The VA’s “rule of two” for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses provides a powerful contracting preference. Thanks to the rule of two, the VA awarded 23.39% of prime contracting dollars to SDVOSBs in Fiscal Year 2019, compared to 4.39% governmentwide.
But the rule of two has its limits. Importantly, before issuing an SDVOSB set-aside, the Contracting Officer must have a reasonable belief that “the award can be made at a fair and reasonable price that offers best value to the United States.” And, as a powerful federal court recently held, the fact that an SDVOSB’s prices have been accepted by the GSA under the Federal Supply Schedule program does not require the VA to accept those prices as fair and reasonable in a rule of two analysis.
After the Supreme Court’s unanimous Kingdomware decision affirmed the VA’s statutory obligation to prioritize SDVOSBs in its contracting, the VA authorized the use of so-called “tiered evaluations.” In a typical VA tiered evaluation, various categories of offerors can submit proposals, but SDVOSB proposals are considered first, then VOSB proposals, and so on.
Recently, a non-SDVOSB small business protested the VA’s decision to open discussions with the only SDVOSB offeror to submit a proposal–discussions that allowed the SDVOSB to win the contract. But according to the GAO, the small business couldn’t file a valid protest because the small business wasn’t in the same tier.
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.