Surely the boss is the highest-paid person, right?
Well, it’s not necessarily so in the world of small businesses, where the owner sometimes must meet the payroll, invest in the future and get by with a smaller paycheck.
But when it comes to the federal government, one of the rules to prove that a business is actually owned by a disabled veteran is that the owner should be the highest-paid person.
That rule shows a lack of understanding of what it takes to start and expand a small business, said Steven Wolf, an Army veteran and owner of the Omaha consulting firm Issues Management Systems Inc.
He told Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., Wednesday that the Department of Veterans Affairs may disqualify a company from contracts intended to help disabled veterans if a veteran isn’t the highest-paid person.
Wolf and seven other Nebraska veterans told Johanns that such rules, plus paperwork and delays, hinder the growth of the small businesses they own and will prevent the coming flood of veterans from starting small businesses, creating jobs and boosting the economy.
“It discourages people,” Wolf said. “I don’t have time to turn in mountains of paper.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs is in charge of verifying whether a business owner is a veteran and is disabled. Those who qualify can compete for portions of government contracts set aside for businesses owned by disabled veterans. The verification process is intended to rule out businesses that fraudulently use disabled veterans as “front” owners.
Mark Spadaro, owner of Dyna-Tech Aviation Services Inc. of Omaha, said the government is right to prevent such fraud, but the review process has become too difficult.
“It’s just crazy, Senator,” said Spadaro, an Air Force retiree who spent part of his career at Offutt Air Force Base. “I’m appalled that I have to prove to my government that I’m not a criminal.”
He estimated that it takes 40 to 50 hours to fill out the forms to qualify for government contracting, and one small mistake means starting over.
Tommy Garrett, a 26-year Air Force veteran who runs Garrett Group consulting of Omaha, said he gave up trying to qualify for some of the contract work. “Time is our most precious commodity,” he said.
Johanns, a member of the Senate’s Committee on Veterans Affairs, said after the one-hour round-table discussion at his Omaha office that he has introduced legislation to simplify paperwork for veterans. “We’re battling this,” said the senator, who scheduled the session while Congress is on recess.
Brec Wilshusen, a 20-year Air Force veteran who owns SolidEn Engineering & Consulting of Omaha, said he favors a tiebreaker rule for veterans on federal contracts. If all other factors are equal, he said, veteran-owned businesses should win.
“I’ve been scrapping,” he said, but the verification process is “onerous and cumbersome.”
There’s a proposal pending that would move the verification process to the U.S. Small Business Administration. After the meeting, Johanns said the process should be streamlined but remain with Veterans Affairs because it is the main agency dealing with veterans.
Lee Andersen, owner of Havelock Electric in Lincoln, said he hasn’t been able to get work at Offutt despite his veteran status. Federal agencies often don’t accept a veteran’s military experience as qualifying a small civilian business to bid for contracts, he said, making it difficult to get started.
“All I want is a fair chance to bid,” Andersen said.
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