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Mr. FITZPATRICK. Mr. Chairman, I rise this evening to offer an amendment that levels the playing field and promotes fairness for veterans when it comes to contracting with the Federal Government. According to the most recent census, there are almost 22 million veterans living in the United States and over 2.4 million of them now manage their own company. Providing opportunities for veteran-owned small businesses I believe utilizes the talents and training of our Nation's heroes and can help end epidemic levels of veteran unemployment.
Unfortunately, not all of our servicemen and -women have found opportunities upon their return home. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the unemployment rate among veterans, including those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, was at a staggering 21.9 percent. These numbers are unacceptable. These brave men and women who have served our country deserve every effort from this body to give them the tools they need to provide for themselves and their families. It should be the explicit policy of this Congress and all government agencies to support our veterans and our veteran entrepreneurs.
Therefore, Mr. Chairman, the amendment I am again offering to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act would give veteran-owned small businesses the preference for contracts equal to that of any group eligible for a preferred consideration except for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.
The practice of the Federal Government providing preferences to encourage government to do business with certain groups is very well established. This amendment does not look to restrict or change the current preference process. It merely serves to level the playing field for our veterans. This amendment would also preserve the current policy of giving greater preference to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.
This exact same amendment was unanimously passed in last year's Military Construction and Veterans Affairs act. It was signed into law as part of last year's budget process.
As our Nation continues to emerge from this Great Recession, we need to create an economic climate that encourages innovation and also rewards hard work. By serving this great Nation nobly, often in far-off and dangerous locations, our Nation's veterans have displayed exceptional determination and leadership skills. Character traits like these are paramount for long-term economic prosperity and for private sector success. I and many of my colleagues have made a commitment to our constituents, and to the American people, to do everything possible to create jobs and to do everything possible to help returning veterans. The self-discipline and innovation of our veterans could lead our economic recovery.
Ultimately, this amendment would give our veterans a level playing field to help spur economic growth and help spur job creation. With many servicemen and -women returning home from their combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and nearly a quarter of veterans saying they are interested in starting or buying their own small businesses, we need to preserve accountability of these contract programs. In order to do so, we define small businesses by using the current definition outlined by the Small Business Administration, and eligible businesses must be registered with the Department of Veteran Affairs where the VA Center for Veteran Enterprises maintains a database of certified and registered veteran-owned businesses.
In addition, this amendment would apply to all Federal contracts authorized by this act and would be applied to any portion of State or local projects receiving Federal funds. In many cases, this law will simply be reinforcing existing practices and ensuring that this will continue to be the policy.
Let this Congress once again bring fairness to the government contracting system and ensure that our veterans, who put their lives on the line and their lives on hold to defend our freedoms, make sure that they are receiving the same preferential contracting status that this Congress has given to others.
I urge my colleagues to support this important amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.
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