VA kicks off acquisition training program for wounded vets

The Veterans Affairs department formally launched its new program designed to train wounded vets to become acquisition professionals with a ribbon-cutting ceremony held Jan. 19 at its Frederick, Md., facilities.

The VA Acquisition Academy Acquisition Internship School’s Warriors to Workforce Program places wounded veterans with disabilities into a three-year internship that provides them with the training and education to qualify for a career as a contracting specialist.

The program “prepares them to become trusted business partners capable of exercising sound business judgment to achieve best value solutions that serve the Veteran,” according to the academy’s website.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki spoke at the ceremony, describing the program’s goals as “something very unique” and urging the inaugural class to take advantage of the opportunity. He also noted that the VA is second only to the Education Department in the amount of education provided to citizens.

The three-year program covers training from basic business principles to more technical contracting-specific education.

The first year includes college business classes taught in cooperation with academic partner Mount St. Mary’s University, as well as basic contracting and mental skills training to help deal with the stress often found in the job.

The second and third years’ curriculum is based on the Federal Acquisition Institute’s general business and technical competencies. The interns begin training as GS-5s and upon completion of the training are promoted to GS-11s and placed within VA contracting organizations around the country.

The inaugural class’ interns come from 10 states and four different branches of the military. Between them, they have seven Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars and 170 years of military service, according to speakers at the ceremony.

About the Author: Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering defense and national security for Federal Computer Week. This article appeared Jan. 19, 2012 at http://fcw.com/articles/2012/01/19/va-wounded-vet-acquisition-training-program.aspx.

Small-biz set-asides may harm firms, expert says

There may already be too many set-aside categories for small businesses, according to at least one expert. The sheer number of categories, and the targets set for agencies to award certain numbers of contracts to each, has the unintended consequence of squeezing some small businesses out of the game, he said.

The plethora of small business programs “has disenfranchised many of those who are not eligible to the extent that they no longer back the very programs they once were glad to support,” Scott Bellows, a program manager at the South Carolina Procurement Technical Assistance Center in Columbia, S.C., said Nov. 7.

And yet, the government is now considering creating yet another category, for businesses that employ military veterans.

During a hearing, Bellows told the House Small Business Committee’s Contracting and Workforce Subcommittee that the small-business programs, such as those helping companies owned by service-disabled veteran and women, and the 8(a) companies, don’t do as much as most people think to help small businesses at large.

Many of the same contractors tend to get the work over and over. That makes it hard for other small companies to break into the market, he said.

To break in, business owners “soon realize that it’s a long, uphill battle,” he said.

Bellows said the government, along with the Small Business Administration’s annual small business score card, should take a different look at the awarded set-aside contracts.

“If one asks how many ‘unique’ vendor contracts were awarded during a certain period of time, you might just come away with a different impression of how these programs are promoting small business development and helping to revitalize our economy,” he said.

The score card gave the government overall a B in awarding contracts to small businesses in fiscal 2010. The government has a goal to award 23 percent of contracts to small companies. In 2010, it reached 22.7 percent. It missed many of its goals for the specific categories of small businesses.

President Barack Obama’s Interagency Task Force on Veterans Small Business Development has recommended the government should consider giving companies with at least 35 percent of its employees as veterans a special status in federal contracting. They likened the new category to the Historically Underutilized Business Zone small business program. For HUBZone status, 35 percent of a small firm’s employees must live in an economically depressed zone.

The task force said the new small-business category would not take too much regulatory efforts. The task force wants the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments, as well as SBA and the Office of Management and Budget, to further explore the idea.

The task force is interested in the hiring aspect of creating the new category.

About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is a senior writer covering acquisition and procurement at Federal Computer Week. Published Nov. 9, 2011 at http://fcw.com/articles/2011/11/09/set-aside-small-business-programs-other-small-business-effects.aspx.