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THE BLITZ

Winter, 2016

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Well snow shoveling is slowly giving way to grass cutting.  Spring has sprung for most of us and warmer temperatures are certainly welcome.  Winter was anything but slow, as you will see as your work your way through this edition of The Blitz.  The National Federation of the Blind Entrepreneurs Initiative was hard at work.

Celebrating 80 Years of Randolph-Sheppard at BLAST – Get ready to BLAST off in the Windy City.  The National Association of Blind Merchants, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, is bringing its premiere training conference for blind entrepreneurs to Chicago May 17-20.  It’s not too late to be part of the fun.  Visit www.blindmerchants.org and click on the BLAST icon on the menu bar and register today.  This year we’ve added the Disney Institute’s “The Disney Approach to Business Excellence” one-day workshop as a preconference offering on May 17th.  Demand for the Disney training has been outstanding so by the time you read this registration may be closed but you can still register for BLAST.  We have an terrific line-up of speakers that include Navy Seal Leif Babin, nationally acclaimed leadership speaker Kevin O’Connor, RSA Commissioner Janet LaBreck, National Federation of the Blind President Mark Riccobono, nationally recognized author/actor/Lincoln expert Dr. Gene Griessman, NAMA Vice President for Government Affairs Eric Dell, RSA Management Group President John Murn, RSA Randolph-Sheppard experts Deanna Jones and Jesse Hartle, Maryland State Legislator Brooke Lierman, NAMA Vice President for Communications and Information Services Chip Potter, noted Randolph-Sheppard attorneys Andy Freeman and Susan Gashel, NCSAB Policy Advisor Catriona Macdonald, and much much more.  As always, one of the highlights will be our tradeshow on May 18th which will feature dozens of purveyors.  There will be a special SLA Roundtable exclusively for SLA staff and this year we are offering a special forum for Chairs of Elected Committees of Blind Vendors on the afternoon of May 17th.  It will be a week of information sharing, networking, inspiration, and entertainment.  Come be part of something very special.

Trying to Stop the DoD Regulation Freight Train After almost 18 months of waiting, speculating, and quite frankly worrying, we have learned that the Department of Defense has forwarded to OMB proposed regulations related to troop dining contracts.  Feeling it has been instructed to do so by Congress, DoD has proposed regulations that at least in part implement the infamous 2006 Joint Policy Statement.  Without getting into the weeds of what the Joint Policy Statement said, it would have been very damaging to Randolph-Sheppard if implemented and was in direct conflict with the law in many regards.  The National Federation of the Blind Entrepreneurs Initiative had spent almost 2 years educating RSA on this issue and urging that the agency oppose any regulations that violate the Randolph-Sheppard Act.  We do know that OMB sent the rules to the Department of Education for review and comment.  We are not privy to Education’s response but we have enough confidence in RSA Commissioner LaBreck and her current staff to believe their feedback to OMB was at least mostly supportive of our position.  The National Federation of the Blind and its National Association of Blind Merchants had an opportunity to meet with OMB to express concerns about the legality of any proposed regulations.  NFB Director of Government Affairs Parnell Diggs led a 4-person team that included Nicky Gacos, Terry Smith, and Andy Freeman.  The Power Point we presented can be viewed at our website at www.blindmerchants.org.  The National Council of State Agencies for the Blind also met with OMB to express concerns.  We don’t know if any other organizations presented to OMB or not.  As we go to press, there have been no further developments.  OMB may decide to publish the proposed regulations as they are, let them die with no action, or try to make adjustments so that the regulations do comply with the Randolph-Sheppard Act.  If they are published, whether they are favorable or unfavorable, there will be an opportunity for public comment and we need to flood them with comments.  We will get that information out to the community if the regs do show up in the Federal Register.  Stay tuned.  This isn’t over.

Oregon and Maryland Score Arbitration Wins – SLA’s continue to rack up arbitration victories and there are two more to report on.  In Oregon, a panel ruled that GSA erred in not issuing the SLA a permit for a snack bar.  Susan Gashel served on the panel as the SLA’s representative and Terry Smith provided expert testimony.  GSA had argued the snack bar was actually a cafeteria so they bid it out and the SLA did not bid.  However, the panel found that the facility, which was little more than a grab and go operation, was not a cafeteria and ordered GSA to terminate the contract with the current service provider and issue a permit to the SLA.  The panel went further in ordering GSA to pay the SLA’s attorney’s fees and lost income it would have received if it had been operating the snack bar from the start.  GSA is not likely to comply with the panel’s award, at least not in its entirety, so the SLA may be faced with a decision as to whether or not to go to federal court to enforce the award.  The NFBEI would certainly encourage it to do so.  In Maryland, the SLA filed for arbitration when GSA refused to pay the cost of relocating a vending facility although the permit required it to do so.  GSA argued that it was a new facility and not a relocation but the arbitration panel did not buy the argument.  GSA was ordered to reimburse the SLA for the cost of the move.  Again, GSA has not yet complied with the award.

