The American Legion characterized VA's Center for Veterans Enterprise (CVE) as "critically ineffective, understaffed, underfunded and marginalized" in March 11 testimony before the House Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.
Created to help veterans start their own businesses and bid successfully on federal contracts, CVE - according to The American Legion's National Small Business Task Force - lacks the ability to provide comprehensive technical assistance, takes too long to register clients (one month to one year), and does not offer help to veterans with part-time businesses.
"CVE only operates one office in Washington, D.C., and does not cover the needs of all the veteran-owned small businesses around the country," said small-business expert Joseph Sharpe in his prepared remarks to the subcommittee. He said that CVE's Vetbiz.gov Web site "is not easily navigated" and needs to become more user-friendly.
Sharpe, director of The American Legion's Economic Division in Washington, told the subcommittee that businesses with fewer than 20 employees account for 90 percent of all U.S. firms. He said small businesses generated nearly $1 trillion of income for 2006 and employed 58.6 million workers.
"The American Legion contends that the key to the nation's economic recovery depends on a strong and vibrant small-business agenda," Sharpe told the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D. Citing Dept. of Labor statistics that rate unemployment among returning veterans as high as 20 percent, Sharpe added that one out of every four veterans who manage to land a job earn less than $25,000 a year.
"Ironically, for too many years, the very men and women who served in uniform, stood ready to fight, and - if necessary - die in order to protect and preserve the free enterprise system, are summarily ignored by the federal agencies responsible for meeting their small business needs," Sharpe said.
CVE did get high marks from the Legion for its VIP database. According to Sharpe, it is the federal government's only database that focuses on veteran-owned small businesses. He said "CVE has successfully promoted this database commercially ... and has established a strong foundation and infrastructure that can easily be interwoven into other federal databases, such as the Central Contractors Registry.
While The American Legion supports CVE's goal to provide useful information to veterans who want to start or improve their small businesses, Sharpe said the center could be substantially improved, and that CVE "does not necessarily provide the right assistance to veterans.
"With regard to CVE's technical assistance capabilities, this effort represents a negligible impact locally and virtually no impact nationally," Sharpe told the subcommittee. "CVE maintains one small assistance center in Washington, D.C., where they see a small amount of clients and field phone calls.
"Government employees fielding phone calls about business is not an ideal way of conducting training and market research for veterans and their small businesses," Sharpe said. "VA and the Small Business Administration should develop a comprehensive partnership to assist veterans who are interested in participating in federal procurement."