Mr. Mark Gross
Good afternoon Chairman Herseth-Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman and members of this Subcommittee. Thank you for the invitation to come before you and share my experiences and work within the veteran business owner community.
I am a veteran of the United States Army, and founder of Oak Grove Technologies, a Service Disabled Veteran owned small business, founded at my kitchen table 5 years ago this past August. Today, I am proud to say I employ over 140 employees, over 70% of those are veterans, and 16% are service disabled veterans. Geographically we are dispersed in 16 states, as well as supporting both OEF and OIF in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
I am here today to offer testimony on behalf of the Veterans Business Community as well as to offer you the benefit of research and the opinion of our Veterans Small Business Advisory Committee, which was established under PL 106-50.
The question before this committee today is, “What is the State of Veterans Entrepreneurship, obstacles faced by aspiring entrepreneurs, programs being relied upon by Veterans and the current status of federally funded programs to assist the Veterans”
I feel that I am uniquely qualified to answer that question as I have not only built a very successful business in this economic climate, but I have also taken on the task of mentor to a number of other Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses.
In my opinion Congress has done an outstanding job in passing legislation such as 106-50 and 108-183, both of which established Service Disabled Veteran goals and mandates in federal contracting. Some of the problems today revolve around accountability within Agencies to meet these goals. I am here to offer my views on what can be done to ensure the state of veteran’s entrepreneurship within the federal government.
Congress and specifically this committee have been working for veteran business owners for years. This issue is as important to our veterans as it is to you. What we’ve seen thus far from many federal Agencies has been a cavalier attitude toward the 3% goal, believing that this mandate doesn’t apply to them. You have heard a lot of numbers and data today so I don’t want to overstate what you have already heard, but suffice to say despite all of these mandates establishing the government-wide three percent contracting goal with SDVOBs, no agency has met this standard. In 2005 alone, the Department of Defense awarded 0.499 percent of contracts to SDVOBs. DOD accounts for roughly 70 percent of all government procurement spending, yet its repeated inability to meet service-disabled veteran contracting goals makes it all but impossible for the federal government as a whole to meet the three percent goal.
I would like to offer Six recommendations to meet the 3% procurement goal;
- Eliminate the “Rule of Two” wherein a contracting officer has to know of two or more SDVOB’s before a sole source contract award can be made. This is the only similar requirement for any of the statutory programs.
- Create a level playing field between the statutory programs by changing the use of “MAY” to “Shall” when using restricted competition for SDVOB’s.
- Small business subcontracting plans, including all details of the plans, required by large prime contractors, should be made public and accessible electronically or on forms 294/295 upon request. Mandate that contracting officers impose liquidated damages, as predicated in FAR Part 19.705-07 for those large companies that fail to demonstrate good faith efforts to fulfill the requirements of their subcontract plans.
- Close loopholes in the GSA Schedule (FAR Par 8) wherein large businesses are allowed to take away business intended for small business, or mandate that the Federal Agencies disclose percentage of overall contracting dollars procured to small business’ through the GSA Schedules.
- Reward/Penalize those agencies that meet or don’t meet the 3% SDVO requirement
- Strengthen the SDVOB program by increasing contract awards, resources, and support without including SDVOBs into the 8a program. The 8a program was created to assist minorities with a business development program. This program concentrates on socioeconomic factors which SDVOBs simply do not fall into as a whole. The SDVOB program is a program earned by each and every Service Disabled Business Owner based on the sacrifices they made and tenacity they have displayed by becoming entrepreneurs.
The one federal program that Congress did create was the Veterans Corporation. I am quite familiar with them as at one point were collocated in the same building in Alexandria. I initially sought assistance from them in 2003, I was left then, and am still left today questioning what they do, and more importantly, value they bring to the veteran entrepreneur community. Much of the Veterans outreach is provided by both the Department of Veterans Affairs Small Business Office and the Army Small business office.
Some of the offices that should be recognized for taking the lead in outreach are the VA and the Army Small Business Office. They took the lead 3 years ago to create the National Veterans Conference, which is a conference held annually in June in Las Vegas, NV. I am proud to say that we have sponsored this event every year, and this year’s total numbers for attendees will be in the neighborhood of 2500 people and veteran business.
We are proud to say we are the first SDVO small business in the DOD Mentor Protégé Program as created by 108-183, and this year were awarded the DOD Nunn Perry Award.
As an entrepreneur and Veteran, the climate certainly has gotten better over the past 7 years, and we still have a long way to go, but I’m confident that Congress, many of the Federal Agencies such as Department of the Army, and the Department of Veterans, are committed to this cause.
I thank you for your time and your efforts to improve the federal contracting climate for Service Disabled Veteran Businesses.