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Glitch in VA VetBiz System Could Cost Business Owners Contracts

If you know of a company listed in the VA’s VetBiz registry for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (“SDVOSBs”) and veteran-owned small businesses (“VOSBs”), please take a moment to forward this article. It may make a difference when they are bidding on set-aside contracts issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) in the near future.

Unbeknownst to business owners, some NAICS codes have been removed from public (or contracting officer) view. Even if a company properly added its NAICS codes, and even checked them recently in anticipation of responding to a solicitation, it might now search for itself in the VetBiz database and find no NAICS codes listed. This means that when bidding on the solicitation at issue, it might get booted for failure to have the applicable NAICS code listed at the time of offer.

This also has Kingdomware implications – contracting officers conducting their necessary market research under the Rule of Two will search the VetBiz registry for veteran-owned businesses and then not set aside the opportunity because there will be no search results! (For folks who don’t know what Kingdomware is, the very quick summary is that it’s a Supreme Court case that held that when awarding contracts off federal schedules, the VA has to set aside the opportunity for veteran-owned businesses when there is the reasonable expectation that two or more such businesses will bid, and the award can be made at a fair and reasonable price that offers the best value to the government).

I’ve been told by the poor folks at the CVE help desk that this issue has been caused by problems with SAM.gov syncing with the VetBiz system. It certainly isn’t the veteran business owner’s fault, as anyone in VetBiz knows they have to add at least one NAICS code to have a complete profile.

It is unclear how many businesses have been affected, but take a moment to search for your business and make sure that if a contracting officer is viewing your profile, everything is as it should be. Here’s the link. If your NAICS code is gone and you’re responding to a solicitation, inform the contracting officer and also submit a Help Desk support ticket (though if the CVE is aware of this issue, it should be frantically correcting this system-wide malfunction already).

Why has the VA not sent out an alert about this? Someone at the VA’s CVE needs to take a moment to put this exact same information into a quick blurb and blast it out to veteran business owners. As proud as I am of this blog, it can’t reach everyone.

I take no pleasure in another negative article about the VA’s VetBiz verification system. If there were an improvement to report, I would happily do so. (In fact, the Director of the VA’s Office of Small Disadvantaged Business Utilization’s Strategic Outreach Communications and Training contacted me today about sharing information regarding the new VetBiz verification system, and I look forward to reporting positive changes to expect). Right now, however, these changes affect our veteran business owners, and it’s important they be informed.

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veteran small business issues at: https://legalmeetspractical.com.

 

VA Digs Own Grave With New Business Verification System

One price of doing business with the federal government is having to deal with inconvenience: bid protests, registering on federal sites, interfacing with government folks who have enormous discretion in fulfilling their official duties. We accept this as federal contractors, deciding it’s worth it in order to go after federal opportunities.

But did we really sign up for losing all our hair? I ask because the VA’s new website for registration of veteran-owned small businesses for set-aside work with the VA (the VetBiz registry) is beyond incomprehensible and riddled with glitches. Without a major overhaul, as someone who assists with this process on a very regular basis I cannot imagine how much time I will waste spinning my wheels and receiving errors like his one:

“You’re welcome,” says the CVE.

I had no real complaints with the old website. The worst issue I ever encountered was not being able to upload a document because of size issues. But in early May, the VA announced that it was going to revamp the VetBiz portal, warning that it would shut down on May 21 for approximately 30 days. If you wanted to submit your business for verification or reverification, you had to do it before the system went off the grid.

