On October 17, 2018, the Federal Circuit ruled that the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”) must give priority to veteran-owned small businesses (“VOSB”) when awarding contracts. (PDS Consultants Inc. v. U.S., et al., Nos. 17-2379 and 17-2512, 2018 WL 5019735 – Fed. Cir. Oct. 17, 2018).
At first blush, no one would argue with the foregoing statement.
But, this mandate became less clear when the VA was faced with awarding a contract to a VOSB or following an otherwise mandatory requirement for all federal agencies to buy a specific list of items made by nonprofits employing the blind and significantly disabled.
Here is the source of confusion. More than 40 years ago, Congress enacted the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act (“JWOD”), which required federal agencies to buy certain items and services from nonprofits that employ the blind or people with other significant disabilities. Today, this mandatory procurement policy is implemented through the AbilityOne program.
In 2006, Congress passed the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act (“VBA”). As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in Kingdomware, the VBA made it mandatory in almost every procurement for the VA to follow the “Rule of Two.” The “Rule of Two” requires the VA to award a contract to a VOSB whenever at least two VOSBs can perform the work at a reasonable price.