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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Deadline for bids on contract to assist veterans due this Thursday, Easter Seals still banned from RFP process

Easter Seals New Hampshire should not have been surprised by its exclusion from bidding to run a popular veterans program because the group was warned that federal regulations meant the bidding would be limited to small businesses, a spokesman for the state National Guard said Monday.

“There was no one left out of the loop,” said Lt. Col. Greg Heilshorn, state public affairs officer for New Hampshire National Guard. “Members of the Easter Seals staff have been aware of this pending transition throughout this entire progress.” ...

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Easter Seals New Hampshire should not have been surprised by its exclusion from bidding to run a popular veterans program because the group was warned that federal regulations meant the bidding would be limited to small businesses, a spokesman for the state National Guard said Monday.

“There was no one left out of the loop,” said Lt. Col. Greg Heilshorn, state public affairs officer for New Hampshire National Guard. “Members of the Easter Seals staff have been aware of this pending transition throughout this entire progress.”

But the head of the state Easter Seals said the group was still taken aback by being excluded from bidding to continue running a program it has overseen for seven years.

“We knew the contracting process would change, but nobody let us know until the RFP came out that we would not be able to bid on it,” said Larry Gammon, president of Eastern Seals New Hampshire. “The National Guard has been a great partner for us … but we were
never ever told that we could not bid on it.”

The confusion concerns roughly $1 million in federal funds that contributed to a program for returning and post-service veterans and their families called the Deployment Cycle Support Care Coordination Program or DCS-CCP. It operates in conjunction with the privately funded Veterans Count, which garners about $1 million annually from donations, a drive spearheaded by Nashua businessmen.

The joint programs have helped more than 2,600 service members and family members over seven years with everything from counseling to necessities such as food and shelter.

The programs have been operated and overseen by Easter Seals New Hampshire for seven years, but a new approach to the contract means that small businesses, and especially those owned by a disabled veteran, will get first chance to bid on the contract. Only if none of them are found to be capable will bids be open to big businesses, a category that includes Easter Seals, Heilsbhorn said.

The expulsion of Easter Seals led Gov. Maggie Hassan to write Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, decrying what she called “a baffling bureaucratic decision.”

The limits are part of Federal Acquisition Regulations and the Veterans Benefit Act of 2003, which created the procurement program. They have come into play because the National Guard Bureau, which is in charge of policy and other issues for the state national guards, said changes had to be made to cooperative agreements such as the one between Eastern Seals and state National Guard to operate the DSC-CCP, in order to meet contracting rules established by Congress to be legal.

“Three years ago the National Guard Bureau took a look at all cooperative agreements out there – they exist in several states, although New Hampshire is the only state that has a cooperative for this kind of program, a veterans service program,” Heilshorn said. “They began to transition the care coordination program from a cooperation agreement to a federal contract, necessary to bring the program into adherence with federal statutory authority.”

The state National Guard delayed the change while it worked out the effects on DSC-CCP, but that extension ends Sept. 30. The request for proposals from organizations to run the program will be open to small businesses owned by disabled veterans, with bids due by Thursday. If none of them are found valid, then it will be thrown open to all businesses.

The operators do not have to be New Hampshire-based, although under the complex procedures for federal procurement, local operations may get favored.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).