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VA Adopts Final Rule for
Veteran-Owned Small Business Verification Guidelines

Interim Final Rule Adopted as Final Rule Without Change

In the July 12, 2017, edition of the Federal Register, VA published its Final Rule implementing its revisions regarding the length of the eligibility period for inclusion in the VA Vendor Information Pages Database (VIP) (www.vip.vetbiz.gov).

This Final Rule implements an Interim Final Rule published in the Federal Register on February 21, 2017, extending the length of eligibility from two years to three years. VA invited public comments on or before April 24, 2017.

VA’s Final Rule notice discusses comments received in response to its request for public comment, including comments requesting clarification as to whether currently verified SDVOSBs/VOSBs would be automatically extended.

VA indicates all verified firms in the VIP Database automatically had their eligibility term extended by one year.

The Final Rule notice also reiterates information contained in the February 21, 2017, where VA sets forth its rationale for extending the eligibility period for re-verification from two to three years. VA expresses high confidence in the robust examination process conducted by its Center for Verification and Eligibility, citing Fiscal Year 2016 data to support this conclusion.

Moreover, the change reduces the administrative burden on SDVOSBs/VOSBs participating in the Veterans First Contracting Program at VA.

VIEW FEDERAL REGISTER


Federal Government Achieves
Small Business Procurement
Contracting Goal

4th Consecutive Year

Small Business Administration Logo

WASHINGTON - May 18, 2017
PRNewswire-USNewswire

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced today that the federal government reached its small business federal contracting goal for the fourth consecutive year, awarding 24.34 percent in federal contract dollars to small businesses totaling $99.96 billion, an increase of over $9 billion from the previous year.

READ MORE:

“I am pleased to report that for the fourth year in a row, the federal government has exceeded its small business contracting goal,” Administrator Linda McMahon said. “It is a win-win for federal agencies to get small business contracts into the hands of the innovative small business owners that create jobs in their communities and help to fuel the nation's economy.”

In FY 2016, the federal government also exceeded the Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB) goal and had its highest achievement ever for percentage of contract dollars awarded to Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned (SDVO) small businesses. Prime contract dollars in all categories increased. The prime contract goal achievements by dollars and percentages for all categories are as follows:

Small Business
GOAL: 23%
2016: 24.34% ($99.96B)
2015: 25.75% ($90.7B)
2014: 24.99% ($91.7B)
2013: 23.39% ($83.1B)

Small Disadvantaged Business
GOAL: 5%
2016: 9.52% ($39.1B)
2015: 10.06% ($35.4B)
2014: 9.46% ($34.7B)
2013: 8.61% ($30.6B)

Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business
GOAL: 3%
2016: 3.98% ($16.34B)
2015: 3.93% ($13.83B)
2014: 3.68% ($13.5B)
2013: 3.38% ($12.02B)

Women Owned Small Business
GOAL: 5%
2016: 4.79% ($19.67B)
2015: 5.05% ($17.81B)
2014: 4.68% ($17.2B)
2013: 4.32% ($15.3B)

HUBZone
GOAL: 1.67% ($6.86B)
2015: 1.81% ($6.42B)
2014: 1.82% ($6.97B)
2013: 1.76% ($6.2B)

The federal government also exceeded its subcontract goals for awards to women-owned and small disadvantaged businesses.

SBA has worked with federal agencies to expand opportunities for small businesses to compete for and win federal contracts. The FY 2016 Small Business Procurement Scorecard that SBA uses to grade agencies in terms of prime contracting and subcontracting performance, as well as other factors, resulted in overall grade of "A " for the federal government. Seven agencies received A+, 11 received a grade of A, four received a grade of B and one agency received a grade of C.

ABOUT THE SCORECARD

The annual Scorecard is an assessment tool to (1) measure how well federal agencies reach their small business and socio-economic prime contracting and subcontracting goals, (2) provide accurate and transparent contracting data and (3) report agency-specific progress. The prime and subcontracting component goals include goals for small businesses, small businesses owned by women, small disadvantaged businesses, service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses, and small businesses located in Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZones).

Every year, the SBA works with each agency to set their prime and subcontracting goals and their grades are based on the agreed upon goals. Each federal agency has a different small business contracting goal, determined annually in consultation with SBA. SBA ensures that the sum total of all of the individual agency goals exceeds the 23 percent target established by law.

The individual agency scorecards released today by SBA, as well as a detailed explanation of the scorecard methodology, is available online: https://www.sba.gov/contracting/finding-government-customers/see-agency-small-business-scorecards.

While each federal agency is responsible for ensuring the quality of its own contracting data, SBA conducts additional analyses to help agencies identify potential data anomalies. As part of its ongoing data quality efforts, the SBA is working with federal agency procurement staff to provide tools to facilitate review of data, implement improvements to procurement systems and conduct training to improve accuracy.

