The VA is considering using so-called “tiered evaluations” to address concerns that SDVOSBs and VOSBs may not always offer “fair and reasonable” pricing, even when two or more veteran-owned companies compete for a contract.
In a session yesterday at the National Veterans Small Business Engagement, a panel of VA acquisition leaders described the potential tiered evaluation process. It’s hard to argue that the VA isn’t entitled to fair and reasonable pricing, but judging from the reaction in the room, some SDVOSBs and VOSBs may wonder whether tiered evaluations are an effort to circumvent Kingdomware.
The Court of Federal Claims recently issued an opinion that defines “unconditional ownership” of an SDVOSB in a more relaxed manner than the SBA, creating a split of authority on the issue.
The Court, rejecting SBA precedent, held that certain restrictions on ownership of an SDVOSB by a service-disabled veteran are acceptable under the SBA’s unconditional ownership regulations. In particular, the SDVOSB company can retain a right of first refusal that would allow it to purchase the shares of the veteran upon death, incompetency, or insolvency, and that right does not result in a violation of the unconditional ownership requirement.
With the Court and the SBA’s administrative judges staking out different positions, what should SDVOSBs do?
A non-SDVOSB company couldn’t protest the terms of a VA SDVOSB set-aside solicitation, despite entering into a joint venture agreement with an SDVOSB–because the joint venture hadn’t started the process of becoming verified by the VA.
In a recent bid protest decision, GAO held that because neither the protester nor the joint venture was included in the VIP database, or likely to be included during the protest process, the protester wasn’t an “interested party” under the GAO’s bid protest regulations.
Provisions in a company’s Shareholders Agreement, requiring the service-disabled veteran to sell his shares back to the company in the event of the veteran’s death or incapacity, were contrary to the SBA’s SDVOSB regulations.
According to a recent SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals decision, these provisions prevented the veteran from having unconditional ownership over the company, because he could not dispose of his shares as he chose. In reaching its conclusion, SBA OHA wrote that Court of Federal Claims decisions allowing such provisions under the VA’s SDVOSB program didn’t apply to SBA–meaning that SDVOSBs verified by the VA might be ineligible for non-VA SDVOSB contracts.
What a mess.
The VA has officially withdrawn its November 2015 proposal to overhaul its SDVOSB and VOSB regulations.
The VA’s action isn’t surprising, given that the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act requires the VA to work with the SBA to prepare a consolidated set of SDVOSB regulations, which will then apply to both VA and non-VA procurements. What’s interesting, though, is that the VA doesn’t say that it’s withdrawing the 2015 proposal because of the 2017 NDAA, but rather because of numerous objections to the proposal–including objections from the SBA.
In May 2017, SDVOSBs and VOSBs lodged another big win in their battle to enforce the statutory preferences for veteran-owned companies: the Court of Federal Claims held that the VA cannot buy products or services using the AbilityOne list without first applying the “rule of two” and determining whether qualified SDVOSBs or VOSBs are likely to bid.
But the AbilityOne vendor in question isn’t going down without a fight. It’s taking the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit–and the Court of Federal Claims just issued a ruling staying its May decision pending the results of the appeal.
After receiving “numerous” public comments, the VA has confirmed today that the extended three-year SDVOSB and VOSB verification term–originally adopted in February 2017–will remain in effect indefinitely. Before February, SDVOSBs and VOSBs were required to be reverified every two years.