 2006 law to get first dibs on contracting opportunities from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Government Accountability Office has urged the department in at least 18 cases to comply with a law that directs the agency to prioritize spending with veteran-owned firms. GAO officials have said that means VA work should be reserved for veteran-owned small businesses, if there are at least two such companies that can do the work at a reasonable price. VA officials have never followed the recommendations of the GAO, which arbitrates contract disputes, on the topic.
Department leaders maintain the VA can give preference to pre-existing contracts with so-called “supply schedule” vendors that frequently provide discounts for buying in bulk, before turning to veteran-owned firms. Last month, a federal judge sided with the VA in a related lawsuit, ruling that the agency is entitled to deference on how to interpret the law.
The VA’s refusal to follow the GAO guidance and the recent court decision “effectively means that protesters who continue to pursue these arguments will be unable to obtain meaningful relief,” the GAO said in reporting its decision today.
“I’m very, very frustrated,” said Hardy Stone, a U.S. Army veteran who has a brain injury from his service between 1976 and 1981. “How many times can a cabinet level agency ignore the advice of an independent government agency?”
Stone, who owns a Walkersville, Maryland, media and public relations business that publishes VetLikeMe, a newsletter for disabled veteran business owners, said the next move for former service members will be asking the White House for help.
“I hope this becomes a political issue,” he said.
If the department changed its policy, it could shift as much as $3 billion in annual work to veteran-owned firms, according to data analyzed by Bloomberg last year.