In its most recent attempt to strike the appropriate balance between the Veterans First and AbilityOne programs, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) issued on May 20, 2019 a class deviation to the VA Acquisition Regulations (“VAAR,” 48 C.F.R. Chapter 8), instructing contracting officers to conduct a “Rule of Two” analysis before procuring from the AbilityOne Procurement List.
The Rule of Two is set forth in the Veterans Benefits Act of 2006 (“VBA”), 38 U.S.C. § 8127(d), which established the Veterans First program. The Rule of Two requires that VA contracting officers determine whether two or more veteran-owned small businesses (“VOSBs”), including service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses, are capable of meeting the VA’s requirements at reasonable prices. If two or more qualified VOSBs can satisfy the VA’s needs, the VA must procure those goods through those VOSBs that are awarded contracts. The VBA also allows contracting officers to grant sole-source contracts to VOSBs under limited circumstances (38 U.S.C. §§ 8127(b)-(c)).
The new VA class deviation revises VAAR 808.002, Priorities for Use of Government Supply Sources, and subpart 808.6, Acquisition from Federal Prison Industries, Inc.—the two provisions that implement for the VA the FAR Part 8 mandatory source priority generally enjoyed by AbilityOne Procurement List and Federal Prison Industries vendors across government procurements. The deviation instructs that the Veterans First priority displaces the AbilityOne priorities for “all VA contracts,” but that “if an award is not made to an eligible . . . VOSB under VAAR subpart 819.70, the priority use of AbilityOne applies and supplies and services on the Procurement List are mandatory sources.” In this respect, the new VA class deviation reconciles the VA’s priorities for veterans and the separate, government-wide priority for AbilityOne nonprofit companies.
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