American Legion National Veterans Employment and Education Division Assistant Director Kaitlin Gray

Legion testifies on draft House bills

American Legion National Veterans Employment and Education Division Assistant Director Kaitlin Gray testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on June 29 regarding the Legion’s position on several pending bills.

VA Procurement Efficiency and Transparency Act (H.R. 2006)

The VA Procurement Efficiency and Transparency Act would require the VA to uniformly track cost savings in its contracting competitions and ensure the use of standardized contracting procedures. “Currently, the VA measures savings using inconsistent local policies and disorganized templates, leading to inaccurate contracting data as well as inefficient and costly procurement results,” Gray said. “Under this practice, the VA has misspent billions due to its negligence and disregard for procurement rules.”

Gray said this bill falls short of giving stakeholders sufficient ability to clearly understand alternative spending solutions and how they might produce greater utility for taxpayer’s dollars.

Specifically, H.R. 2006 would only ensure visibility into the pricing and configurations of vendors who responded to a solicitation. Given that this would only represent a subset of the supplier community, the end result would be an incomplete data set, employing a strategy that only looks at those opportunities that were evaluated, Gray said.

“During the 114th Congress, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee held hearings examining the VA’s flawed procurement processes, identifying the waste of billions,” Gray said. “The June 2016 hearing received testimony on the significance of consistently using a uniformed template when procuring medical services for veterans from affiliated hospitals. Testimony further revealed that negotiating these contracts from scratch, instead of using standardized contracts, resulted in inexcusable wait times – some as long as three years to finalize.”

Gray went on to say that consequently, these long wait times for contract finalization have caused significant delays for veterans in receiving much needed health care.

“Notwithstanding the concerns noted above, we see a modified version of this bill producing value and utility for both the taxpayer and the nation’s veterans,” she said. “The American Legion supports H.R. 2006 with amendments.”

Protecting Business Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2017 (H.R. 2749)

Gray said this bill improves oversight of contracts awarded by the VA secretary to a veteran-owned small business (VOSB) or a service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB). When a VOSB or SDVOSB is awarded a contract under the Vets First Program, they are required to perform a certain percentage of work. However, there is a longstanding problem of improper “pass-through's” in the program where businesses profit from the contracts while performing little to no work and passing them off to other companies, Gray said. “This bill would require participants in the Vets First Program to certify that they are performing the required percentage of work and directs VA to refer suspected violators to the Office of the Inspector General,” she said. “This is crucial, especially after the Kingdomware decision — essentially, every VA small business contract is now set aside for SDVOSB’s and VOSB’s.”

Gray said The American Legion is in favor of H.R. 2749. The Legion supports legislation that will provide assistance and equal opportunity for veterans to start or grow a small business, including establishing numerical goals for all veterans to compete in government procurement.

Ensuring Veteran Enterprise Participation in Strategic Sourcing Act (H.R. 2781)

H.R. 2781 directs VA to certify the sufficient participation of SDVOSB’s and VOSB’s in contracts under the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative. “This draft bill closes a loophole in 38 USC 8127 procurement requirements, and requires VA to set aside the proper amount of contracts for veteran businesses,” Gray said. “Currently, the VA obtains much of its supplies through government-wide strategic sourcing contracts run by the General Services Administration (GSA).”

In some product categories, Gray said VOSB’s hold few or no contracts. VA is required to work with GSA to increase veteran-business representation on the contracts, and veterans must be given all available opportunities to pursue the three percent standard allotted to SDVOSB’s.

“We view this draft bill as having the potential of producing substantial benefits for the veteran business community,” Gray said. “However, The American Legion encourages Congress to implement a measurement that is stronger than ‘sufficient.’ We request that term ‘sufficient’ be changed to ‘maximum extent practicable.’”

The American Legion supports H.R. 2781 with amendments.

Improving the Hiring, Training and Efficiency of Acquisition Personnel and Organizations of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for Other Purposes (draft bill)

This draft bill will direct VA to expand its acquisition intern programs and increase training for facility management, as well as logistics/supply chain employees. Gray said many other agencies receive the majority of their entry-level acquisition employees from their intern programs, which include a full-time developmental job for recent graduates or veterans.

“This program also benefits from veterans’ preference and direct hiring authorities,” Gray said. “Additionally, the graduate’s sign continuing service agreements which offers VA a stable workforce. Although VA has other intern programs, they usually produce only 20-30 graduates annually.”

The Legion supports legislation that will increase the employee capabilities at VA. “We feel that recent graduates and veterans bring much needed new talent into VA,” Gray said. “These intern programs will only help strengthen VA with talented new employees, which will help veterans in the long run. The American Legion supports this draft bill.”