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A business run by the Democrat running to be South Carolina’s next governor has lost its ability to win U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs contracts after declining to cooperate with inspectors.
The VA has removed state Rep. James Smith’s firm, the Congaree Group, from its list of approved veteran-owned businesses.
Smith, a Columbia lawyer, is running against Republican Gov. Henry McMaster in the Nov. 6 general election.
The VA said it made an unannounced visit to the Congaree Group on May 17. It was not clear Monday why that visit was triggered.
Smith’s company has received lucrative government contracts since 2010, mostly from the VA, to provide valet services for veterans who are treated at Veterans Administration hospitals. Smith’s status as a service-disabled veteran allowed him access to the federal contracts, reserved specifically for veteran-owned small businesses.
Smith started the business after his year-long combat deployment to Afghanistan in 2007 as an infantry officer, where he was Injured by an improvised explosive device while on deployment.
The Columbia attorney has made his combat service a focal point of his campaign.
The VA requested business documents from the Congaree Group to review, which it said the firm failed to provide. Subsequently, the business was removed from the VA’s vendor information database on July 11 because it “could not determine compliance” with its veteran-owned contracting business program.
Smith said Monday he did not have time to produce the documents requested by VA inspectors while running for governor. He said he has plans to wind down the business, closing it, if he is elected governor.
“I simply let it go and was not going to pursue the certification,” Smith said.
The Congaree Group has four current agreements with the VA to provide valet services that Smith said will be unaffected by the ban.
“I can’t pursue any new contracts and don’t have any intention of doing that anyway,” Smith said.
The Daily Caller first reported the Congaree Group being banned by the VA.
Smith’s company briefly lost its special status previously with the VA because it missed a deadline to provide the federal agency with several documents during a review, Smith has said. The company’s status was restored after Smith appealed and provided the documents, and the VA has affirmed its special status twice since then.
In 2013, a complaint alleged Smith used his status as a disabled veteran to obtain contracts and then passed the actual work off to non-veteran-owned companies. Smith vehemently denied that allegation.
In 2014, the VA denied a protest filed by a veteran-owned Pennsylvania-based valet company that argued Smith improperly used his disability status to win a contract.
The Congaree Group provides a valet service for veterans who go to Veterans Administration hospitals. The valets greet the veterans, park their cars for them and help them with other services once inside the hospital.
“A normal business desiring to leave the program, or to get out of the federal contracting business, that’s one thing, but the timing of it being on the heels of the VA asking to review the company raises questions,” said Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project On Government Oversight, a nonpartisan independent watchdog.