Helping small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans is an honor, but it's also a duty. That has long been President Bush's view – as well as his challenge – to all federal agencies, including the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). GSA, the government's major purchasing agency, recently - and for the first time - met its goal of awarding 3 percent of all agency contract dollars to firms owned by service-disabled vets.
Young soldiers recovering from devastating battlefield injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. help us understand that our nation owes an enormous debt to our military veterans. Every other Sunday, my local VFW chapter shows its appreciation in a small but meaningful way. We invite recovering vets at Walter Reed to our post for breakfast with the members. The injuries suffered by these brave men and women are tragic, yet I am continually amazed by their spirit and unflagging patriotism. As the president has said, these young Americans "placed our nation's security before their own lives, creating a debt that we can never fully repay."
But we can try.
That's why, as head of GSA's Office of Small Business Utilization, I am particularly proud that the agency has launched a new contracting vehicle targeted specifically for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. It's called "VETS" — short for "Veterans Technology Services." GSA offers this opportunity through "government-wide acquisition contracts" (known as GWACs in the world of federal procurement). "VETS" is an information technology set-aside contract with a $5 billion program ceiling established specifically for service-disabled veteran-owned firms.
GSA has pre-qualified 44 service-disabled, veteran-owned companies that our customer agencies can now use to fulfill their information-technology requirements. Using "VETS" also provides federal agencies an excellent way to achieve socio-economic, small business goals mandated by Congress.
As mentioned, I am also proud to report that the preliminary (unaudited) data for the first quarter of FY 07 indicate that GSA has met its 3 percent service-disabled goal for the first time ever. If the numbers are confirmed, GSA will be only the third federal agency to meet this goal since the service-disabled veteran-owned initiative was launched in 2005.
Several factors have contributed to GSA's success: our extensive outreach to veterans groups — more than nine conferences and workshops in the first three months of FY 07; a new training video for contracting officers about service-disabled firms; and strong support and buy-in from top GSA officials. I'm optimistic that these numbers will hold, and hopefully even increase, when the new VETS GWAC is fully utilized in the next three quarters of FY 07 and beyond.
Meeting the goal is not enough. At GSA, we are committed to making the number of contracts awarded to service-disabled firms soar. Please help GSA spread the news to veterans' groups about the VETS GWAC for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. The GSA Web site — www.gsa.gov/vetsgwac — is the best place to find more detailed information. For a comprehensive listing of resources available for all small businesses, go to www.gsa.gov/smallbusiness.
In business, talk always gets around to the bottom line. At GSA, our bottom line is simple: All Americans are thankful and humbled by the sacrifices each generation of veterans has made in the name of national security. Expanding economic opportunities to veterans with service-connected disabilities helps extend the gratitude of all Americans.
Felipe Mendoza is associate administrator of the Office of Small Business Utilization at the U.S. General Services Administration.
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