The overall federal small business prime contracting performance released today by the SBA, as well as a detailed explanation of the calculations, is available online at go.usa.gov/Nxxd.


Careful Examination of the
CVE’s Gift Horse

VETLIKEME - March 22, 2017
Sarah Schauerte

As you may know, the VA’s Center for Verification and Evaluation (“CVE”), which deems firms to be service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (“SDVOSBs”) or veteran-owned small businesses (“VOSBs”) for purposes of competing for set-aside contracts issued by the VA, recently announced that it’s implementing a three-year verification rule. It’s simple: March 21 and beyond, get in the program, get three years instead of two.

READ MORE:

Now, however, the CVE has announced that everyone already in VetBiz gets the three years. If you check out your profile, the expiration date isn’t a mistake – you’ve been extended for another year.

Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but this change is likely due to the CVE drowning in the backlog created by its new, convoluted and inefficient process that was implemented in September. (The CVE claims the backlog is due to the Kingdomware decision, but how many companies can really have jumped on the bandwagon after that? Most companies affected are already in VetBiz. And at any rate, shouldn’t the CVE have increased the number of examiners and taken reasonable measures to deal with an influx?).

If you are listed in the VetBiz registry, here is what you should know, based on your verification status:

If you have submitted your reverification application but no one has contacted you yet (i.e., you have not yet been assigned an examiner), you don’t need to do anything. You will be administratively withdrawn and an extra year applied to your verification. (Just make sure you check your profile to confirm the new date).

If you have submitted your reverification application and a case analyst has contacted you, you may go through the reverification process and receive your new three-year period. However, if you don’t feel like putting yourself through the trouble right now, you can withdraw and take advantage of having another year.

If you are in VetBiz and are not yet up for reverification, your verification period has been extended for another year.

If you have applied for VetBiz for the first time, you will be verified for three years assuming your application is successful.

Here is the VA’s publication on the new three-year period. (Interestingly, while this affects every single business in VetBiz, it is my understanding that no email will be sent out to alert business owners). If you have thoughts on the new three-year period or comments to share about your experience with the CVE (especially if you have encountered the new process, post September 2016), please comment below. Upon request, I am happy to make your comment anonymous or to substitute your name with a handle.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll continue to keep you posted with further changes that affect veteran-owned businesses!

Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog at: legalmeetspractical.com.


New VA Verification Guidelines
2017

Federal Register /Vol. 82, No. 33 /Tuesday, February 21, 2017 /Rules and Regulations

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

38 CFR Part 36
RIN 2900–AP95
Veterans Benefits Administration;
Loan Guaranty: Technical Corrections
AGENCY: Department of Veterans Affairs.
ACTION: Final rule; correcting amendment.

DOWNLOAD PDF FILE


USDA Announces Streamlined Guaranteed Loans
Additional Lender Category for Small-Scale Operators

United States Department of Agriculture Logo

Options Help More Beginning, Small and Urban Producers Gain Access to Credit

WASHINGTON - Oct. 20, 2016
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced the availability of a streamlined version of USDA guaranteed loans, which are tailored for smaller scale farms and urban producers. The program, called EZ Guarantee Loans, uses a simplified application process to help beginning, small, underserved and family farmers and ranchers apply for loans of up to $100,000 from USDA-approved lenders to purchase farmland or finance agricultural operations.

READ MORE:

“Over the past seven years, we have been transforming our loan programs at USDA so that they can be attainable and useful to all kinds and sizes of producers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These EZ Guarantee Loans will help beginning and underserved farmers obtain the capital they need to get their operations off the ground, and they can also be helpful to those who have been farming for some time but need extra help to expand or modernize their operations. USDA's Farm Service Agency has offices in nearly every county in the country, and we encourage all farmers, including those in urban areas, to stop in and inquire about this program.”

USDA today also unveiled a new category of lenders that will join traditional lenders, such as banks and credit unions, in offering USDA EZ Guarantee Loans. Microlenders, which include Community Development Financial Institutions and Rural Rehabilitation Corporations, will be able to offer their customers up to $50,000 of EZ Guaranteed Loans, helping to reach urban areas and underserved producers. Banks, credit unions and other traditional USDA-approved leaners, can offer customers up to $100,000 to help with agricultural operation costs.

According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, 75 percent of all farm operations gross less than $50,000 per year. EZ Guarantee Loans offer low interest rates and terms up to seven years for financing operating expenses and 40 years for financing the purchase of farm real estate. USDA-approved lenders can issue these loans with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) guaranteeing the loan up to 95 percent.

USDA is providing a 90-day period for the public to review and comment on program improvements. To review program details, visit www.regulations.gov, reference RIN 0560-AI34 and follow the instructions to submit comments.

