Veterans Affairs ‘Equity Plan’ Touts 1% Increase In Contracts To ‘Disadvantaged’ Businesses

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The Department of Veterans Affairs highlighted a 1% increase in the number of “diversity contracts” in 2023 as an example of progress in diversity and inclusion, according to a sweeping “equity” plan released Wednesday.

A Biden Administration memo dated Feb. 17, 2023 required federal agencies to increase diversity of suppliers for equipment and services, from contractors that fit the parameters of being underutilized or owned by member of a historically discriminated-against group. The VA’s 2024 Equity Action Plan touted an increase in contracts from new businesses by 3,566 contracts in fiscal year 2023, just 1% higher than the new entrants recorded in fiscal year 2022.

The plan promises to reduce health disparities and access to benefits that internal studies have identified among minority veterans, particularly black veterans, and increase contracts with women and minority-owned businesses. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Docs Reveal VA Hospital’s Plan To Ramp Up Sex Change Surgeries, Double Down On Gender Ideology)

“At the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), our mission is to provide world-class care and benefits to all Veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors – regardless of who they are, what they look like, who they love, where they are from or how they identify,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a preface to the strategy.

Most VA contracts go to established vendors, according to data from the Office of Management and Budget included in the report. The VA contracted with 10,887 vendors in fiscal 2022 compared to 11,964 in 2020, but a greater percentage of those in 2022 were established contractors.

Findings suggested that rules prioritizing veteran-owned companies were edging out “disadvantaged firms,” including Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSBs) and those in Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZs).

“While VA makes no apology for putting Veterans first, as consistent with VA’s mission, this illustrates that requirements have effects, even if unintended, on other policy objectives,” the document says.

The strategy called for the VA to double down on outreach to small, disadvantaged businesses and those owned by women and LGBTQ+ people, among others.

The VA set up a special body, dubbed the “Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (I*DEA) Council,” in June 2023 to produce the strategy, the document stated.

Other “equity” milestones highlighted in the plan include an Environmental Justice Scorecard and expanded categories of veterans included in a measure of trust in the VA over time. It also directs the VA to find more product or service opportunities that can be filled by the so-called disadvantaged businesses and to lobby for congressional approval to prioritize WOSBs in the contracting process.

The VA procures more than $30 billion in services annually, according to a summary published alongside the Equity Action Plan.

“Equity means VA intentionally commits to consistent and systematic fair, just and impartial treatment of all individuals and a just distribution of tools and resources to give Veterans, including Women Veterans, LGBTQ+ Veterans, Black American Veterans, Tribal Veterans, Pacific Islander Veterans, among other underserved communities, what is required to enjoy a full, healthy life,” the summary states.

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