Koutz: VA should adhere to veterans preference

A federal claims court has ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs no longer has to give contracting preference to veteran-owned small businesses. On Nov. 27, the U.S. Federal Claims Court in Washington ruled against a lawsuit filed by Maryland-based Kingdomware Technologies, Inc. that claimed VA awarded a contract for an emergency notification service without first considering bids from veterans.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) had sided with Kingdomware in its previous ruling, citing guidelines for veterans preference passed by Congress in 2006.

James Koutz, national commander of The American Legion, said he supports the GAO’s interpretation. "VA must make every effort to help veterans’ small businesses and do whatever it takes to help them succeed," he said. "This is why VA exists. This is part of its mission."

GAO has directed VA several times to comply with veterans preference guidelines when awarding contracts, and to identify at least two veteran-owned businesses capable of performing work competitively before turning to other vendors.

Koutz said federal agencies need to abide by GAO’s decision instead of filing lawsuits. "Whenever GAO makes a ruling, a legal mechanism of some kind should be in place that automatically binds federal agencies to its decision," he said. "They should not have the option of simply ignoring the ruling and claiming they do not work for GAO.

"After several protests by veteran business owners regarding this issue, GAO and the courts have overwhelmingly supported The American Legion’s position that veterans be considered first, before any other bidder, regarding VA contract opportunities."

The American Legion passed a resolution in 2011 that endorsed VA’s efforts "to ensure that contracts awarded pursuant to the Veterans First Program are awarded to companies that truly are entitled to receive these contracting benefits."

The following year, the Legion passed another resolution supporting legislation that would guarantee "equal parity for all veterans in all small business government contracting programs, thus ensuring that no veteran procurement program is at a disadvantage in competing with any other government procurement program established by law."