In today’s world, it is not at all uncommon for employees, or even owners of companies, to “telecommute” or “work remotely” from time to time. It’s one of the many great things that technological advancement has provided. In fact, many say that it’s too easy to stay connected to the office, making it impossible ever really getaway. As I walk down Market Street in Philadelphia every day, I see person after person glued to their phone, checking messages and responding to email incessantly (present company included). In fact, I’m on a flight to Phoenix at this very moment writing this article, which I will email to my assistant and have posted for all of you to read. It’s incredibly easy to work from anywhere at any time. Until recently, however, the Veterans Administration did not subscribe to this theory. It interpreted its regulations to mean that a service-disabled veteran could not manage his or her business remotely. A few weeks ago, the Court of Federal Claims issued an opinion that changed all that. KWV, Inc. v. United States, No. 12-882C (2013) should provide much more flexibility to service-disabled veterans in our ever-changing world.
KWV involved a Rhode-Island based service-disabled veteran-owned business (“SDVOSB”) that was owned and managed by a Korean War veteran with more than thirty years of construction experience. KWV was awarded a contract set-aside for SDVOSBs by the VA, and drew an agency protest from a disgruntled competitor, Alares LLC (“Alares”). Alares challenged KWV’s SDVOSB status, arguing that the service-disabled veteran did not actually “control” the company within the meaning of 38 C.F.R. § 74.4 because he lived in Florida for part of the year. Alares claimed that the veteran’s sons, both of whom worked for the company in Rhode Island, actually controlled the company.
The VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (“OSDBU”) agreed with Alares; it found that, because the service-disabled veteran resided in Florida for a portion of the year, he could not maintain sufficient control over the day-to-day management of KWV. The OSDBU therefore held that KWV was ineligible for the contract, and revoked KWV’s SDVOSB status, rendering it unable to bid on future SDVOSB set-aside contracts issued by the VA. KWV then appealed this decision to the United States Court of Federal Claims, seeking injunctive relief, and got it.
The Court found that the service-disabled veteran’s decision to live in Florida for part of the year did not preclude him from “controlling” KWV within the meaning of 38 C.F.R. § 74.4. Judge Lettow (the same judge that presided over the Miles case, a case that we won on behalf of an SDVOSB, and wrote about last month) stressed that the veteran “employs various electronic means to keep track of the day-to-day business of KWV,” which was revealed during the proceeding. The court concluded that this was an acceptable means of controlling KWV’s operations, per the requirements of 38 C.F.R. § 74.4.
Based upon this finding, the Court issued a preliminary injunction, setting aside the VA’s decision to sustain the protest. The Court also ordered the VA to restore KWV’s SDVOSB eligibility.
This case represents a very important development for SDVOSB owners. The VA must now recognize that “control” under 38 C.F.R. § 74.4 is not dependent upon an owner’s physical presence at an office or site. Rather, service-disabled veterans can remotely manage the day-to-day affairs of their SDVOSBs, provided that they fulfill the other prerequisites regarding “control.” This is great news for SDVOSB owners, who, like many of us, must manage our affairs far from afar sometimes…even at 37,000 feet.
Edward T. DeLisle is a Partner in the firm and a member of the Federal Contracting Practice Group. Maria L. Panichelli is an Associate in the firm’s Federal Practice Group.