Lawmaker: Commitment crucial to meeting set-aside goals

The Army is able to meet small-business contracting goals because its leaders support the effort, a service official said.

What does the Army have that few other agencies have when it comes to veteran-owned small businesses? Commitment, one lawmaker says. The Army forecasts more than $1.7 billion through fiscal 2013 in potential set-asides exclusively for small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans. That amount comes after the service sent about $691 million in contract dollars last year to those businesses, up from $100 million in 2003, Lt. Col. James Blanco, assistant to the director of the Army’s Small Business Programs Office, said July 26. Blanco said the Army has no more resources than other federal agencies, but its top leaders support the effort. “It’s a matter of commitment,” Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.), ranking member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee Economic Opportunity Subcommittee, said after the hearing. The subcommittee has held three hearings in the past three months about contracting with veteran-owned small businesses. The latest hearing focused on contract bundling, which occurs when an agency consolidates two or more procurements that were previously under separate, smaller contracts. The practice often pushes small businesses out of the running for the contract. Keeping these businesses away from contracts does not allow agencies to send 3 percent of their contracting dollars, as mandated by law. “Contract bundling…is a particular practice we feel really interferes with reaching these set-aside goals,” Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), subcommittee chairwoman, said after the hearing. Moreover, larger businesses often get the bundled contract and then don’t hold to their small-business subcontracting plans. Blanco said the Army’s strategy is to increase the number of capable veteran-owned small businesses through a proactive business development program. “Identifying and growing [small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans] that possess core capabilities to meet Army requirements is the most important factor in reaching the 3 percent goal,” he said. Boozman said procurement officers are under a lot of pressure, and they tend to do what’s comfortable for them. So, it’s important to acquaint them with sending contracting dollars to small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans. There’s another problem. The Army, like other defense and civilian agencies, has too few contracting officers. Herseth Sandlin and Boozman intend to introduce legislation to help small businesses, but they want more information first. “There’s always new wrinkles that come up in all these hearings,” Herseth Sandlin said.

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