More than half of all FSA loans go to new farmers and more than a quarter to underserved borrowers. FSA also offers loans of up to $5,000 to young farmers and ranchers though the Youth Loan Program. Loans are made to eligible youth to finance agricultural projects, with almost 9,000 young people now participating. More information about the available types of FSA farm loans can be found at fsa.usda.gov/farmloans or by contacting your local FSA office. To find your nearest office location, visit http://offices.usda.gov.

USDA's EZ Guarantee Loans are an additional tool to support strong local and regional food systems, as well as organic agriculture. Across USDA, the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative coordinates the Department's policy, resources, and outreach efforts related to local and regional food systems. Over the past seven years, USDA has helped provide consumers a stronger connection to their food with more than $1 billion in investments to over 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects since 2009. Industry data estimates that U.S. local food sales totaled at least $12 billion in 2014, up from $5 billion in 2008. Learn more about USDA investments connecting producers with consumers and expanding rural economic opportunities online at USDA Results - New Markets, New Opportunities.

USDA works to strengthen and support American agriculture, an industry that supports one in 11 American jobs, provides American consumers with more than 80 percent of the food we consume, ensures that Americans spend less of their paychecks at the grocery store than most people in other countries, and supports markets for homegrown renewable energy and materials. Since 2009, USDA has provided $5.6 billion in disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; expanded risk management tools with products like Whole Farm Revenue Protection; and helped farm businesses grow with $36 billion in farm credit. The Department has engaged its resources to support a strong next generation of farmers and ranchers by improving access to land and capital; building new markets and market opportunities; and extending new conservation opportunities. USDA has developed new markets for rural-made products, including more than 2,700 biobased products through USDA's BioPreferred program; and invested $64 billion in infrastructure and community facilities to help improve the quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/results.


Dangerous W-2 Phishing Scam Evolving:
Targeting Schools, Restaurants, Hospitals, Tribal Groups and Others

Internal Revenue Service Logo

IR-2017-20, Feb. 2, 2017

WASHINGTON - The Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies and the tax industry issued an urgent alert today to all employers that the Form W-2 email phishing scam has evolved beyond the corporate world and is spreading to other sectors, including school districts, tribal organizations and nonprofits.

READ MORE:

In a related development, the W-2 scammers are coupling their efforts to steal employee W-2 information with an older scheme on wire transfers that is victimizing some organizations twice.

“This is one of the most dangerous email phishing scams we’ve seen in a long time. It can result in the large-scale theft of sensitive data that criminals can use to commit various crimes, including filing fraudulent tax returns. We need everyone’s help to turn the tide against this scheme,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

When employers report W-2 thefts immediately to the IRS, the agency can take steps to help protect employees from tax-related identity theft. The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry, working together as the Security Summit, have enacted numerous safeguards in 2016 and 2017 to identify fraudulent returns filed through scams like this. As the Summit partners make progress, cybercriminals need more data to mimic real tax returns.

Here’s how the scam works: Cybercriminals use various spoofing techniques to disguise an email to make it appear as if it is from an organization executive. The email is sent to an employee in the payroll or human resources departments, requesting a list of all employees and their Forms W-2. This scam is sometimes referred to as business email compromise (BEC) or business email spoofing (BES).

The Security Summit partners urge all employers to be vigilant. The W-2 scam, which first appeared last year, is circulating earlier in the tax season and to a broader cross-section of organizations, including school districts, tribal casinos, chain restaurants, temporary staffing agencies, healthcare and shipping and freight. Those businesses that received the scam email last year also are reportedly receiving it again this year.

Security Summit partners warned of this scam’s reappearance last week but have seen an upswing in reports in recent days.

NEW TWIST to W-2 SCAM: Companies Also Being Asked to Wire Money

In the latest twist, the cybercriminal follows up with an “executive” email to the payroll or comptroller and asks that a wire transfer also be made to a certain account. Although not tax related, the wire transfer scam is being coupled with the W-2 scam email, and some companies have lost both employees’ W-2s and thousands of dollars due to wire transfers.

The IRS, states and tax industry urge all employers to share information with their payroll, finance and human resources employees about this W-2 and wire transfer scam. Employers should consider creating an internal policy, if one is lacking, on the distribution of employee W-2 information and conducting wire transfers.

Steps Employers Can Take If They See the W-2 Scam

Organizations receiving a W-2 scam email should forward it to phishing@irs.gov and place “W2 Scam” in the subject line. Organizations that receive the scams or fall victim to them should file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3,) operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Employees whose Forms W-2 have been stolen should review the recommended actions by the Federal Trade Commission at identitytheft.gov or the IRS at irs.gov/identitytheft. Employees should file a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, if the employee’s own tax return gets rejected because of a duplicate Social Security number or if instructed to do so by the IRS.

