Fairness to veterans: Time for the Senate to act

Each year, more than 250,000 Post-9/11 veterans are returning home and transitioning into civilian life after service and continue to serve as leaders in our communities and our economy. In fact, one-quarter of this new generation of veterans are interested in starting or buying their own business, demonstrating the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that makes America work.

To support these heroic individuals and put their unique skills and commitment to best use, the federal government has a role to play in empowering them to succeed in the private sector – especially in terms of federal contracting. And a number of agencies do – including the Veterans Administration, which engages with veteran-owned small businesses and sees the benefits of increased veteran involvement.

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However, these veteran businesses won’t be talking about rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure through competing for federal contracts, because the Department of Transportation’s Small Business Contracting Program doesn’t put veteran small businesses on a level-playing field when competing for contracts. That’s a real problem of missed opportunities for veteran-owned businesses, and missed opportunities to put veteran-owned firms on the front lines in our battle to rebuild our infrastructure.

The undeniable fact is that today some companies get a preference when doing business with the government transportation agencies while veterans do not. We know 10-percent of federally funded infrastructure projects are set aside for certain small businesses, but our veterans are excluded from competing at all.

That’s not fair.

That’s why I, Rep. Ftizpatrick,  have introduced, and the House passed, the bipartisan Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act: a simple, yet powerful, update to current law. This measure allows Veteran-Owned Small Businesses to compete in an existing infrastructure small business program known as the disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) program.  This straightforward legislation is critical to both the shared goals of creating and sustaining jobs for our veterans and rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure.

Connecting veteran-owned businesses to the contracting power of the federal government opens the door for increased production, the hiring of additional staff – often times veterans themselves – and opens doors to national opportunities. Fairness to Veterans would level the playing field for more than 380,000 veteran-owned construction firms across the nation. And it’s not just construction firm that will benefit. In fact, there are a variety of industries involved, such as personnel, admin, engineering, landscaping, utilities and IT, so this is an issue that affects all veteran-owned small businesses.

Our veterans are the most highly skilled workforce in America’s history – the product of rigorous training, an ironclad commitment to teamwork and the remarkable ability to succeed where others might fail. And so as veterans transition out of service and back home, we know they’re ready to help rebuild our infrastructure across the country.

Veteran owned businesses in states like California, Texas, New York, and Georgia, the states with the most veteran owned firms in the nation, are waiting for this opportunity.  Veteran small businesses in South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama, states with the highest per capita veteran business population, want a fair shot at transportation contracts. And what is also clear is that veteran owned businesses in every single state stand to benefit from a level playing field if Congress is willing to fight for them.

Due to the positive impact of this bill the 2.3 million members of the American Legion support it. And why a bipartisan super-majority of the House of Representatives supports it. Now it’s time for the Senate to take action. We cannot in good conscience continue to stand idle while our veterans are precluded from this federal program.

The Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act is a ‘no cost to the tax-payer’ update of existing legislation that redresses the exclusion of veteran small businesses when the framework of the DBE program was originally drafted.  This Congress recently passed a highway bill that authorizes hundreds of billions of dollars of new infrastructure projects. That money is getting ready to be spent in every single state. We can’t let veterans be left behind.

Let’s salute all our veteran-owned small businesses and empower them to rebuild America by taking up the Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act in the Senate and sending it to the president’s desk as soon as possible. 

Fitzpatrick has represented Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District since 2011, and from 2005 to 2007. He sits on the Financial Services Committee. Barnett is national commander of the American Legion.

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