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Advocate for veterans draws federal inquiry

The Department of Veterans Affairs is investigating its chief advocate for veteran-owned and small businesses.

Citing privacy rules, VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said Tuesday she could not provide more information on the status of Timothy J. Foreman, 63, executive director of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization in Washington.

"At this time I can confirm that Mr. Foreman has been put on administrative leave and that an internal investigation is taking place," she said.

The investigation apparently stems from a letter Foreman posted on the VA website seeking to clarify whether the agency was justified in bypassing veteran-owned businesses in dozens of instances.

Though he was on the job just 11 months, Foreman earned praise from veterans who own businesses. Foreman declined to comment.

James Sechrist of Milford in Pike County, a retired federal contracting officer and consultant to disabled veterans, said Foreman served as an advocate for veteran-owned businesses. He said it appeared the VA would punish Foreman for doing his job "too well."

Foreman played a major role in a recent ruling that benefited Powerhouse Design Architects and Engineers, an architectural firm in Station Square. The Government Accountability Office ruled in October the VA should have limited competition for eight design contracts to veteran-owned businesses.

"It would be a major loss for veterans," said Michael Cherock, who heads the veteran-owned business. "There was no one in the VA who was more committed to service-disabled veteran-owned businesses."

A federal employee for 40 years, Foreman previously was director of small business programs for the Navy.

His suspension followed his online posting of a Sept. 7 letter he sent to Will A. Gunn, the VA's general counsel, asking whether it was proper for VA contracting officers to bypass veteran-owned businesses in favor of firms on contract with the General Services Administration. Foreman expressed concern that VA contracting officers were not complying with a federal law mandating preference for veteran-owned businesses.

"If legitimate means exist to ignore this provision of law, we request VA general counsel to articulate those means," Foreman wrote to Gunn.

In July, Foreman dismissed a competitor's complaint against RBVetco, the Scott construction firm formed by retired Steeler running back Rocky Bleier. The company was permitted to resume site preparation at the VA's University Drive campus. Foreman concluded Bleier owned a majority interest in the firm.

A group of veteran-owned business officials yesterday suggested a national campaign to protest Foreman's suspension.

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