Ohio Suing Wright-Patterson AFB Over Blind Vendor Contract Dispute

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

DAYTON — Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is violating a statute designed to help blind vendors, according to an injunction filed in Dayton's U.S. District Court.

The state of Ohio, through Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD), filed the complaint against the United States, the Dept. of Defense, the Air Force and WPAFB Commander Col. John Devillier.

The plaintiffs argue that WPAFB improperly chose Maryland-based Son's Quality Food Company to operate the base's dining facilities and not retain Huber Heights vendor Lenny's Food Service, which has had the contract since 1999.

"We're quite proud to be able to serve the military," said Leonard Johnson, adding that he has about 45 employees and he's one of just a handful of dining facilities without a big corporate partner. "I love the job."

Kate Hanson, public information officer at the Ohio Attorney General's Office, said a meeting is scheduled Monday, May 2, with U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice.

"We are currently working with the Air Force and the U.S. Attorney's Office and are hopeful that a settlement will be reached soon," Hanson said. "The purpose of this action is to protect Ohio jobs, to protect the local vendor at Wright-Patt and ensure that the proper procedure is followed."

The Randolph-Sheppard Act signed into law in 1936 requires federal agencies to give priority to blind-owned businesses if their proposal is "within a competitive range."

A November 2015 letter from WPAFB contracting officer Richard Fries Jr. states that since the bid from Lenny's Food Service wasn't within 5 percent or $1 million of the lowest bid, the base wasn't required to select it.

That argument is countered by the plaintiffs, who write that the 5 percent/$1 million proposed rule is not applicable to such a bid. A January 2016 letter written by Fries to the OOD and included as an exhibit states that "your proposal remains in the Competitive Range."

"They went to the cheapest price and ignored the law," Johnson said. "Maybe it's a misunderstanding."

The OOD has initiated arbitration, but it seeks a preliminary and a permanent injunction, noting that "several federal courts have issued injunctive relief to preserve the status quo while Randolph-Sheppard Act arbitration is ongoing."

The contract between WPAFB and Lenny's Food Service is set to expire May 31.

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