The W-2 scam is just one of several new variations that have appeared in the past year that focus on the large-scale thefts of sensitive tax information from tax preparers, businesses and payroll companies. Individual taxpayers also can be targets of phishing scams, but cybercriminals seem to have evolved their tactics to focus on mass data thefts.

BE SAFE ONLINE

In addition to avoiding email scams during the tax season, taxpayers and tax preparers should be leery of using search engines to find technical help with taxes or tax software. Selecting the wrong “tech support” link could lead to a loss of data or an infected computer. Also, software “tech support” will not call users randomly. This is a scam.

Taxpayers searching for a paid tax professional for tax help can use the IRS Choosing a Tax Professional lookup tool or if taxpayers need free help they can review the Free Tax Return Preparation Programs. Taxpayers searching for tax software can use Free File, which offers 12 brand-name products for free, at irs.gov/freefile. Taxpayer or tax preparers looking for tech support for their software products should go directly to the provider’s web page.

Tax professionals also should beware of ongoing scams related to IRS e-Services. Thieves are trying to use IRS efforts to make e-Services more secure to send emails asking e-Services users to update their accounts. Their objective is to steal e-Services users’ credentials to access these important services.


Veterans and Agriculture

Small Business Administration Logo

Rural development helps keeps America strong – over 45% of military recruits come from rural areas (areas that are made up of less than 17% of U.S. population. It’s in U.S. interest to enable small business ownership in rural America – direct correlation to strong defense).

Where SBA focuses on Small Business Ownership, USDA emphasizes three areas of opportunity in agriculture: Entrepreneurship, Education & Training in Agriculture, and Employment in the ag-sector. From USDA’s viewpoint, these can be achieved simultaneously, or separately (i.e., can pursue ag education, while working in the ag sector, and running an ag venture).

READ MORE:

ENTREPRENEURSHIP:
Resources:

USDA Discovery Tool: https://www.nal.usda.gov/veterans-agriculture (this is a quick survey that helps a veteran narrow down what type of farming and location they’re interested in; then, provides local connections)
New farmer resources for veterans: https://newfarmers.usda.gov/veterans
Variety of public and private lending and/or grants for ag ownership and/or operating, disaster assistance, risk management, enhancing land quality
Agribility for service disabled veterans (http://www.agrability.org/)
Farm Answers—the largest source of information for beginning farmers: www.farmanswers.org (USDA grantee that highlights opportunities for training and skill development in ag)
Transition Incentives Program: Provides incentive payments to retired farmers or ranchers who have land expiring out of USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program to transition their land to beginning, veteran, and underserved farmers

EDUCATION & TRAINING:

Internships and apprenticeships: https://www.nal.usda.gov/veteran-programs-and-resources; (NOTE: DoD’s Skill Bridge Pgm is being expanded to agri-sector)
Technical and university-level degrees; https://www.nal.usda.gov/agricultural-education-0
Veteran Service Organizations: Farmer Veteran Coalition (www.farmvetco.org), American Legion, etc.,
Military Families: Spouses eligible for many educational pgms; Youth Pgms: 4-H, Future Farmers of America, etc., teach and inspire youth to pursue agriculture options

EMPLOYMENT:

Across the agriculture spectrum, there are available jobs in traditional farming and ranching, research, marketing specialists, truck drivers, agri-science teachers, sales representatives, loan officers, land use managers, environmental scientists, food services, etc. Some of these jobs may require formal education, but the skills acquired by service members while in the military equate to skills needed to work in many agribusiness positions.
USDA employment websites:
https://www.nal.usda.gov/careers-agriculture
www.purdue.edu/usda/employment

CONTACTS:

USDA Service Centers: http://offices.usda.ogv
Cooperative Extension agents: http://nifa.usda.gov/partners-and-extension-map
Jaime Wood: OR

CALL: 202-260-8023


OVBD’S 2016 MILESTONES & ACHIEVEMENTS
A YEAR IN REVIEW

Small Business Administration Logo

2016 was a productive year of growth for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) and our partners. We focused on our mission to empower veteran entrepreneurs by formulating, implementing, administering, and promoting policies and programs. In turn, these policies and programs have served to equip veteran, service member (active duty, National Guard, Reserve), and military spouse small businesses with counseling, training and education, access to capital, and contracting opportunities. It is with great pleasure that we report the following milestones and achievements.

