June 2021 marked the five-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Kingdomware decision, which is best known for broadly interpreting the so-called “Rule of Two” requirement flowing from the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 (the “VBA”). The Rule has been criticized for delaying Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) procurements and increasing the prices the government pays for goods and services. However, the importance of the Rule’s purpose—to prioritize and increase the government’s use of small businesses owned by veterans—cannot be credibly challenged.
Over the past five years, the Federal Circuit, Court of Federal Claims, and Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) protest decisions have created some bright-line rules interpreting the VBA’s Rule of Two. After a brief summary of the Rule of Two, this post lays out these bright-line rules, and concludes with predictions regarding future VBA Rule of Two protests.
On October 17, 2018, the Federal Circuit ruled that the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”) must give priority to veteran-owned small businesses (“VOSB”) when awarding contracts. PDS Consultants Inc. v. U.S., et al., Nos. 17-2379 and 17-2512, 2018 WL 5019735 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 17, 2018). At first blush, no one would argue with the foregoing statement. But, this mandate became less clear when the VA was faced with awarding a contract to a VOSB or following an otherwise mandatory requirement for all federal agencies to buy a specific list of items made by nonprofits employing the blind and significantly disabled.
Here is the source of confusion. More than 40 years ago, Congress enacted the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act (“JWOD”), which required federal agencies to buy certain items and services from nonprofits that employ the blind or people with other significant disabilities. Today, this mandatory procurement policy is implemented through the AbilityOne program. In 2006, Congress passed the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act (“VBA”). As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in Kingdomware, the VBA made it mandatory in almost every procurement for the VA to follow the “Rule of Two.” The “Rule of Two” requires the VA to award a contract to a VOSB whenever at least two VOSBs can perform the work at a reasonable price. Continue reading “In Department of Veterans Affairs Procurements, Veteran-Owned Businesses Trump All Other Contractors”
Effective October 1, 2018, verification of Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (“VOSBs”) and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (“SDVOSBs”) now rests with the Small Business Administration (“SBA”). (See, VA Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) Verification Guidelines.) Previously, the SBA and the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) had concurrent jurisdiction over VOSB/SDVOSB “ownership” and “control” determinations. This led to the confusing and inconsistent results. Now, the VA will no longer vet (pun intended) contractors to determine if they are eligible VOSBs or SDVOSBs. Exclusive authority to verify these businesses is now with the SBA. The new rule clarifies the VA verification process and makes VA and SBA regulations concerning VOSB and SDVOSB joint ventures consistent. The new rule stems from the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, Public Law 114-840, which called for the SBA and VA to eliminate inconsistent regulatory interpretations of “ownership” and “control” requirements for VOSBs and SDVOSBs. Continue reading “New Rules Affecting Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (Important to Large Businesses, Too)”