Nicole Ducouer, IFB Solutions Director of Corporate Communications
(304) 685-2393 |

WINSTON-SALEM, NC (Dec. 17, 2019) – Late Monday afternoon the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4920, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs Contracting Preference Consistency Act, which grandfathers in VA contracts that predate the Veterans Benefits Act of 2006 to restore eligibility for nonprofits who create jobs for people who are blind like IFB Solutions.

The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx and supported by Rep. Mark Walker. It came to the floor after passing unanimously in the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Dec. 5. The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate.

“We are very grateful to Representative Foxx for her leadership in passing H.R. 4920 in today’s session,” said Dan Kelly, IFB Executive Vice President of Strategy and Programs. “With this legislation, we can ensure that thousands of people who are blind or have other significant disabilities keep their jobs and continue their path to independence.”

Earlier this fall, IFB Solutions lost all three of its optical contracts with the VA employing more than 137 people at its facility in Winston-Salem. Two of those three contracts predate the Veterans Benefits Act and would return to IFB if the proposed legislation becomes law.

At the heart of the issue are two federal programs created by Congress – the AbilityOne program established in 1938 to help those who are blind or have other significant disabilities find employment, and the Veterans First program established in 2006 to set aside some VA contracts for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. Typically, AbilityOne has been exempted when programs like Veterans First are created but when Congress passed the VBA in 2006, it neglected to specify that exemption, creating the opportunity for conflict.

In 2016, PDS Consultants filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Government, saying that it should receive preference for the VA’s optical contracts over IFB Solutions. IFB went to court to protect its contracts and the 137 jobs supported by that work. A court decision found in favor of PDS and the VA began transitioning its contracts from IFB in the summer of 2019. Since that time, IFB has maintained a small crew of employees in its optical lab.

“I hope we see this legislation become law very soon because I’m ready to have my colleagues return to work,” said Scott Smith, an IFB employee who is visually impaired and a Navy veteran. “The jobs we have at IFB are life-changing. Before coming here, I could not find a job even though I had many years of work and military experience. We need places like IFB and the contracts that make our jobs possible.”

In addition to pursuing a legislative solution with the proposed Dept. of Veterans Affairs Contracting Preference Consistency Act, IFB Solutions has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its case and potentially overturn the earlier lower court decision. IFB expects to hear whether or not its case will be heard by the end of January.

“We don’t believe it was ever the intention of Congress or of the Courts to keep people who are blind or visually impaired from finding jobs,” said Kelly. “There is enough business with the VA for both groups which is what this new legislation is designed to address.

“With strong advocacy from nonprofits like IFB, organizations like the Blind Veterans Association and the National Federation for the Blind, and legislative leaders such as U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx and U.S. Representative Mark Walker, I’m very hopeful that the thousands of people like me and Scott Smith who are blind or have other significant disabilities will soon have the employment opportunities Congress intended when it created the AbilityOne program in 1938.”