Opening Statement of Honorable Bruce L. Braley, Ranking Democratic Member, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity
The Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Veterans Enterprise (CVE) has an important dual role to play for veterans and veteran entrepreneurship. CVE is an advocate for small veteran owned enterprises and the as the “gate keeper,” CVE has an obligation to ensure that only qualified veterans are verified and included in the VetBiz Vendor Information Pages database. This is critical because only verified veteran owned enterprises are allowed to participate in the veteran set-aside program where companies compete for millions of dollars in contracts.
CVE has had an evolving role over the years to where they are today and Congress has asked them to protect the veteran set-aside program from fraud that has continually plagued programs government-wide. While VA has not been immune to the fraud issue I believe that we are doing more than other agency on this issue.
It has taken CVE years to recognize that a key part of their role was to serve as “gate keepers” for the program. As my colleagues of this Subcommittee may remember CVE originally relied on self-certification, a common practice government wide that allowed fraud to occur on a large scale and was a disservice to veteran owned companies. Through vigorous oversight and legislation this process has significantly changed, and now documentation is required to verify and re-verify SDVOSB and VOSB status. Unfortunately, as reported by the VA Office or Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office, VA continues to award ineligible businesses millions of dollars in VOSB and SDVOSB contracts.
I understand the frustrations from many service members who served honorably and seek to do business with the VA only to have their service questioned. We need to find a good balance to approve businesses and minimize improper awards.
We know that CVE is struggling with re-verifications and is currently unable to keep up with the application demands. A quick fix to this problem was to change their required annual verification to a biennial re-verification. Changing re-verification processing time is one way to address the backlog but in the long-term CVE should have a sustainable plan for re-verification. I hope the VA OIG and GAO can provide us insight on what course of action should be.
Finally, I look forward to Mr. Leney’s testimony and what the VA is doing to protect this program from fraud, waste and abuse and ensuring that only eligible veteran small business firms are awarded set-aside contracts.