Billy C. Jenkins offers training to service-disabled veterans who are seeking federal procurements. Noel St. John

Learning the ropes the key to success

Already eligible for federal retirement after 38 years of employment, Billy C. Jenkins freely speaks his mind. The Veteran's Procurement Liaison for the U.S. Small Business Administration, Jenkins keeps an eye on which federal agencies are meeting their requirements for veteran-disabled business procurements - by law, 3 percent of all federal dollars spent this year are supposed to be spent with companies owned and operated by veterans - and which are not.

Jenkins, an Air Force veteran who teaches classes on gaining federal contracts to service-disabled veterans, will even target the executive office of President Barack Obama, saying the office has only made 0.9 percent of its service-disabled veterans goal. "I can't tell you to e-mail the president and let him know that his procurement(s) are at 0 percent," Jenkins told attendees to the Legion's Small Business Task Force Seminar last week in Washington. "So I need to have some rebellious folks out there. And I'm going to tell you right now do not e-mail the White House and tell them their procurement office is at 0 percent. Don't you dare send that e-mail out there.

"For some reason, this country really, really hasn't learned to take care of its service-disabled veterans business operation. There is no reason why we must go to the front line and fight the battle, and we come home and we've got to go the end of the line. There's something wrong with that."

Jenkins said that progress has been made in federal procurements. When he took over the job three years ago, $840 million was awarded to the service-disabled veteran community. But by working with veterans and training them as contracting officers, "that number is up to $8.7 billion. Now that's the good news."

But Jenkins said the bad news is that many veteran business owners aren't "well-versed in federal acquisition regulations. Therein lies the problem," Jenkins said. "'If you cannot speak our language, I am not going to give you the time of day. If you cannot speak our language, I am going to pull every trick in the book to get you out of my office or off my telephone.'

"You don't have to take that. One thing that SBA did correctly here was that they hired a government contracting position to teach you the ropes. My job is to make you smarter than the contracting officers. And it has been done."

Jenkins said he only has two requirements of those he trains. "You are to make enough money to hire other veterans," he said. "Here's the big one: You are to generate enough wealth to pass it down five generations. And there's no reason why you can't do it."

During the seminar, Jenkins asked all the small-business owners in the audience to exchange business cards. "Without unity and the sharing of information, we do not move forward," he said.

SBA's Office of Veterans Business Development