As recently as May, the Department of Veterans Affairs told a nonprofit helping to employ blind workers that it intended to renew its contract. The organization was shocked, therefore, when on July 30, the VA issued a notice of award to a service-disabled veteran-owned small business. To make matters worse, the nonprofit’s GAO protest of the award was promptly dismissed for being untimely.
Ever since the Supreme Court’s Kingdomware decision was handed down in 2016, an important question has remained: who has priority at the VA for items on the AbilityOne List?
Yesterday, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals provided the answer. The VA is required to prioritize service-disabled veteran-owned or veteran-owned small businesses when the Rule of Two is met, even when it buys items on the AbilityOne List.
The FAR mandates that agencies use the AbilityOne program to award contracts for items on the AbilityOne procurement list to qualified nonprofits. The purpose of the program is to increase employment and training opportunities for persons who are blind or have other severe disabilities.
With rare exceptions, when an item is on the AbilityOne procurement list, an agency has no choice–it must purchase through AbilityOne, even where the AbilityOne items are included in the procurement of larger services. The GAO recently sustained a protest where the GSA awarded a courthouse lease without requiring that the associated custodial services be procured from an AbilityOne nonprofit.