The Small Business Administration is taking on a major project in the new year — certifying the veteran-owned status of small businesses looking to compete for federal government contracts.

SBA, starting on Jan. 9, began accepting applications to certify new veteran-owned small businesses through its Veteran Small Business Certification (VetCert) program.

The agency is taking over this work from the Department of Veterans Affairs, as required under the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.

Larry Stubblefield, the deputy associate administrator of SBA’s Office of Government Contracting & Business Development, said that prior to the FY 2021 NDAA, veteran-owned small businesses had to self-certify their status to compete for non-VA contracts.

“By moving the responsibilities over to SBA and establishing a federal governmentwide certification program, we are taking steps to end self-certification in federal contracts for veterans,” Stubblefield said in an interview Monday.

SBA’s VetCert program will serve as the governmentwide hub to verify the status of veteran-owned small businesses (VOSBs) and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs).

Both classifications allow eligible vendors to compete for sole-source and set-aside federal contracts.

Certified veteran-owned small businesses are eligible to compete for sole-source and set-aside contracts at the VA, while certified service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses can compete for sole-source and set-aside contracts governmentwide.

Federal agencies spent $25 billion in government contract spending with SDVOSBs in fiscal 2021.

SBA is migrating about 2.2 million records from VA to stand up the VetCert program. But it’s also bringing over the VA team that handled this work and expanding it.

The agency brought over 13 former VA employees and made seven additional hires. It also brought over 50 contractor employees that previously worked at VA to handle application processing and operate its call center.

SBA chose not to migrate VA’s certification management system. Instead, the agency is bringing all its certification and loan programs onto a unified digital platform called MySBA.

“This is something that we at SBA, we know we have to do. And when you think in terms of the customer experience, it is the right thing to do,” Stubblefield said.

VetCert is the first certification program built on the MySBA platform, which is expected to be fully operational by spring 2024. Stubblefield said SBA is looking at HUBZone certification as the second program to migrate onto the new platform.

“It’s going to allow them to come through a single portal — download their documents, register and then be able to access all of our programs on this single platform,” Stubblefield said.

By bringing all its programs onto a single platform, Stubblefield said eligible small businesses can apply for several certifications without having to resubmit information that SBA should already have on file.

“A veteran [small business] owner applies for a cert, maybe their women-owned small business certification. And the next year or two years down the road, they want to apply for their HUBZone certification,” Stubblefield said. “The outward appearance is that we’re operating [as] separate entities, separate offices, and this is going to unify all of our certification and lending programs.”

SBA held several listening sessions with the veteran community while developing the MySBA platform, and brought in veterans to observe how they navigate the system.

“This is a program we’ve developed that’s been informed by the veteran small business community every step of the way,” Stubblefield said.

SBA is looking at MySBA as an opportunity to get more veterans into federal contracting. About 21,000 veteran-owned small businesses are self-certified on the General Services Administration’s website.

“We’re looking to, through the use of technology and MySBA, increase those numbers and our pool of federal contractors,” Stubblefield said.

SBA is currently only handling certification applications for new veteran-owned small businesses.

SBA has granted a one-time, one-year extension to the current veteran small businesses verified by the Veterans Administration Center for Verification and Evaluation (CVE) as of Jan. 1, 2023.

SBA and VA said the VetCert program demonstrates the Biden administration’s commitment to improving customer experience in government through interagency cooperation.

“Small businesses owned by veterans are eligible for key benefits and well-deserved support because of their owners’ selfless service to our nation,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “Certification is a critical part of that process, and I encourage all eligible veterans to submit their verification applications to the Small Business Administration starting today.”

SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said SBA’s new veteran small business certification program reflects the agency’s “commitment to deliver exceptional support for our skilled entrepreneurs from America’s military community.”

“Supporting these Veteran entrepreneurs with access to government contracting will ensure they can continue their valued service to the American people, whether working in manufacturing, retail, R&D, or helping us build critically needed infrastructure to promote America’s long-term growth, job creation, and wealth generation,” Guzman said.