I could bore you with a lot more stories and details, but here are some of the issues I’ve encountered once the system went back up (which was much later than after the projected thirty days):

  • My old account did not merge with the new account I was required to create. For weeks, when I accessed the new account, it was completely empty. Not a single business was listed. (I have a master account including all businesses where I am a representative). The help desk informed me that to be added, every single individual veteran owner would have to not only figure out how to access his/her account, but to add me as a representative (neither an easy feat). They also informed me that my old “legacy” account no longer existed so I wouldn’t get alerts. Both of these statements were incorrect, because just last week my new account suddenly has all businesses listed, and the entire time I couldn’t access it, I received alerts I could do nothing about (presumably coming from the phantom legacy system).
  • Every time I log in to the new system, I have to enter a text code sent to my phone. I also understand that my password must be changed every thirty days. Thirty days! For veteran owners who don’t access their account often, I’m betting this means that every time they do, they’ll have to call the Help Desk to reset their password since it will have expired.
  • The new system no longer provides ANY information in the email alerts sent to veterans. For instance, when you’re going through the verification process, the CVE sends out document requests. I used to be able to forward these to the veteran and give them the skinny on exactly what was being asked and let them know what not to worry about because I’d do a Letter of Explanation. Now, veteran owners receive a vague notice about a document request and have to log in to their account (good luck with that, in and of itself), to actually view the document request.
  • It is not uncommon to receive an error message when navigating the new system or to encounter requests that are literally impossible to address. For instance, I was assisting a company that was told it needed to re-sign a form (the 8077). There was no mechanism to do that, and when I attempted to fill out a Help Desk ticket, I got the lovely message pictured above.

To save itself from. . . itself. . . the CVE recently sent out a Verification Extension Notification to everyone in the VetBiz system. This extends the verification period of everyone affected by these “upgrades” by 60 days. (Anyone going through the process to be verified, not re-verified, is out of luck). Great, but I have to think about the poor guy who told me about the twenty help desk tickets he submitted in trying to respond to document requests during the verification process. And I have to think about the longer-term problem. Even if the glitches in the system are fixed, the new system itself is. . . I have no words. And I consider myself quite verbose.

As we all know, the SBA is supposed to be taking over the VetBiz process soon. Sure, this has been in the works since at least 2013, but given the VA’s valiant attempts to dig its own grave in demonstrating its ability to improve the VetBiz process, maybe this will speed things up. Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veteran small business issues at: https://legalmeetspractical.com. Remember to click the link sent to your email to activate your subscription!

Hot Flash! Quick News for Veteran-Owned Businesses

In the dwindling hours of Friday, here are three news items of note for veteran-owned small business owners:

VA Releases More Info On National Veteran Small Business Engagement (NVSBE) – Every year, the VA holds a conference for veteran-owned small businesses that seek to do work with the agency. This year, the focus of the NVSBE is on the Architecture, Engineering, Construction, and Facilities Maintenance (AECFM) industry. As cited on the website, the basis for the focused theme of the Engagement is to address VA’s most critical needs and performance gaps that are listed in VA’s Strategic Capital Investment Planning (SCIP) Process Project List. Access additional information regarding the conference, which takes place in New Orleans from October 31 through November 2, here.

CVE Website Working Again – After literally months of hiatus, it appears that the VetBiz portal, which businesses access in order to register to do set-aside work with the VA, is somewhat functional again. If you were waiting on the system upgrades in order to apply for verification or re-verification, now is the time to try again. Access the new VetBiz portal here. Also, here’s the VA’s fact sheet on how to get an account with the new system, as old accounts are now defunct.

VA to Hold Another Townhall on Tiered Evaluation – I covered tiered evaluation in detail last week. This is the VA’s means to complying with the Kingdomware mandate of setting aside schedule work for SVOSBs and VOSBs. If you have additional questions or concerns about this process, take advantage of the Q&A portion of the townhall that will be held on August 7 from 1:00 – 1:30 PM ET. Register here. (Do it soon, if you’re interested – the alert I received was for July 31, but when I tried to register, that time/date was gone).

That’s it and that’s all. Enjoy your weekend!

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veteran business issues at: https://legalmeetspractical.com. Remember to click the link sent to your email to activate your subscription!

 

SBA OIG: Boots to Business Program Needs Polish

The Small Business Administration’s (“SBA”) Boots to Business (“B2B”) program, established in 2014, is an entrepreneurial training program offered by the SBA as part of the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program. It provides transitioning service members interested in exploring business ownership or other self-employment opportunities with the information to develop business plans, and it also connects service members to SBA resources partners and start-up capital.

