Panel backs bill to boost contract opportunities for veterans

The House Small Business Committee approved a bill on Thursday designed to increase opportunities for veterans to have a larger role in procurement of federal contracts.

The measure (H.R. 3867) as passed by 21-4 vote. The passage was bipartisan, with four Republicans voting to adopt the bill. It gives priority to service-disabled veterans in contracting and implements a the Small Business Administration Women's Procurement Program, which House Small Business Chairwoman Lydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., said had taken too much time.

The bill places veterans who are small business owners at the top of the priority list for receiving federal contracts. Velazquez said the move would "eliminate the barriers that veterans face in receiving non-competitive contracts."

The committee struck down an amendment from Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., 16-8 to strike a subsection of the section from the bill that required veteran business owners be given priority.

The subsection that Bartlett wanted to strike would remove a competitive element from HUB Zone contract procurement in the event of multiple HUB Zone businesses submitting contract offers. The HUB Zone is a SBA program designed to employ people and place businesses in historically underutilized business districts in rural and urban areas.

Bartlett was opposed to the part of the bill, warning that it "denies the benefits taxpayers get from competition."

Democrats said striking that section would harm veterans' business ownership opportunities. Bartlett and House Small Business Committee Ranking member Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, said they were not opposed to reducing veterans' opportunities.

Velazquez said that veterans have received less than 1 percent of federal contracting.

The bill also implements an executive order from the Bush Administration that set forward a goal of no less than 3 percent participation by service-disabled veteran businesses in federal contracting.

To implement the executive order, the bill requires the Small Business Administration to provide service-disabled veterans the proper education, information and training for participating in the federal contracting process.

The bill also sought to provide more procurement opportunities for women by fully implementing the SBA's Women's Procurement Program. The program allows for the waiver of competition requirements in contracting if two or more offers come from female majority-owned businesses that are economically disadvantaged and are in an industry where female businesses are underrepresented.

Every five years, the head of the SBA must also conduct a study to identify industries in which female-owned businesses are underrepresented.

The bill also extends the program length for the 8(a) Small Disadvantaged Business Program, which provides assistance to socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses. The original length of the program for a business was nine years.

Bartlett offered, but then withdrew and amendment that would have prevented the change in the length of program from occurring. Bartlett said nine years was enough for a business to mature, but Velazquez insisted an extra year would make a big difference.

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