VA Training Event Helps Entrepreneurs Clear Hurdles Toward Certification

ORB was delighted to attend the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Verification Training at the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery on June 7, 2012. The event was hosted by our good friends WAVE — Women As Veteran Entrepreneurs — and was well attended by veteran business owners and knowledgeable personnel from the VA.
The keynote speaker was Tom Leney, head of OSDBU (that’s the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization) which includes CVE (the Center for Veteran Enterprise).

If you’re still wading through the alphabet soup here, you might not know that the CVE administers the verification process for VOSBs and SDVOSBs (Veteran and Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses) and that verification from the CVE is required for veterans to access federal contracts that the VA sets aside for them.

Now you may wonder why a day of specialized training is needed to teach people how to get their businesses certified as veteran-owned. Here’s why: According to Leney, in 2011, more than 50 percent of applicants for VOSB and SDVOSB certification were initially denied. Only about 1 percent of the applicants, however, were frauds. What happened to the other 49 percent? These were legitimate veteran businesses that, on initial application, simply did not fit the model that the CVE requires.

“The model is refined, the bar is high;” Leney explained. The point Leney was making is that VOSB certification is not just about being a veteran-owned business; it’s about meeting the heightened standards for verification that the VA has established.
We have no doubt, based on questions from the audience, that many of those present were part of this 49 percent. And one of the most interesting questions was simply, “Why is the bar so high?” The answer is that the VA is going for maximum accuracy with its certifications. Leney, a former businessman, used this metaphor: his “product” that he “sells” to contracting officers is the accuracy of his certifications. While most federal agencies currently don’t require this certification, it’s Leney’s personal opinion that because of its accuracy and reliability, in three years CVE certification will be required government-wide for veteran and service-disabled veteran set-aside contracts – not just for contracts granted by the VA itself.

The second speaker of the day, who was also very informative, was an attorney with the VA’s Office of General Counsel, which is responsible for reviewing requests for reconsideration (usually the next step after an initial denial). He gave a perfect example of what Leney means by a heightened standard for certification: “buy-sell” agreements. Most small businesses probably have one in their shareholder or operating agreement. But according to this speaker, if a buy-sell agreement allows a non-veteran to restrict the rights of a veteran to sell his interest in the company, it is grounds for denial of certification. It’s all part of the model.

More updates from this informative event will follow.

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