READ MORE:

SMALL BUSINESS & ENTREPRENEURIAL DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE:COUNSELING, TRAINING & EDUCATION

Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs)

In FY2016, the VBOC program expanded to 20 centers, increased participation in transition assistance via the Boots to Business program, and trained and counseled 47,504 clients. The following host organizations were added:

★ University of Hawaii – Hilo, HI
★ Mira Costa College – Carlsbad, CA
★ Cochise College – Sierra Vista, CA
★ University of Texas at Arlington – Arlington, TX
★ Georgia Southern University – Statesboro, GA
★ Center for Women & Enterprise – Providence, RI
★ Arsenal Business & Technology Partnership – Watervliet, NY

VBOCs conducted 20,082 counseling sessions and helped their clients:

★ Receive $10,990,241 in capital
★ Win $28,427,621 in government contracts
★ Start 92 new businesses
★ Create 568 new jobs
★ Keep 336 jobs

The centers participated in 308 Boots to Business courses, 51 Boots to Business Reboot courses, and many other workshops, seminars, and webinars providing training, resources and valuable connections for all eras of veterans, active duty service members, members of the National Guard and Reserve, and military spouses.

During National Small Business Week in May, SBA named the New Mexico Veterans Business Outreach Center as the top VBOC in the nation for 2016. Joe Long, New Mexico VBOC Director, and his staff accepted the award from SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet in Washington, DC. The New Mexico team was also honored at a special awards breakfast in Albuquerque, NM.

Boots to Business

In 2016, Boots to Business reached a major milestone training more than 50,000 service members and military spouses since its 2013 launch. This year alone, Boots to Business reached 16,000 transitioning service members and military spouses at more than 224 military installations worldwide. During the Camp Pendleton Hire Our Heroes event, the program recognized the following outstanding instructors for their commitment to supporting new veteran business owners:

★ Doug Clary, SBA Wichita District Office
★ Angie Duncanson, Maryland WBC
★ Jim Fitzsimmons , San Diego SCORE Chapter
★ Patricia Krausman, Kentucky SBDC
★ Charles McCaffrey, VBOC at Community Business Partnership
★ Neil Tarallo, Institute for Veterans and Military Families

Boots to Business | Reboot

Over the past year, the Boots to Business Reboot program experienced significant growth and provided entrepreneurship training and connection to SBA resources to nearly 2,000 veterans, members of the Reserve and National Guard, and military spouses in more than 100 different cities.

We are grateful to our 2016 Boots to Business Reboot cosponsors, First Data Corporation, Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), and the Marcus Foundation for making the initial launch possible. The incredible engagement of instructors from SBA District Offices, Veterans Business Outreach Centers, Women’s Business Centers, SCORE, Small Business Development Centers and IVMF brought the program to life.

Veterans Institute for Procurement (VIP), Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce Foundation

In 2016, VIP provided accelerator-like training to 48 veteran-owned small businesses (VOSB) and 136 service-disabled VOSBs in the federal procurement sector from 40 states, Washington, DC, and Guam. On average, VIP graduates increase their business revenue by 53% the first year after completing the course. Since its inception in 2009, VIP has trained 777 veteran small business owners, comprised of:

★ 78% Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses
★ 34% Small Disadvantaged Businesses/ 8(a)
★ 56% Minority-Owned Businesses
★ 17% Woman-Owned Businesses

2016 also saw the launch of VIP START, a program designed for veteran-owned businesses that want to enter or expand their business growth into the federal marketplace. This 3-day, 27-hour, comprehensive certification program focuses on how to do business with the government and helps companies become procurement ready faster. In April, 48 veteran-owned businesses from 15 states and Washington, DC graduated from the inaugural VIP START session, followed by another successful class in October.

Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE)

V-WISE expanded its record of success in 2016 by hosting three exclusive entrepreneurial training events. Since 2011, V-WISE has trained 2,440 female veterans, service members, and spouses of veterans or service members, 93% of whom are still in business. V-WISE graduates currently employ 1,003 workers and generate $41 million in revenue annually.

In addition to the work of V-WISE, OVBD accepted grant applications in December for the Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program funding opportunity. The applying organizations provide entrepreneurial development training to women veterans, active duty service members, and military spouses. We look forward to awarding funds to one or more organizations in the first quarter of 2017.

Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE)

V-WISE expanded its record of success in 2016 by hosting three exclusive entrepreneurial training events. Since 2011, V-WISE has trained 2,440 female veterans, service members, and spouses of veterans or service members, 93% of whom are still in business. V-WISE graduates currently employ 1,003 workers and generate $41 million in revenue annually.

In addition to the work of V-WISE, OVBD accepted grant applications in December for the Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program funding opportunity. The applying organizations provide entrepreneurial development training to women veterans, active duty service members, and military spouses. We look forward to awarding funds to one or more organizations in the first quarter of 2017.

