When the Supreme Court ruled that the VA set-aside law was mandatory and must be applied to all competitive contract awards, including orders on the Federal Supply Schedule, VA moved quickly to comply, addressing the policy and operational changes required and delivering training across the department through the VA Office of Acquisition, Logistics, and Construction (OALC).
VA issued new procurement policy and just two days later the VA Acquisition Academy’s Contracting Professional School (CPS) began delivering webinar training on the topic. CPS’s teamwork and collaboration with other VA organizations allowed the two-hour webinar training to be developed in “real-time” as a more than 20-page policy document was being developed. This strategy put CPS in an unprecedented position to deliver effective and engaging webinar training only two calendar days after the lengthy and complex policy was issued.
Over a period of seven business days, CPS trained more than 2,100 students through 14 webinars, earning an overall student satisfaction rating of 4.6 out of 5.0. A make-up webinar was offered in September that reached an additional 85 students.
Immediately following the CPS webinars for the contracting community, Acquisition Academy’s Program Management School launched a series of market research and “Veterans First Contracting” webinars targeted toward the program/project management (PM) and contracting officer representative (COR) communities. The three-hour, instructor-led virtual webinar addresses the “Veterans First Contracting Program” and the “Rule of Two” explores the role of market research for VA acquisitions, and outlines best practices for conducting and documenting market research.
“The completion numbers continue to grow, but to date, we’ve trained 1,037 PMs/CORs on the market research course with another 46 registered to take the training in November,” said academy chancellor Ruby Harvey. “We continue to receive positive feedback about the class, and in both instances, the virtual component allowed us to train large numbers quickly and efficiently, and eliminate the need for travel without sacrificing quality of instruction.
“The ability to develop quality customized learning solutions to address operational business needs is one of the things that set us apart,” said Harvey. “I applaud the efforts of our staff for their agility and, more importantly, for their positive impact on VA’s mission.”
“VA is embracing the court’s decision as an opportunity to improve best practices,” said principal executive director for OALC Greg Giddens. “By strengthening market research, VA can improve engagement with small business. The response to this historic decision has been swift and collaborative across the department and is an excellent example of teamwork.”
In addition to the efforts to train the acquisition and program management workforce on the changes, the VA Office of Acquisitions and Logistics, and Construction collaborated with the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) to present a series of webinars to help Veteran Owned Small Businesses (VOSBs) understand how the Supreme Court decision affects them. The webinars also covered how VOSBs and other stakeholders can improve their competitive position in responding to set-asides and what VOSBs can do to take advantage of increased opportunities. The webinars were well-attended with over 1100 registered participants.
“As we move forward to ensure that verified Veteran-Owned Small Businesses have access to procurement opportunities, we will equip VOSBs with the knowledge and understanding of what it is to be procurement ready. While complying with the Supreme Court decision is paramount, it is equally important that we have verified VOSBs that are ready to do business with VA,” said executive director for Small and Veteran Business Programs, Thomas J. Leney.
In addition to these measures, VA is identifying and addressing the policy and operational changes required, developing a market research guide, and engaging Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs). The following steps have already been implemented:
- Engaged VA’s acquisition workforce with new guidance focusing most urgently on procurements currently in process, but not yet awarded.
- Modified VA’s Procurement Review Policy to require the review of all procurements not set aside for VOSBs.
- Directed VA’s contracting officers to review all active procurements to determine whether VOSBs were appropriately considered in the market research.
- Directed VA’s contracting officers to use the VA database of verified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs) and verified VOSBs as a starting point for performing Rule of Two market research.
VA is also bringing in excess of 400 Procurement Decision Makers (PDMS) to engage directly with VOSBs at the National Veteran Small Business Engagement. This is a further demonstration of VA commitment to give VOSBs an opportunity to participate in VA procurements.
In addition to the measures already taken, VAAA will continue to provide training to both our contracting workforce and all requiring activity staff. Other ongoing measures include:
- Providing outreach to our stakeholders including VSOs, VOSBs, large businesses and anyone who this may impact.
- Communicating how we are compliant in proper implementation of the Veterans First contracting law.
- Working to educate and inform SDVOSBs and VOSBs, they must be verified in the VA’s Vendor Information Pages database in order to receive a preference under the Veterans First Contracting Program.
- Continuing work with our stakeholders on proper implementation in order to better serve our Veterans, their families, while being good stewards of taxpayer resources.
Laura Edwards is the public affairs specialist for the VA Acquisition Academy. Prior to coming to VAAA, she served as deputy director of the VA Washington Regional Office of Public Affairs providing advice and counsel to facility public affairs officers in a six-state region. Edwards has also served as a public affairs specialist in VA’s Office of Public Affairs Field Operations Service. She began her VA career the National Cemetery Administration’s Office of Public and Consumer Affairs.