Just yesterday (July 19), the SBA’s Office of Inspector General released an audit report that examined: 1) the efficiency of the program; 2) its achievement of goals and objectives; and 3) recipients’ compliance with agreement requirements.

To complete the audit, the SBA selected three cooperative agreement recipients with awards totaling $6.7 million, then interviewed SBA program officials and recipients (referring to resource centers, not individual veterans), as well as conducted site visits and phone interviews (of both program resources and participants) and attended day courses run by the program.

In a nutshell, while the SBA noted improvements, it also found several areas where the B2B program could be improved: the SBA did not meet established performance goals for the number of participants or the graduation rate from the 8-week course; the SBA did not ensure that recipients measured and reported performance outcomes; and the SBA was unable to determine what one recipient spent on the B2B program or to assess the validity of reimbursement requests (resulting in the OIG finding $419,912 in unsupported questioned costs).

To correct these issues, the OIG made seven recommendations. While SBA management concurred with six of seven of them, its planned actions resolved only three out of the seven. For additional detail, access the report here. Further details and planned actions are sure to follow, which is exciting given the important purpose of this program. We need more resources like this for our veteran entrepreneurs!

For those of you who are small business owners (or prospective small business owners), consider attending a two-day B2B program on your military installation. These are open to all transitioning service members and their spouses. Although this is a fairly new program that still needs to have the kinks worked out, that doesn’t mean that YOU as a veteran business owner can’t take advantage of the resources it has to offer. Access more information and the schedule of courses here. You can also email the program at boots-to-business@sba.gov or call 202-205-VET1 (202-205-8381).

Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s blog on veteran small business issues at https://legalmeetspractical.com. Remember to click the link sent to your email to activate your subscription!

VA Tiered Evaluation: Loophole or Solution to Kingdomware?

For veteran-owned small businesses (“VOSBs”) that hold a Federal Supply Schedule (“FSS”), the 2016 Supreme Court Kingdomware decision was supposed to be a major coup against the VA. The Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision to hold that the “Rule of Two” is mandatory – when it comes to orders off the FSS, contracting officers are required to set them aside for VOSBs if, after conducting market research, they have a “reasonable expectation that two or more. . . VOSBS. . . will submit offers and that the award can be made at a fair and reasonable price that offers best value to the United States.” 38 U.S.C. 8127(d). The VA utilizes the hierarchy set forth at VAAR Subpart 819.70, which entails first attempting to set aside a contract for SDVOSBs, then for VOSBs, then small businesses, and finally, other-than-small businesses.

And what is “market research?” According to a July 2016 policy memorandum that was issued to implement Kingdomware, contracting officers must:

  • Search the VetBiz VIP database by NAICS code.
  • Determine if two or more SDVOSBs/VOSBs are listed by the NAICS code.
  • Determine if these identified SDVOSBs/VOSBs are capable of performing the work and likely to submit an offer/quote at a fair and reasonable price that offers the best value to the government.

Ever since the Kingdomware decision came down, VOSBs have been complaining that the VA has not been following it. On the VA’s end, the complaint is that it can’t get a “fair and reasonable price” by setting aside solicitations for VOSBs and SDVOSBs.

Now, the VA’s solution is tiered evaluation, which it presented at the National Veteran Small Business Engagement in December and expounded upon in a June 20 town hall presentation held by Tom Leney, the executive director of the VA’s Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization.

As explained by Mr. Leney, tiered evaluation is used to ensure that the VA receives a “fair and reasonable price” and to prevent the time and expense of re-soliciting a contract (due to not receiving two or more offers from SDVOSBs or VOSBs, or receiving a fair and reasonable price).

There are three different types of tiered evaluation, all of which utilize the same process for evaluating offers: the VA will open competition to all categories identified (noting that it is utilizing tiered evaluation), and consider offers by order of preference, moving down to the next tier if it is unable to make an award at a fair and reasonable price:

  • Tiered evaluations limited to SDVOSBs and VOSBs.
  • Tiered evaluations limited to SDVOSBs, VOSBs, and small businesses.
  • Tiered evaluations including large business concerns.