Service Disabled Veterans Entrepreneurship Training Program

OVBD was proud to make four cooperative agreement awards this year to organizations providing high quality entrepreneurship training to service disabled veterans. They are:

St. Joseph’s University – Philadelphia, PA
Dog Tag, Inc. – Washington, DC
Syracuse University – Syracuse, NY
Oklahoma State University – Stillwater, OK


Aspire Challenge
Prize Competition

Small Business Administration Logo

ABOUT THE CHALLENGE

The Aspire Challenge is a prize competition conducted under the America Competes Act. This competition’s objective is to spur development and provision of innovative entrepreneurial development and access to capital resource for formerly incarcerated individuals or those who are non-violent ex-offenders. This challenge competition is separate but builds on the momentum of the Aspire Entrepreneurship Initiative, a public-private partnership announced in August 2016 between the SBA, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Justine PETERSEN. The three-year initiative is a pilot to test entrepreneurship education programming and microloan assistance through SBA Microloan Intermediaries to formerly incarcerated individuals in St. Louis, MO; Chicago, IL; Louisville, KY; and Detroit, MI. The goal of the Aspire Challenge is to source additional innovative solutions in other U.S. regions beyond these four metropolitan areas.

READ MORE:

PRIZES

Up to 16 prizes of $75,000 each for a total of up to $1.2 million will be awarded to contestants. To be eligible to win a prize, a contestant must have an account in System for Award Management (https://www.sam.gov) to receive the award. This challenge is open to all for-profit and non-profit entrepreneurial support organizations.

HOW TO APPLY

Submissions will be accepted from 8:00am ET on December 29, 2016 until 11:59pm ET on February 12, 2017. Applications can be submitted by going to https://challenge.gov/challenge/aspire-challenge/ and clicking on the “Submit Solutions” link on the left-hand side. SBA anticipates announcing winners no later than March 14, 2017.

Contestants for this challenge must detail innovative and sustainable solutions to equipping formerly-incarcerated individuals with technical assistance to start and grow businesses. Contestant solutions must specifically address methods to deliver Entrepreneurial Education (including: recruitment, instruction, mentoring, and community connection) and Access to Capital resources to formerly incarcerated individuals.

MORE DETAILS

Contestant entries will be evaluated by a review committee that may be comprised of SBA officials, employees of other federal agencies, and/or private sector experts. Winners will be selected based on quality, clarity, completeness, and feasibility of their approach to addressing the issues outlined in the challenge. In addition, the SBA may take into account contestant geographic locations and areas of service when selecting winners.

Winning contestants will receive cash awards disbursed in a series of three payments. The first payment, equal to 40% of a winner’s total prize amount, will be disbursed upon award once all initial requirements in the rules. The second payment, equal to 30% of a winner’s total prize amount, will be disbursed after a winner has delivered a kickoff event and the first 50% of the proposed training program has been delivered to the intended audience. The final 30% of the total prize amount will be disbursed after a winner submits a written assessment that includes, but is not limited to the outcomes and outputs of the technical assistance curriculum as measured by the metrics outlined in the contestant’s submitted solution. For more information, see the Aspire Challenge solicitation at https://www.challenge.gov/challenge/aspire-challenge.

GOALS

This challenge’s goal is to build on the momentum of the Aspire Entrepreneurship Initiative to source innovative solutions to deliver entrepreneurship education programming and microloan assistance for formerly incarcerated individuals and to expand the technical assistance network for formerly incarcerated individuals beyond the four metropolitan areas of St. Louis, MO; Chicago, IL; Louisville, KY; and Detroit, MI.

KEY DATES

Challenge Launch: 8:00 am ET, December 29, 2016
Informational Webinars to Explain Details of the Challenge: TBD*
Close of Submission Period: 11:59 pm ET, February 12, 2017
Winners Announced: March 14, 2017


USDA Makes it Easier to Transfer Land to the Next Generation of Farmers and Ranchers
Allows for Transfer of Certain Conservation Reserve Program Land to New Farmers;
Provides Priority Enrollment in Working Lands Conservation Programs

DES MOINES, Iowa, Dec. 29, 2016 – Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary Lanon Baccam today announced that beginning Jan. 9, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will offer an early termination opportunity for certain Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, making it easier to transfer property to the next generation of farmers and ranchers, including family members. The land that is eligible for the early termination is among the least environmentally sensitive land enrolled in CRP.

READ MORE:

This change to the CRP program is just one of many that USDA has implemented based on recommendations from the Land Tenure Advisory Subcommittee formed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in 2015. The subcommittee was asked to identify ways the department could use or modify its programs, regulations, and practices to address the challenges of beginning farmers and ranchers in their access to land, capital and technical assistance.

“The average age of principal farm operators is 58,” said Baccam. “So, land tenure, succession and estate planning, and access to land is an increasingly important issue for the future of agriculture and a priority for USDA. Access to land remains the biggest barrier for beginning farmers and ranchers. This announcement is part of our efforts to address some of the challenges with transitioning land to beginning farmers.”

Baccam made the announcement while touring the Joe Dunn farm in Warren County, located in central Iowa near Carlisle. Dunn is the father-in-law to Iowa native and former Marine Aaron White, who with his wife, are prospective candidates for the early termination program. Baccam was joined by Farm Service Agency Iowa State Executive Director John Whitaker when meeting with Dunn and White.