Topeka Judge Says Not So Fast to DoD – A federal judge in Kansas granted a temporary injunction which had been requested by the SLA to prevent the Army from terminating the contract and awarding it to AbilityOne.  The contract at one time was a full-food contract but the cooking component was no longer included in the scope of work; therefore, the Army argued the Randolph-Sheppard priority no longer applied since it was now characterized as Dining Facility Attendant (DFA) services. Arbitration panels in Kentucky and Georgia had previously ruled that the priority applies to these DFA contracts.  Kansas went to federal court, with Peter Nolan representing them, and sought the injunction until such time as it could have an arbitration panel render a decision in the case.  The NFBEI’s Terry Smith provided expert testimony.  The judge granted the injunction and the blind vendor and his teaming partner (FSIG) are still operating after being only a few days from being displaced.  We feel good about the SLA’s chances of prevailing in arbitration.

VA Finally Getting Some Attention in Congress – If you are a regular reader of The Blitz, you know that getting the Department of Veterans Affairs to comply with the Randolph-Sheppard Act is a top priority of the NFBEI.  We continue to reach out to members of Congress in an effort to get language included in the VA Appropriations Bill that pushes the VA toward compliance.  We’ve enlisted the help of the National Federation of the Blind’s Director of Government Affairs Parnell Diggs in our efforts.  His Congressional contacts as well as those of some of our Florida blind entrepreneurs are beginning to bear some fruit.  Two different Congressmen have offered language to be included in the bill.  It remains to be seen if either is successful or if the Senate will go along but at least we are seeing some progress.  At least one office has indicated a willingness to reach out to both RSA and the VA on our behalf.  More on this in the next issue of The Blitz.

Saying Yes to Direct Negotiations  –We mentioned earlier the 2006 Joint Policy Statement.  One of the controversial provisions of that policy statement was that contracting officers would not be allowed to directly negotiate potential contracts with SLA’s which is permitted under the Randolph-Sheppard Act.  We went years without seeing any direct negotiations between SLA’s and the military.  However, the tide has turned and there are 3 recent incidents where the SLA was awarded a contract via direct negotiations.  The first was the NSA facility in Hawaii where Virgil Stinnett teams with Blackstone Consulting, Inc.  In Arizona, the SLA was successful in directly negotiating a contract extension at Fort Huachuca where Scott Weber and Blackstone Consulting have been successfully operating.  And finally, the Colorado SLA is in the process of directly negotiating with the Air Force to have a blind entrepreneur operate the cafeteria service at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  If a contract is successfully negotiated, Kevan Worley will team with Blackstone Consulting to manage that operation.  Direct negotiations make sense for the military, SLA, and blind vendor and all SLA’s should at least pursue such a strategy if there is an opportunity to do so.

California Rest Area Vendors Hit a Homerun with Arbitration Victory – An arbitration panel in California has told the SLA it wrongfully charged blind entrepreneurs at the interstate rest areas for utilities and ordered the State to reimburse the blind entrepreneurs for utilities paid.  The panel also awarded attorney fees.  NABM supported the rest area entrepreneurs and assisted with legal fees in the early stages of the process.  Susan Gashel represented the vendors and the vendors selected Andy Freeman as their panel member.  Ironically, the state legislature passed a bill in the last legislative session that prohibits the charging of utilities at the rest areas.

Mike Barclay and Southern Win Silver Plate Award – One of our great Randolph-Sheppard teaming partners is being recognized by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association. Mike Barclay and Southern Foodservice Management will be honored in May at the National Restaurant Association’s meeting.   The Silver Plate awards are presented to the top operators in 9 areas of the foodservice industry, which includes both commercial and noncommercial channels. Those 9 market-specific winners then become finalists for the prestigious Gold Plate. The winner will be announced at the National Restaurant Association’s annual convention in May. We are very proud of Mike, who currently teams with 10 Randolph-Sheppard entrepreneurs in Alabama, Indiana, New Mexico, Georgia, and Colorado.  Congratulations to the entire Southern team and to his 10 blind entrepreneurs who are such an integral part of the Southern Foodservice Management operation.