This makes sense, to a degree. If the VA is encountering trouble making an award at a “fair and reasonable price,” it saves the VA time and effort to use tiered evaluation. However, as Mr. Leney pointed out, whether a price is “fair and reasonable” is determined by comparing it to the Independent Government Cost Estimate (“IGCE”). Okay fine, but what about that IGCE? What if it’s out of date? What if the scope of work has changed? What if it’s two percent less than the price offered by an SDVOSB? Can the VA make the award? What about three percent? Where are the guidelines for evaluating prices compared with the IGCE? If the veteran companies’ prices are one percent higher than the IGCE, can the VA use tiered evaluation to justify making the award to a small business or a large business instead?

Mr. Leney also noted that if found that the IGCE is not realistic, the VA could then cancel the solicitation. However, there was no information provided as to how the VA would make that determination or the path forward.

If the intent and effect is truly to prevent re-solicitations due to the VA setting aside work to SDVOSBs and VOSBs but ultimately not being able to make the award, great. But right now, tiered evaluation is concerning because of the lack of firm guidance or parameters for the VA to follow. And without firm guidance or parameters, the worry is that tiered evaluation is more of a loophole than a solution.

What do you think?

Like this cake, VA tiered evaluation has four layers: SDVOSB, VOSB, small, and other-than-small.

Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on small business issues at: https://legalmeetspractical.com.

 

Five Expenses Every Startup Business Should Consider

One issue I see small businesses dealing with across the board is figuring out what expenses are worth it. Do you really need to hire a registered agent to accept service of process? (Generally, no). Do you need commercial office space? (It depends on your business). As a startup business cognizant of the bottom line, it’s important to know what’s worth it and what isn’t; however, many times it’s impossible to differentiate until you’ve already spent the dough.

From my experience, both as a small business owner myself and one who deals almost exclusively with small businesses, here are five expenditures every small business should consider:

  1. A virtual office – Many small businesses don’t actually need commercial space, especially when just starting out. At the same time, in the interests of looking professional and not revealing personal information (i.e., your home address), using a corporate address is a good idea. Sometimes, a family member or friend might allow you to use their business address effectively as a mail stop or point of contact; however, that option isn’t always available. Consider investing in a virtual office – for less than a hundred dollars a month, you’ll have access to an office for purposes of meeting with clients (you pay by use), as well as a professional address. Just know that when it comes to some official registrations, you cannot use it as the point of contact because they’ll want an actual “physical” address.
  2. A virtual phone solution – Rather than obtain a separate phone for your office, consider a virtual phone solution. Businesses such as Onebox offer services such as an auto attendant (when a client calls, they dial a number separate from your personal phone number and they hear a message from an auto-attendant before being routed to you), professional greetings, teleconference line, voicemails transcribed to texts/emails, and online faxing. In addition to providing you with a professional phone number, services such as Onebox will only set you back about $35/month versus the much higher amount you’d spend on obtaining a separate phone for your business.
  3. A great web developer – If you are relying on obtaining clients from the general public, or know that prospective clients will be checking up on you via the web, consider investing in a professional website. Not all web developers are created equal, however, so get referrals and understand the market rates. (I know a web developer I would unreservedly recommend).
  4. Professional business cards – It’s always a good idea to have professional business cards on hand. I use Vistaprint and always have an eye out for promotions; if you catch a good one, you can get about 50% off site-wide.
  5. A LinkedIn premium account – This expenditure depends on your industry, but LinkedIn in general is a great way to get your name out there and connect with prospective clients, teaming partners, and other contacts. Joining is free, but you can upgrade your account (watch for promotions), and then send messages to those outside your network for free as well as see who’s viewed your profile.

What do you think? As a small business owner, can you think of any expenses that were worth any penny? Any that were a waste?