“The chance to give young farmers a better opportunity to succeed when starting a farming career makes perfect sense,” said Baccam. “There are Conservation Reserve Program acres that are rested and ready to be productive, an original goal of CRP. The technical teams at USDA will tell us which ones can terminate from the program with little impact on the overall conservation efforts. When they do, we’ll be ready to help beginning farmers like military veteran Aaron White.”

Normally if a landowner terminates a CRP contract early, they are required to repay all previous payments plus interest. The new policy waives this repayment if the land is transferred to a beginning farmer or rancher through a sale or lease with an option to buy. With CRP enrollment close to the Congressionally-mandated cap of 24 million acres, the early termination will also allow USDA to enroll other land with higher conservation value elsewhere.

“Starting the next generation of farmers and ranchers out with conservation and stewardship in mind is another important part of this announcement,” Baccam said. “The land coming out of CRP will have priority enrollment opportunities with USDA’s working lands conservation programs through cooperation between the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.”

Acres terminated early from CRP under these land tenure provisions will be eligible for priority enrollment consideration into the CRP Grasslands, if eligible; or the Conservation Stewardship Program or Environmental Quality Incentives Program, as determined by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

According to the Tenure, Ownership and Transition of Agricultural Land survey, conducted by USDA in 2014, U.S. farmland owners expect to transfer 93 million acres to new ownership during 2015-2019. This represents 10 percent of all farmland across the nation. Details on the early termination opportunity will be available starting on Jan. 9, 2017, at local USDA service centers. For more information about CRP and to find out if your acreage is eligible for early contract termination, contact your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office or go online at fsa.usda.gov/crp. To locate your local FSA office, visit offices.usda.gov.


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SBA Announces Funding to
Boost Export Opportunities for
Small Businesses

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WASHINGTON - Small businesses across the country will have access to $17.4 million in funding to help them enter and compete in the global marketplace, as the Small Business Administration (SBA) today announced that 40 awards from the agency’s State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) program will be made to states and territories to support activities to increase exporting by small businesses.

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“Exports are a central part of America's economic growth; with export-supported jobs paying 15-18% more. Yet less than one percent of small businesses export; and of those that do, 58 percent of them export to only one country. Unlocking trade opportunities for small businesses is key to continued growth and expansion. SBA's STEP program ensures local resources are available to help small businesses tap global markets. By funding states and their export development partners, the SBA is delivering the tools and resources required for small businesses to launch their services and products abroad. With 95% of the world’s consumers living outside of the United States, SBA's STEP program ensures that America's small businesses can succeed in the 21st century global economy,” said Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet.

The purpose of the 2015 awards is for states to assist small businesses with export related activities or other export initiatives that are in line with the objectives of the program. These objectives include participation in foreign trade missions, foreign market sales trips, subscription services provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce, as well as design of international marketing campaigns, export trade show exhibits, training workshops and more.

The STEP program is designed to increase both the number of small businesses that begin to export and the value of exports for small businesses currently exporting. Expanding the base of small business exporters and making the process as easy as possible is a key component of the Administration’s National Export Initiative.

Recipients in the first two rounds of STEP awards, in FY 2011 and FY 2012, reported a strong return on investment of over 19:1.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON “STEP”


CVE Transformation
White Paper

CVE Transformation:

Over the past two years the Center for Verification and Evaluation (CVE) has undergone a remarkable transformation. This transformation has occurred throughout the organization and is continuing today. Changes have been dramatic and very beneficial to the veteran entrepreneur community. A quick review of CVE verification statistical data helps to provide a frame of reference for what has occurred. During Fiscal Year 2012, CVE took an average of 87 days to make an initial determination for firms applying for verification with completed application. Currently, utilizing FY2014 data, the average time for CVE to render an initial determination is 35 days, a reduction of over 60% in less than two years. Similarly, comparing Requests for Reconsideration (R4R) to reconsider denied applications, the average processing time in FY2012 was 92 days. Current R4R processing averages 19 days for determinations, a 78% reduction in processing time. These performance numbers are well below the 38 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 74 regulatory guidelines of 60 days for application processing, when practicable.

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Increased Opportunities for Verification:

CVE has introduced two new processes to increase success and enable veteran entrepreneurs avoid denial of their applications. The Pre-Determination Findings process allows a veteran owner an opportunity to correct minor deficiencies which would otherwise lead to an application denial. CVE notifies the veteran of the specific issues, and will continue the application process upon correction. If the modifications satisfactorily resolve the issues of concern, an approval letter will be issued. The Pre-Decision Process addresses more complex problems with an application which cannot be remedied quickly. Again, CVE notifies the veteran owner of these issues in detail, affords the owner the opportunity to withdraw the application to correct these issues, and then reapply, thus avoiding the six month penalty for being denied.