2 Federal Agencies / 2 Opposite Views of the Law / And They Are Both Wrong – In a conference call with the NFBEI to discuss a potential Randolph-Sheppard project, National Park Service representatives stated that their attorneys had advised them that the Randolph-Sheppard priority does not apply if the general public is being served and not federal employees.  An hour later, we learn that Air Force representatives were telling an SLA that their attorneys were advising them that the priority does not apply unless the public has access. Same issue.  Two polar opposite views. And both are wrong.  We’ve heard some try to make the argument that the law doesn’t apply unless there is public access; however, the Park Service’s position is a new one.  Both the Park Service and Air Force also lean heavily on the regulations that say a satisfactory site does not have to be provided if there are fewer than 100 federal employees or less than 15,000 square feet.  Although both the Park Service and Air Force agree on the interpretation of that provision of the law, again they are both wrong.  Even if there are fewer than 100 employees or less than 15,000 square feet, the priority kicks in if vending facility services are to be provided.  The Postal Service and GSA removed these requirements from their policies but we still encounter the issue with the Park Service, DoD, and the VA.  We will be asking and it is our hope that RSA will issue some policy guidance on this issue.

NABM / Hadley to Conduct Webinar on Calorie Disclosure – As you no doubt know, effective December 1 of this year, most blind entrepreneurs who service vending machines will have to start disclosing the caloric content of all products sold.  The requirement will apply to any vendor who operates 20 or more vending machines.  To help prepare our blind entrepreneurs and SLA partners to comply with this requirement, our next “Randolph-Sheppard on the Web” webinar will focus on this topic.  We are happy to announce that the FDA has agreed to do the webinar which will be held on June 23rd at 3:00 PM Eastern Time.  Mark your calendars now and look for more information as the date approaches.

NAMA Fly In – The relationship between NABM and the National Automatic Merchandising Association continues to get stronger.  NABM President Nicky Gacos serves on the NAMA Board of Directors.  NAMA will play a high profile role at BLAST.  Blind entrepreneurs will be out in great numbers at the NAMA One Show later this month.  And NABM will be supporting the NAMA D.C. Fly-In on July 12-13.  Blind entrepreneurs are encouraged to participate in the fly-in if possible because issues that impact the vending industry as a whole also affect blind entrepreneurs.  Visit www.vending.org to register.

All is Quiet on the Army Consolidation Front – We wait anxiously to see if the Army will proceed with an initiative to consolidate 11 troop-dining contracts into one national contract.  There is the potential that 11 blind entrepreneurs could be displaced.  However, things are very quiet and we have no idea whether the Army is still going in that direction or not.  The NFBEI unsuccessfully attempted to convene a meeting of the 10 states that could be impacted.  We weren’t able to get the states together.  We have had a few conference calls but much work remains if the states hope to be able to respond to an eventual RFP.  We will try to keep the dialogue going between the states.  Stay tuned.

Oregon Waving Goodbye to Third Party Vending – Have you noticed how much ink the little state of Oregon gets in issues of The Blitz?  They’ve already been mentioned once earlier in this issue.  Well, they are making more big news.  The Oregon BEP is one that relies almost exclusively on third party vendors to provide and service vending machines when vending was needed.  Most Oregon vending facilities are vending only which means most blind entrepreneurs had 100% of their operations subcontracted out.  There was at least a perception that blind entrepreneurs were just sitting home and collecting checks.  The SLA felt that such a perception was detrimental to the image of the program and to blind people in general.  The Attorney General opined that such subcontracting was not permissive under the Oregon Little Randolph-Sheppard Act.  The SLA went to the state legislature and got an appropriation which will allow them to draw down enough federal dollars to replace all third party vending with state-owned vending machines which will be serviced by the blind vendors.  The SLA believes this will result in more income for the blind entrepreneurs and will enhance the image of the program.  The move was not without controversy.  Some blind vendors like the status quo.  The private vending companies who are being forced to give up literally millions of dollars of business are quite understandably unhappy.  The NFBEI supports the concept that blind vendors should be engaged in their businesses and should not be forced to third party out their vending operations.   However, we also believe there is a place in Randolph-Sheppard for third party vending.  It is our hope that the SLA, with the active participation of the Elected Committee of Blind Vendors, will adopt a common sense approach to implementing this strategy.

NABM Still Trying to Push Inmate Commissary Opportunities – NABM is continuing to explore potential opportunities in inmate commissaries through our partnership with Vend Engine.  Terry Smith and Vend Engine representatives have been conducting conference calls with individual states that have a priority in correctional facilities and in counties / municipalities.  There are approximately 13 states that meet this criteria.  We are also talking with states that want to explore opportunities with state prisons.  States are showing lots of interest but we are not very close to breaking down that barrier.  Tennessee operates 39 county jail commissaries.  There are only 2 other commissaries being operated by a BEP in the rest of the country.  We want to take the Tennessee model to the rest of the country and create lucrative opportunities for blind entrepreneurs.