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veteran small business issues at: https://legalmeetspractical.com.

In The Office, the Michael Scott Paper Company invested in a pancake breakfast to draw in clients (Season Five)

The New VetBiz Website: It’s Not You, It’s Them

UPDATE: As of June 6, 2018, the VetBiz site is still down with the exception of the search function. Document requests continue to be suspended, and there is no information as when the CVE will be back to business as usual (to include the processing of applications and complete usability of VetBiz portals).

I write this to clear up confusion for folks involved with veteran-owned small businesses registered with the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (“VA”) VetBiz registry, which is the database for all businesses approved for SDVOSB and VOSB set-aside work with the VA.

Specifically, if you’re undergoing verification and/or have been on their new site, you might be tearing your hair out in light of the new login system. For example, if you’ve logged in, where on earth is your business information? Why can’t you log in? If you can’t log in, what about that pending document request or your expiring verified status?

Here’s the gist. On May 21, the VA shut down all access to the VetBiz site while completing updates, relaying that it would be up and running in 30 days. This meant that if you wanted to get VetBiz-verified, or re-verified, you had to hit “submit” on May 20 before the system went down (during the system upgrades, applications were still being processed).

On June 22, the VetBiz site was updated with information on how to get an account under the new system. The process is different for veteran owners compared with non-veterans and representatives, with the latter requiring inputting multiple codes sent via text and the answering of several security questions (similar to the D&B process). However, when one logged in to the system, they would find no information in their portal, while their old account still worked.

Earlier this week, the old system was phased out, meaning that no one had (or still has) access to it, with business information in the process of being migrated over to the new one. Here are the major snags:

  • The business information from the legacy system is not yet in the new system. This means that for those of you who have logged into your new portal, it looks empty. Accordingly, if you were looking forward to getting back to work on your application after the 30-day hold, or have a document request pending, you won’t be able to complete these tasks.
  • Anyone who is not the veteran owner has been booted from any and all business accounts for which they are a representative. The only way for them to be added to the account is for the veteran owner (only) to sign up for an account under the new system and to add the non-veteran as a representative.
  • If you are not yet in the new system, you will not be receiving alerts relating to document requests and the expiration of your verification period because these are generated from the legacy system. As such, when access to the new system becomes available, make sure you have an active account so you receive any alerts pertinent to your verified status/verification application. (As an FYI, however, while I was informed of this via the help desk, I am still receiving alerts despite having been removed as a representative across the board).

So. . . what can you do? .

  • If you have a pending document request – If you have a document request that is outstanding, the CVE will be extending your time because they are aware you can’t access your account.
  • If your verification period is expiring soon – As of now, the system has now been out of commission for approximately 35 days. The hope is for those businesses that are expiring soon, the CVE will provide a reasonable extension of their verified period. However, there has been no announcement has of yet, and it might be difficult for the CVE to identify the affected companies and take appropriate steps.
  • If you have been unable to apply for verification for the first time, or for re-verification – There is no information available as to when the site will be up. However, as soon as it goes up, if you have the ability to hit “submit,” do so before it goes down again. That will at least get you in the queue to be assigned to an intake analyst (which has been taking about three weeks). During this system upgrade, it is still business as usual on the examination side.

I’ll share any updates there are to provide, and please know this information is from my own experience, conversations with the help desk and other pertinent individuals, and the website. It is as accurate as possible, and I’ll update this article to reflect any changes.

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog at: https://legalmeetspractical.com.

OIG Report: Agencies Score an F in WOSB Sole Source Awards

In a report released by the Small Business Administration’s Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) just yesterday, contracting agencies were heatedly criticized for failing to comply with the requirements for awarding sole source contracts under the Woman-Owned Small Business (“WOSB”) Program. The potential cost of this mistake? $52.2 million.

