The ‘Shall/May’ Irony in Federal Contracting for Veterans

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Service-disabled veteran-owned Small Business

The Shall/May Difference? It’s Huge … –

By Hardy Stone

Much has been discussed about terminology and its critical nature within the federal contracting community. This matter, however, is more critical than most realize.

The SBA/FAR spells out three set-aside groups in the federal marketplace that have ‘special’ preference.

But they‘re not all equal. The small disadvantaged, minority or woman-owned businesses – 8(a) – enjoy special consideration for contract awards if the contracting officer chooses to consider the 8(a) contract vehicle. In or-der for this to be the case, there must be two or more qualified 8(a) companies.

The service-disabled veteran owned small business (SDVOSB) is also a contract set-aside receiving  ‘special’ consideration by contracting officers (CO) under the same bidding conditions as 8(a) companies. If the CO chooses.

The last set-aside group is HUBZone businesses located and operated in economically depressed locations of an urban area.

Sounds simple for the CO, right? We have these three set asides that have priority over other bidders if there are two or more qualified businesses in a set-aside group.

Here‘s where the system breaks down. The HUB-Zone businesses have a critical addition to the regulation. A small twist in the FAR has monstrous effects on 8(a) and SDVOSB.

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According to the regulations, a HUBZone (HZ) business SHALL be considered for a contract if there are two or more qualified businesses to do the work. COs SHALL award the contract to a HZ if it is qualified to do the work. As for the 8(a) and SDVOSB, the CO ‗MAY‘ choose to use these two set-asides to award the contract if there are two or more businesses that can do the work.

Everybody knows the federal contracting is a mammoth undertaking, filled with ob-tuse, sometimes outdated regulations, potholes and exceptions that makes the head spin. COs have one of the most difficult jobs in the federal government, constantly hustling on to the next agency procurement need while keeping an eye on the pro-gress and stages of other contracts. The easier a contract procedure can get off the ground, the easier their workload.

The CO‘s performance evaluation more times than not is determined by the quality of the work done by his vendors, the speed that COs can turnaround contracts and the number of contracts awarded without protest.

This ‘may award a contract‘ to 8(a) or SDVOSB? Give me a break. COs can choose these set-aside category if they‘re so inclined; there is no regulation forcing them to use 8(a) and SDVOSB.

Being an SDBVOSB, I have my personal biases on the set-asides, but I may go into those in a later editorial. Suffice to say that I believe that VOB/SDVOSB get the mis-sion done and are likely to hire veterans to join their team.

Elevate the 8(a) and the SDVOSB to the SHALL status and give COs more reason to select SDVOSB. Parity among the three set-asides has been suggested in legislation passed around in Congress, and no Congressional member has been more persistent than Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME). But so far, no dice.~~

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