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Protest filed against massive VA tech contract

A small business filed a protest in August, claiming the Veterans Affairs Department's mammoth contract to purchase various information technology services and hardware "absolutely favors" large corporations over veteran-owned firms.

On Aug. 30, the day before bids were due for the $12 billion Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology procurement, Vetrepreneur LLC, a service-disabled veteran-owned small business, filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office, arguing the contract would not distribute awards to veteran-owned businesses, as envisioned by the Veterans First Contracting Program, established in the 2006 Veterans Benefits, Health Care and Information Technology Act. The law requires VA to "give priority to a small business concern owned and controlled by veterans, if such business concern also meets the requirements of that contracting preference."

In July, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told the National Veterans Small Business Conference that seven of the 15 prime contractors on T4 would be reserved for veteran-owned small businesses, including four for service-disabled veteran owners. "With T4, you don't have to settle for smaller subcontracts or set-asides," he said. "It's your chance to think big, to think like a prime and to succeed as one."

The evaluation criteria for T4, which is the largest IT procurement in VA's history, puts veterans preference far behind other factors such as technical abilities and past performance, Robert Hesser, president of the company, said in the protest. He added if VA intended to comply with the law, it should divide the awards evenly between large corporations and veteran-owned businesses -- eight awards for large businesses and eight for veteran-owned firms.

Hesser, who serves as co-chairman of the Task Force for Veterans' Entrepreneurship, an advocacy group for veteran-owned businesses, said in an interview with Nextgov that he filed the protest to help the veteran business community and not for his own personal interest or gain. In the protest Hesser asked the Government Accountability Office to direct VA to reissue the T4 procurement so it complies with the law.

Ralph White, an attorney at GAO, said a ruling on Hesser's protest is not expected until December. He said VA can continue to evaluate T4 proposals, but cannot make awards until GAO rules on the protest.

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