In a Jan. 31 email to veterans service organizations, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that about 3.2 percent of its contracting dollars for fiscal 2010 went to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs).
The number of veterans employed by DHS also increased from 46,847 in August 2009 to 48,130 last December; the agency's goal is to employ 50,000 veterans by the end of 2012.
"It's great that a federal agency has followed up on what it intended to do," American Legion Economic Director Joe Sharpe said. "Secretary (Janet) Napolitano came to our 2009 national convention in Louisville and spoke to us about how DHS was going to hire more veterans, and give more contracts to veterans. And they've done it.
"DHS participated in many of our career fairs last year. The Legion's Economic Division has been working closely with DHS's Veterans Affairs Office – and they've kept their commitment."
Napolitano's department is the latest agency to meet the federal goal (established by public law in 1999) of providing 3 percent of its funding for contracts to SDVOSBs. The law's intent has been underscored by two presidential executive orders.
Sharpe said that he and his staff have communicated weekly with DHS for the past two years, following the agency's progress in providing veterans with work and business opportunities. The Legion's Economic Division also meets regularly with other federal agencies, including the departments of Defense, Treasury, Labor, Veterans Affairs, and Housing and Urban Development, and the Office of Personnel Management.
The American Legion's agenda is the same for each visit: promote the hiring of veterans and the spending of more contracting dollars on SDVOSBs.
While several federal agencies have met their 3-percent mandates, Sharpe said, "We're still very disappointed with the Department of Defense. That's where most of the significant contracts are, but DoD has one of the worst records for contracting to veteran-owned businesses. Instead of being at 3 percent, they're at about 1 percent."
The major cause of DoD's poor performance in contracting to veterans is, according to Sharpe, its preference for working with large corporations such as General Dynamics, Raytheon and Boeing.
"DoD claims they can't find enough veteran-owned businesses that are qualified to handle their contracts," Sharpe said. "That's what they'll tell you, but I know several of the smaller companies that can help build the big-ticket items, including submarines and aircraft."
The American Legion's Economic Division will continue to work with DoD and other federal agencies in getting them to meet their 3-percent goals. Sharpe said the recent DHS success serves as a "good example to follow because the commitment is coming from the top down.
"When an agency's secretary or director makes it clear that something needs to be done, it's usually accomplished. And Secretary Napolitano is one of the few who have gone out to their staff and said, ‘We are going to reach this 3-percent goal.' And that's the kind of commitment we need from all the heads of federal agencies," Sharpe said.