The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act makes some important adjustments to the criteria for ownership and control of a service-disabled veteran-owned small business.
The 2017 NDAA modifies how the ownership criteria are applied in the case of an ESOP, specifies that a veteran with a permanent and severe disability need not personally manage the company on a day-to-day basis, and, under limited circumstances, permits a surviving spouse to continue to operate the company as an SDVOSB.
As I discussed in a separate blog post last week, the SBA and VA currently operate separate SDVOSB programs, and each agency has its own definition of who qualifies as an SDVOSB. The 2017 NDAA consolidates these definitions by requiring the VA to use the SBA’s criteria for ownership and control.
In addition to consolidating the statutory definitions, the 2017 NDAA makes three important changes to the ownership and control criteria themselves.
First, the 2017 NDAA specifies that stock owned by an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, is not considered when the SBA or VA determines whether service-connected veterans own at least 51 percent of the company’s stock–at least where a company is “publicly owned.” This portion of the 2017 NDAA may overturn a 2015 decision by the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals, which held that a company was not an eligible SDVOSB because the service-disabled veteran did not own at least 51% of the company’s ESOP class of stock. (The Court of Federal Claims ultimately upheld OHA’s decision later that year).
Second, the 2017 NDAA continues to provide that “the management and daily business operations” of an eligible SDVOSB ordinarily must be controlled by service-disabled veterans. However, the 2017 NDAA states that if a veteran has a “permanent and severe disability,” the “spouse or permanent caregiver of such veteran” may run the company. This provision is very similar to the one currently used by the SBA in its regulations; the VA does not currently have a provision whereby a spouse or permanent caregiver may operate an SDVOSB.
But Congress goes a step beyond the SBA’s current regulations. In a separate paragraph, the 2017 NDAA states that a company may qualify as an SDVOSB if it is owned by a veteran “with a disability that is rated by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs as a permanent and total disability” and who is “unable to manage the daily business operations” of the company. In such a case, the statute does not specify that the company must be run by the spouse or permanent caregiver. In other words, for veterans with permanent and total disabilities, the statute appears to allow control by others, such as (perhaps) non-veteran minority owners. Historically, the SBA and VA have been very skeptical of undue control by non-veteran minority owners, so it will be interesting to see how the agencies interpret and apply this new statutory provision.
Third, the 2017 NDAA states that a surviving spouse may continue to operate a company as an SDVOSB when a veteran dies, provided that: (1) the surviving spouse acquires the veteran’s ownership interest; (2) the veteran had a service connected disability “rated as 100 percent disabling” by the VA, or “died as a result of a service-connected disability” and (3) immediately prior to the veteran’s death, the company was verified in the VA’s VetBiz database. When the three conditions apply, the surviving spouse may continue to operate the company as an SDVOSB for up to ten years, although SDVOSB status will be lost earlier if the surviving spouse remarries or relinquishes ownership in the company.
This provision is very similar to the one currently found in the VA’s regulations. At present, the SBA does not have any provisions whereby a surviving spouse can continue to operate an SDVOSB.
That said, the statutory provision–just like the current VA regulation–is quite narrow. In my experience, there is a common misconception that a surviving spouse is always entitled to continue running a company as an SDVOSB. In fact, a surviving spouse is only able to do so when certain strict conditions are met. In many cases, the veteran in question was not 100 percent disabled and didn’t die as a result of a service-connected disability (or the surviving spouse is unable to prove that the service-connected disability caused the veteran’s death). And in those cases, the surviving spouse is unable to continue claiming SDVOSB status, both under the VA’s current rules and the 2017 NDAA.
2017 NDAA: The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 has been approved by both House and Senate, and will likely be signed into law soon. It includes some massive changes as well as some small but nevertheless significant tweaks sure to impact Federal procurements in the coming year. For the next few days, SmallGovCon will delve into the minutia to provide context and analysis so that you do not have to. Visit smallgovcon.com for the latest on the government contracting provisions of the 2017 NDAA.