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Veteran-preference project irks contractor

By Paul Snyder

A federal regulation giving a preference to veteran-owned and disadvantaged contracting companies may force the government to ignore the possibility of saving money on a parking ramp project in Madison.

The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, through Monday, is conducting a survey to see if enough qualified companies are interested in bidding on the design-build project, which is scheduled to be awarded in September. The cost is estimated at between $5 million and $10 million.

Madison/Design-Construct Hospital Parking Facility

Qualifying candidates include service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses, veteran-owned small businesses, small disadvantaged businesses or companies in historically underused business zones. The HUBZone program provides federal contracting opportunities for small businesses in distressed areas.

If at least three such companies indicate they are interested, bidding will open only to companies that qualify, said John Meyers, the DVA’s contracting officer.

If the survey doesn’t draw at least three qualifying responses, any contractor will be free to bid on the project, Meyers said.

DVA projects typically have set-asides for service-disabled veteran and veteran-owned businesses, Meyers said, while other federal projects can require set-asides for small disadvantaged business or HUBZone projects. In 2004, then-President George W. Bush issued an executive order requiring the protections for businesses run by service-disabled veterans.

The problem, Meyers said, is that the protections do not always guarantee the best deal. If enough federally protected contractors are interested in the project — a parking ramp for the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison — the contract will have to go to one of them rather than to a general contractor that could do the project for less money.

“It’s federal law,” Meyers said. “Whether I agree with it is another story.”

It’s difficult to argue with giving disadvantaged businesses a fighting chance in the open market, said Bill Jackson, vice president of marketing and business development for Verona-based Engineered Construction Inc.

“I’m 100 percent behind veterans,” he said. “I have family members that have served, and I completely respect the sacrifices they’ve made. But some of the stuff we’re talking about with these contracts is just too far above and beyond.

“It runs conversely to the free market and it hurts taxpayers.”

Jackson said construction companies throughout Wisconsin are scraping for whatever jobs they can get, and a multimillion-dollar parking ramp project would appeal to many of them. The federal protections, he said, are just making an already difficult bidding climate even tougher.

“There are a lot of good contractors out there, be it union, nonunion or merit shop,” he said. “Giving someone a contract just because of who lives where or who did what isn’t right. Make it a merit point, that’s fine. But if you’re limiting who can bid on a project, it’s just a disservice.”

3 comments

  1. How about a contractor with a veterans preference. I myself a veteran and unemployed Union Carpenter would appreciate the opportunity. Not asking for a hand-out but a veteran preference would help. I’ve been on both sides of the fence, so anyone who hasn’t, it may look nice but its not.

  2. This is no different than the Affirmative Action set asides for minority or female owned businesses. There appears to be holes in the process, but, being a special disabled business operator myself I have seen thousands of contracts go over myself (even though I was the lower bid) when there were requirements for AA bidding. And many companies will end up setting up straw corporations with disabled veterans as owners and then have the disabled veterans sub-contract to the others. (This has been tried and the law breakers have been caught and will now be paying for it.

  3. Ron Richardson

    I am a veteran of 12 years in the army and i think that the set aside is good for veterans, they service their country and for some of them to get a job on the out side is hard as it is, their are no job for some of them, so for them to start a business and be able to get contracts is great. when I got out of the services in 1993 I was not able to find a job in my field of training with the military, so I had to start working as a labor making minium wage. So it is go that there are programs out here for veterans to get another chance outside of the military. It is hard to compete with someone that will do the work for less then what you was making in the military and trying to take care of a family at the same time. We have service men and women who put their lives on the line everyday for us to have the freedom that we have and you are complaining about paying more for a construction project in which the govornment spend more on waste and non-working hours. 9/11 should have been a wake up call for alot of people who take freedom for granite. Life and freedom comes with a price, we need to do more for our service men and women. So when you go home at night to your family to eat and watch TV think about your statement and she if the price of the construction project can come close the the service men and women who gave their life for you and me.

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