Veterans ask for more contracting help
Despite their contracting advantages, service-disabled veteran-owned businesses say it's still too hard to win government contracts.
"Something is really going wrong," said Dave Stack, director of corporate development and communications at CDO Technologies Inc., a veteran-owned company in Dayton, Ohio. "I have a hard time selling off [General Services Administration] schedules," he said, adding that agencies seem to be avoiding GSA schedules in favor of other contracting vehicles, such as negotiating directly with companies.
"Yes, we do understand we have a problem," said Felipe Mendoza, associate administrator in GSA's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization at a seminar for veteran-owned companies Friday.
Mendoza said companies that have trouble getting work through GSA schedules should market their goods and services directly to agencies and contracting officers. He likened getting on a GSA schedule to a hunting license - it gives you the ability to capture your prey, but you still need to work at it.
Frank Ramos, director of the Defense Department's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, said veteran-owned businesses should consider joint ventures with other small businesses, particularly those that also are eligible for contracting advantages, such as Alaska Native Corporations. The key, he said, is to find an unfilled niche and to meet a Pentagon need.
"Just to show up at our door and say, 'I'm an IT guy,' isn't going to work," he said.
Defense currently awards about $514 million a year to service-disabled veterans, or about 0.3 percent of total contracting dollars, which is far below the Pentagon's 3 percent goal, said Ramos. Still, the value of awards going to service-disabled veterans has more than doubled since 2003, he said.
As a result of the Iraq war and a new executive order, service-disabled veterans are winning more government contracts -- and more businesses are qualifying for the benefits reserved for those who have been hurt during their service careers. At the same time, companies are realizing that legal advantages don't guarantee government work.
"You can't just sit around and wait for someone to call you. You have to be proactive and let them know what you have to offer," said Bruce Munsky, business development director for Veteran Communications Corp., a small, service-disabled, veteran-owned company based in Caro, Michigan.
"You still have to do all the things that any business has to do," said Verl Zanders, president of Rockville, Md.-based Tech Corp., a software developer for federal agencies. Zanders, an Air Force veteran, is not service-disabled and not eligible for contracting advantages as a result of his military service.
This distinction frustrates many veterans in business. "I've had guys come up to me and say, 'Damn, if I only caught that bullet," said Richard Ramirez, senior business adviser at the Veterans Affairs' Center for Veterans Enterprise.
According to Federal Sources, Inc., a consultancy and the host of Friday's seminar, registered service-disabled veteran-owned businesses have doubled from 3,200 to 6,400 since October 2004, when President Bush signed an executive order that required agencies to implement a strategy designed to reach the governmentwide 3 percent goal for contract awards.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have also renewed awareness and interest in veteran-owned businesses, said Larry Allen, an executive vice president with the Washington-based nonprofit Coalition for Government Procurement, which represents contractors.
GSA and Veterans Affairs said they are trying to increase the number of contracts going to service-disabled veterans through education.
"The biggest complaint that we have is, 'I cannot find service-disabled businesses,'" said Thomas F. Brown, director of GSA's Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business initiative. His office generated a directory to provide agencies and large companies interested in subcontracting with easy access to service-disabled veteran-owned businesses.
GSA also announced in February that it will create a $5 billion governmentwide acquisition information technology contract for service-disabled veterans.
"It's an emotional issue for veterans," Brown added.
Veterans Affairs operates vetbiz.gov, a Web site designed to help veteran-owned companies. "The need for information about this program is incredible," said Ramirez.