Veteran-preferred contracting programs rife with fraud, say VA OIG, GAO

Fraud pervades the Veterans Affairs Department’s contracting program for veteran-owned small businesses, a July 28 House panel was told.

The VA Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have found the program so rife with deceit that one lawmaker suggested the entire program be scrapped.

“I think if the American people really paid attention…[they] would blow this whole program up and start from scratch again. It is that bad,” Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) told the House Veterans Affairs’ subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

“Hopefully it will get better, ’cause it can’t get much worse.”

Seventy-six percent of the businesses reviewed by the VA Office of Inspector General in a recent audit were ineligible for either the program and/or the specific veteran-owned small businesses or service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses contract award, said Belinda Finn, assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations at the VA OIG. This could total $2.5 billion in contract awards to ineligible businesses over the next five years, Finn estimated.

“Thirty-eight percent of the reviewed businesses were not owned or controlled by a veteran and over half did not meet federal incurred cost and subcontracting thresholds. In many cases ineligible businesses passed through the majority of the contracts’ work requirements and funds to non-veteran-owned businesses,” added Finn.

Ineligible businesses received awards because VA’s office of small and disadvantaged business utilization was not thoroughly reviewing business documentation and performing site visits to verify the veteran-owned status, said Finn. The OIG also found that contracting officers did not always check VA’s enterprise veterans database, business size classification codes, or properly assess subcontracting and partnering agreements.

“This program is highly-vulnerable to fraud and abuse,” said Gregory Kutz, director of forensic audits and investigative service at GAO, who added that while the veteran business verification program has made some progress, it “has a ways to go.”

“We recommend that the Congress consider providing VA with the additional authority and resources necessary to expand the verification program governmentwide. Only 30 percent of service disabled veteran contracts are with the Department of Veteran Affairs. Thus, for the other 70 percent we continue to have a self certification program,” suggested Kutz.

Finn said VA’s verification system provides strong controls, but it also needs to strengthen it’s contracting practices, she said.

“I wouldn’t give up on it yet,” said Finn.

— By M. Bernhart Walker - Fierce Government – Aug. 2, 2011 at http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/veteran-preferred-contracting-programs-rife-fraud-say-va-oig-gao/2011-08-02