Communications with Veterans:

CVE has greatly expanded its numbers and methods of communicating with veteran business owners. CVE continues to update the information provided on the web site, by expanding its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and Verification Fact Sheets to provide additional information and clarifications about the verification process. CVE has expanded the capabilities of its telephone help desk, and added new outgoing calls to assist and guide veterans at critical steps in the process or to provide individual insights to our process and head off emerging issues. Today, as a general observation, CVE is making more outgoing, proactive calls to veterans than the numbers of inbound calls and queries it receives. We reach out 4 months ahead of time to all verified firms in order to remind them of pending expiration, and follow up with monthly notifications until the firms reapply or expire. CVE has also greatly expanded its presence and information flow by means of social media. With active Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts with well over 1500 followers, CVE reaches out with information and updates daily to interested veterans. CVE’s goal is to provide information and assistance to assist all veteran owners at every stage in the process.

Verification Counselor Assistance to Applicants:

The Department of Veterans Affairs and CVE have established a written cooperative agreement with the Defense Logistics Agency to provide no cost counselling service and assistance to all veteran business owners across the country and in US territories. With this agreement, every business counsellor in every Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) nationwide will be trained and certified by CVE to inform and assist veterans in the application process and other matters in business dealings with the federal government. CVE has already trained and certified over 270 counsellors in every state and territory, and is striving to achieve a goal of 400, which would represent all counsellors at PTACs. This no cost benefit is available to all veteran business owners today.

Updating the Verification Rules in Code of Federal Regulations (CFR):

VE has initiated a process to update and improve the CFR which governs the VA Verification process. CVE has involved key veteran stakeholders at every step in this process to gather input, recommendations and assist in making the new CFR rules synchronize with current common business practices. The proposed rule has been posted and circulated for comments; feedback incorporated, and CVE will soon be completing the regulatory process for legal reviews and implementation. In jointly working these rule improvements, the Veteran Community spoke, and CVE listened to cooperatively make needed improvements.

Preventing Fraud and Protecting the Veteran Advantage:

CVE recognizes the delicate balance between expeditiously verifying veteran owned businesses and preventing illegitimate businesses from gaining contracts improperly. CVE has increased its on-site audits significantly to visit businesses and make sure they continue to meet the program core tenets of eligibility, ownership, and control. Through modeling and business intelligence tools and working closely with the VA Inspector General and contracting offices, CVE seeks to identify and exclude ineligible businesses from taking contracts away from verified businesses which continue to meet the program requirements. This is a very difficult challenge which CVE has addressed aggressively.

Remaining Challenges:

This is not to say the CVE transformation has been without issue. The results of an August 2012 General Accounting Office (GAO) audit indicated that the CVE IT infrastructure was not up to the task of managing an expanded federal wide verification effort and that upgrades were needed. Accordingly, the VA Office of Information Technology (OIT) undertook a contractual effort to develop and field the Veterans Enterprise Management System (VEMS), a multimillion dollar replacement of the current CVE case management software. Unfortunately, this development encountered technical challenges resulting in cancellation of the contract. As an interim measure, CVE has embarked on an upgrade to the current IT systems until a fully modernized system can be fielded. This will be transparent to veterans and will enable CVE to efficiently manage most tasks effectively.

Summary:

CVE has made great strides in improving the verification process and service to veterans. (VA leadership recently recognized CVE’s accomplishments and progress over these past two years, and the VA Chief of Staff cited and thanked the organization and its personnel for these many improvements earlier this month.) Communications and collaboration with veterans are open and transparent; assistance programs are expanded and are free for veterans, and new, more business friendly rules and guidelines are on the way. Fraud prevention measures are in place and have been expanded in numerous areas. Internal training for CVE personnel is continuous and focused on enhancing accuracy and the customer experience. Nevertheless, CVE’s leadership will not rest on their laurels, and has pledged to continue to make steady improvements throughout the CVE organization.


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REQUEST FOR COUNSELING

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The U.S. Small Business Administration requires all clients to complete the Request for Counseling (Form 641). This form will act as our Confidentiality and Code of Conduct Agreements. All client information is held in strictest of confidence.

To start the process, please click on the above e-CENTER button to access our electronic Request for Counseling form. After submission, a counselor will contact you shortly.

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Helping Entrepreneurs Find The Best Franchise Opportunities
5 September 2017
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26 October 2017
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Verification Process Training Opportunities


Preparing For Re-Evaluation

1st Tuesday of Each Month

Preparing for Re-Verification Webinar & Town Hall

Designed for firms whose verification will be expiring


Verification Training

3rd Tuesday of Each Month

Pre-Application Webinar & Town Hall

Designed for firms interested in submitting their first CVE Verification application


Staying Verified

4th Tuesday of Each Month

How to stay Verified Webinar & Town Hall

Designed for firms who have been verified in six months


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