The VA Rule of Two, while a powerful motivator for setting procurements aside for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses, does have its limits.
One of those exceptions was discussed in a recent ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The court confirmed that the VA may convert a service-disabled veteran-owned small business set-aside solicitation to a small business set-aside if the SDVOSB bids it receives are too high in price.
If you think you heard this before, you’re not going crazy or living your own personal Groundhog Day. The court’s ruling is just the latest in a long-running debate about how the VA should balance the SDVOSB and AbilityOne contracting preferences.
Did you remember to staple the cover sheet to your TPS report? And, more importantly, if you recently filed a CVE Appeal with the Small Business Administration’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, did you remember to attach a copy of your CVE denial or cancellation?
A few months ago, GAO confirmed that where VA uses GPO as its buying agent, it still must to comply with the Rule of Two in 38 U.S.C. 8127(d) (see our blog post on the case ). After VA took corrective action, however, another bid protest was again filed, but this time in the Court of Federal Claims.
Surprisingly, there, the Court concluded differently, finding that GPO was not required to set aside the procurement for SDVOSBs or VOSBs, despite acting on VA’s behalf. In so doing, it has weakened the Rule of Two.
Statute A tells you to solve Problem X one way. Statute B tells you to solve Problem X a completely different way. How do you reconcile these two conflicting mandates? The Federal Circuit encountered this exact problem in 2018, and in response to its holding, the VA has now issued a class deviation to reflect its decision, confirming that the Rule of Two has priority over the AbilityOne Procurement List.
In late 2017, we wrote that the VA was considering using tiered evaluations to simultaneously 1) comply with the VA’s statutory Rule of Two (and Kingdomware), and 2) address situations in which SDVOSBs and VOSBs might not offer “fair and reasonable” pricing.
Since then, the VA has instituted the tiered evaluation process for certain solicitations, using one of three approaches:
While most of the rules for SDVOSB eligibility now reside with the SBA, the VA is still responsible for verification of entities for inclusion into its database of verified SDVOSBs and VOSBs. A recent Court of Federal Claims case describes what sort of conduct might get a business removed from the VA’s database–even if that conduct doesn’t run afoul of the SBA’s SDVOSB rule.
While the conduct in this case is somewhat egregious, it is a good reminder that VA has the power to thoroughly investigate the eligibility of an SDVOSB and can revoke the verified status based on inaccurate statements in an application.