As an initial note, the requirements for awarding sole source contracts to WOSBS are set forth at FAR 19.1506. This provides that a contracting officer may award a sole source contract to an economically-disadvantaged WOSB, or EDWOSB, when: WOSBs are underrepresented in the applicable NAICS code, the contracting officer does not have a reasonable expectation that offers would be received from two or more EDWOSB concerns, and the anticipated award will not be greater than $4 million (for contracts other than manufacturing). The requirements for sole source awards to WOSBs are the same, with the added requirement that WOSBs be substantially underrepresented.

If the SBA’s OIG report was to assigned a grade to contracting officers for following sole source requirements, it would be an F. Of other findings, the OIG found that contracting officers did not comply with sole source requirements for 50 out of 56 contracts. That’s 11%!

The OIG report found that contracting officers awarded sole source contracts to WOSBs without the necessary documentation to determine eligibility for 50 of the 56 Program contracts they reviewed. Examples of missing documentation included WOSB and EDWOSB self-certifications, articles of incorporation, birth certificates, and financial information. Without this documentation, it was not possible to ascertain that a firm was owned and controlled by a woman who is a U.S. citizen. Specifically, contracting officers awarded 18 contracts, valued at $11.7 million, on a sole-source basis, to firms that had no documentation in Certify.SBA.gov, and 32 contracts, valued at $40.5 million, to firms that uploaded incomplete documentation.

Compounding these issues, within these 56 contracts, the OIG found instances where contracting officers had awarded a contract using a NAICS code that SBA had not identified as being substantially underrepresented by women-owned businesses. Additionally, contracting officers awarded two contracts to Program firms for NAICS codes that were identified by SBA, but the firms had not identified themselves as being eligible small businesses for those codes.

Also, the SBA OIG found that the firms that received those contracts did not comply with the Program’s self-certification requirements. These conditions could have been precluded had SBA implemented a certification program the same time it implemented the sole-source authority provisions. As a result, there is no assurance that Program set-aside contracts awarded on a sole-source basis were awarded to eligible WOSB or EDWOSB firms.

The OIG report offered five recommendations to improve sole source procedures and ensure awards are made only to eligible firms:

  1. Conduct eligibility reviews for the firms we identified in this report that lacked the required documentation in Certify.SBA.gov and require those firms to remove their designation in the System for Award Management
  2. Initiate debarment proceedings, if warranted based on the results of eligibility reviews in Recommendation #1.
  3. Implement a Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program certification process as required by the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2015.
  4. Conduct quarterly reviews of firms with newly obtained WOSB or EDWOSB status, to ensure that they have the required documentation in Certify.SBA.gov, until SBA implements a Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program certification process.
  5. Conduct quarterly reviews of Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation data for Program set-aside contracts to ensure Federal agencies’ contracting officers used the appropriate North American Industry Classification System codes and take the necessary action(s) with identified exceptions.
  6. In coordination with the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the General Services Administration, strengthen controls in the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation to prevent Federal agencies’ contracting officers from using ineligible North American Industry Classification System codes.

As most are well aware, WOSBs are fairly underrepresented with respect to the receipt of set-aside and sole source contracts from the federal government. (This is reflected in the small business scorecard the SBA released in 2018). This underscores the unfortunate nature of the SBA OIG’s findings, as it demonstrates that those lucky enough to receive a bit of the “WOSB federal pie” may not have been allowed to order from the menu in the first place.

Access the full SBA OIG report here.

Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on federal contracting issues at: https://legalmeetspractical.com.

Some folks shouldn’t have taken a piece. . .

Veteran News In One Hot Minute

Now that the federal government has had a week to catch up after their three-day holiday, you might have an influx of emails and deliverables since everyone’s back in action. Accordingly, in lieu of a longer post, here are three quick items for you to peruse:

The New VetBiz Verification Guidebook is Out! Several years ago, I created a comprehensive guidebook to address all major issues with VetBiz verification (eligibility criteria, the process, re-verification, cancellations, audits, etc). For anyone who is in the VetBiz registry (which is the VA’s way of tracking businesses it has cleared as “veteran-owned small businesses” or “service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses,” and therefore eligible for its set-aside opportunities), you may have noticed a lot of recent changes to the process. This Guidebook is updated as of June 1, 2018 and is a one-stop shop for everything you need to know if you want to get/stay verified.