It Won’t Be Snowing in Orlando in July – The Blind Merchants had planned to gather at the National Federation of the Blind’s Washington Seminar in January.  However, Mother Nature had other ideas and dumped 2 feet of snow on our nation’s capitol preventing most blind entrepreneurs from attending.  But you can be assured that it won’t be snowing in Orlando when the NFB holds its annual convention there June 30 – July 5.  The Blind Merchants will be holding is annual meeting on Saturday, July 1st.  We hope that as many blind entrepreneurs as possible will be there.  If you want to learn more about the convention or register on-line, you can go to the NFB website at www.nfb.org.

NABM Website Update – Check out the new and improved NABM website.  Visit us at www.blindmerchants.org.  We’ve made it more functional and with more resources.  Check it out.

Welcome Wagon Calling – New Hampshire has a new BEP Coordinator.  Welcome Patricia Pelletier who replaces David Lamb who retired.  Patricia was promoted from the Assistant Coordinator position so she’s certainly not new to Randolph-Sheppard.  Welcome aboard Patricia and good luck.

Saying Goodbye – It is with great regret that we say goodbye to Roger Erpelding who retired as the BEP Director in Iowa.  Roger served the blind in Iowa for over 40 years.  He was well respected by his Randolph-Sheppard entrepreneurs as well as his peers in other states.  He was a huge supporter of the NFBEI.  We will miss Roger but wish him the very best in what we hope will be a long and healthy retirement.   We will also be saying goodbye to Oklahoma BEP Director Mike Hamrick who is retiring later this month.  Oklahoma has some unique challenges so Mike will certainly be missed.  Mike too was a supporter of the NFBEI and often called on Terry Smith for counsel.  Like Roger, we wish Mike a long and healthy retirement.  We aren’t saying goodbye but Raj Gandy in Georgia has taken a new assignment in the VR agency that may or may not be permanent.  For now though, she is stepping away from BEP and in her absence Georgia has two staff functioning as co-directors.  We wish Raj the gest in her new assignment.

The NFBEI on the Road – The cold weather did not keep NABM President Nicky Gacos or NFBEI Director Terry Smith off of the road.  Terry attended and spoke at annual BEP meetings in South Carolina and North Carolina.  Nicky attended the NAMA Board meeting.  Both were in Chicago at the Loews Hotel with other members of the planning committee hotel making plans for BLAST.  Both were also in D.C. for the presentation to OMB.  With spring arriving, the frequent flyer miles will only increase with several trips for both already on the calendars.  

Tidbits – Did you know?

  • Tokyo University has developed a fork that uses electric current to trick your taste buds into thinking food is saltier;
  • A butcher shop in Paris has installed the first ever meat vending machine which was placed outside the butcher shop so customers could purchase meet 24/7;
  • Google has asked Congress to expedite the process that would allow the technology giant to bring to market a self-driving car that has no steering wheel or pedals;
  • According to a Routers/Insos poll, 58% of Americans are consciously trying to reduce sugar intake;
  • Republicans in Congress want to privatize air traffic control services at our nation’s airports which could impact Randolph-Sheppard entrepreneurs at FAA facilities;
  • The U.S. Postal Service is reportedly revising the EL-602 which is its Randolph-Sheppard Handbook;

 

You Can till Help – Do you like what the NFBEI is doing to advocate for the program on a national level and to assist individual state programs?  Do you enjoy reading The Blitz and being kept informed about what is going on in the Randolph-Sheppard community?  If so, we can use your financial support.  Over half of our support comes from the NFBEI subscriptions but we count on donations to make up the rest.  If you would like to contribute to the cause, we would welcome your donation.  You can donate by sending a check to:

National Association of Blind Merchants

7450 Chapman Highway, #319

Knoxville, TN  37920

Make the check payable to NABM and write “NFBEI” in the memo portion of the check.  Your support is greatly appreciated.

You can also donate by going to our website at www.blindmerchants.org and we have a new way you can contribute.  We can do bank drafts if you want to sign up for monthly giving.  Contact Terry Smith if you are interested in setting up bank draft donations

Share Your News with Everyone– Help us keep everyone informed about what is happening around the country.  Let us hear from you.  Tell us what is going on in your state.  What is happening in one state affects what is going on in another, and the NFBEI is the vehicle to keep everyone updated on what is going on out there.

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The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.