NVSBC Conference in Only One Week! Every year, I attend and speak at the National Veteran Small Business Coalition’s conference in Virginia Beach. This year, they’ve moved it a short distance away to historic Williamsburg, Virginia, where they’ll have knowledgeable speakers on a variety of federal procurement topics, an Exhibit Hall, and a chance to rub elbows with prospective teaming partners and procurement officials. Especially if you’re in the D.C. area, consider taking the trip from June 11th through the 14th, because Scott Denniston and the folks up top at the NVSBC do a wonderful job of providing a conference with a lot of value. While the hotel where the conference is being held is full, there are plenty of other lodging options in the area. (We’re booked at the Great Wolf Lodge). For non-NVSBC members, registration is $649 if you do it ahead of time ($449 for members).

Peter O’Rourke Tapped as New VA Acting Secretary. President Trump has tapped longtime VA official Peter O’Rourke as the agency’s acting secretary, the White House announced last Wednesday, a move that comes ahead of the confirmation hearing of VA secretary-designate Robert Wilkie. O’Rourke, who previously served as chief of staff for the agency and as its executive director for the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, took on the role effective last Tuesday, the White House office of the press secretary announced in a statement.

That’s it and that’s all! For more news on issues affecting veteran-owned businesses, sign up for my legal blog at: https://legalmeetspractical.com. Remember to click the link to activate your subscription!

 

News in a Nutshell: Crack This Article Open!

Pricey GAO Protest Fee Is Now a Reality

On April 2, the GAO released a final rule implementing its Electronic Protest Docketing System (“EPDS”). As of May 1, EPDS became the “sole means for filing a bid protest at GAO” (with the exception of protests containing classified information). Also, new protest actions are subject to a $350 filing fee, which is refundable only in the instance of delayed corrective action (Corrective action is where an agency decides to fix the issues raised in a protest rather than have the GAO decide the protest on the merits, generally because the agency believes the protestor is right or that taking such action is in the best interest of the procurement protest). Chances are, this will result in a decline in the number of protests filed. The interesting question is whether this will also result in a steep increase in the percentage of protests that are sustained/receive corrective action, since protestors will only risk the dough on stronger cases.

Guilty Plea for Lies to Obtain SDVOSB Set-Aside Contracts

On May 1, the VA’s Office of Inspector General issued a press release relating to an individual who entered a guilty plea for conspiracy to defraud the VA in the performance of 12 contracts (valued at a total of $1.6 million) intended for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (“SDVOSB”). According to the press release, the company at issue falsely claimed that the veteran owner had majority ownership, when in fact this was not true.

This is an interesting case, given that most issues with SDVOSB fraud seem to center on “control;” i.e., the veteran owner not actually being in the driver’s seat in company decisions, working full-time elsewhere, etc. Ownership, control – it doesn’t matter – when you go through the certification process and start winning contracts because your business is “owned” and “controlled” by a veteran, know this is serious business. You can’t fudge anything, or exaggerate – be truthful, be transparent, and disclose all relevant facts bearing on eligibility. It’s not worth getting in hot water later.

Search for New VA Secretary Continues

In late April, Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson withdrew from consideration as President Trump’s nominee to be the next VA Secretary, amid allegations of prior misconduct at the White House medical office where he is physician to the President. Such allegations including improperly prescribing medications, using his position to abuse and denigrate colleagues, and alcohol abuse on the job. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the charges stem from nearly two dozen current and former service members who approached lawmakers without congressional prompting. He said he could not verify the validity of each charge, but the volume of the accusations raised concerns.

As such, the search for a new VA Secretary continues, with candidates including acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, former Florida Rep. Jeff Miller (whose fine work I have blogged about on numerous occasions), and Ron Nichol, a senior advisor to the Boston Consulting Group. President Trump has indicated he intends to pick someone with a more political background for the role, with the objective of navigating the confirmation process in a divided Senate.

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