The Randolph-Sheppard Act (RSA), title 20 United States Code (U.S.C.) Section 107a, became law after it was enacted by Congress and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 20, 1936. The Act was amended and updated significantly in 1974. The Randolph-Sheppard (R-S) program operates in nearly every state through State Licensing Agencies (SLAs). National management and support are provided under the law by the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the Department of Education (DOED).
There are some 2,500 blind vendors operating throughout the United States, managing businesses that run the gamut of food service and vending, from snack bars, gift shops, cafeterias, and highway rest stop vending operations, to major food service operations through military dining contracts. The primary goal of the RSA is to provide employment opportunities to the visually impaired, as stated in 20 U.S.C. Section 107a.
The RSA requires the Secretary of the Department of Education to promulgate regulations establishing a national program to place visually impaired vendors in vending operations (including vending machines) within facilities owned by the Federal government. Pursuant to the RSA, the Secretary of the Department of Education must also designate an agency in each state to license blind vendors for facilities on Federal properties. These are called state licensing agencies under 20 U.S.C. 107a(a)(5).
VA had historically taken the position that the RSA is not applicable to VA facilities as the Veterans Canteen Service (VCS) was established to provide America’s Veterans, their families and caregivers, with merchandise and services essential to their comfort and well being. However, in recent years a series of court decisions has made it clear the VA must balance the duties under the RSA with the responsibility conveyed to the Secretary under the Veterans’ Canteen Service Act. In 1999, VA issued formal policy on compliance with the RSA (VA Directive 7632).
Requirements of the RSA
Under the RSA, Federal agencies have a duty to extend to the SLAs an opportunity to seek space for blind vendors to conduct business. Complying with the RSA may result, at some Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities, in allowing blind vendors to compete with the VCS. As of January 2, 1975, notification to the appropriate SLA is required when an agency undertakes to acquire by ownership, rent, lease, substantially alter, renovate or to otherwise occupy a building:
- Containing at least 15,000 square feet of interior space to be used by the government (in buildings where services are to be provided to the public); and
- In which 100 or more Federal employees are located during normal working hours.
Applicability and Impact on VA
- The RSA regulations prohibit building, acquiring or substantially altering facilities that meet specified size and patronage requirements unless it is determined that the design includes a satisfactory site or sites for a blind vendor. 34 C.F.R. Sections 395.31(a) and (b).
- The regulatory provisions do not apply when fewer than 100 Federal Government employees are or will be located during normal working hours in the building to be acquired or otherwise occupied, or when such building contains less than 15,000 square feet of interior space to be used for Federal Government purposes in the case of buildings in which services are to be provided to the public. 34 C.F.R. Section 395.31(d).
- Following discussions with DOED’s Solicitor General’s Office and the Department of Justice, VA committed in 1996 to implementing the RSA as appropriate when building or acquiring new space or substantially altering existing space.
- Under the R-S regulations and VA Directive 7632, VA must provide notice to the SLA sixty days in advance of any acquisition or substantial alteration in a facility. 34 C.F.R. Section 395.31(c).
Balancing the Requirements of the RSA and the VCS
- VCS is required by law to provide merchandise and services essential to the comfort and well being of veterans enrolled in the VA Healthcare System, and to their caregivers and families. The provisions of the Randolph-Sheppard Act do not supplant the rights of VCS to operate, nor do they give preference to a Randolph-Sheppard vendor to provide retail services in place of VCS at a VA facility.
- VCS will be advised of all retail (vending) space inquiries, solicited or otherwise, and, if it has been determined the facility meets the criteria thresholds of VA Directive 7632, will be included in all discussions regarding appropriate locations for a Randolph-Sheppard vendor to operate.
At the VA Central Office (VACO) level, responsibility for administering the RSA program has been assigned to the Executive Director, Office of Construction & Facilities Management (CFM). In this role the Executive Director of CFM is responsible for:
- Establishing VA policies for achieving RSA compliance,
- Issuing changes to VA Directive 7632 as necessary to achieve and maintain compliance with the RSA,
- Collecting information, on a Department-wide basis, necessary to complete an annual report of RSA activity in VA which is requested by the ED,
- Serving, or designate an employee to serve, as the liaison between VA and the ED on RSA issues, and
- Preparing and submitting VA’s annual report of RSA activity to the ED.
- Annually the Department will assess the size and scope of all new construction and renovation projects that have been submitted for approval to determine the applicability of the requirements set forth by the RSA. Once a determination of the applicability of the RSA has been made, the appropriate staff offices will work with the field units to ensure the requirements of the RSA have been met. Once a year, VACO will notify each individual SLA with a project in their state to fulfill the notification criteria mandated. Once an SLA expresses interest in pursuing an agreement, VACO and the SLA enter negotiations.
- Space negotiations and commitments, infrastructure modifications, and electrical and plumbing support are matters that develop between local facility management and the SLA.
- By regulation, the permit issued to the SLA stipulates that agencies are responsible for cleaning, maintaining and repairing the space surrounding the vending facility, and that the vendors are responsible for sanitation, maintenance, and other aspects of managing the vending equipment.
- At most sites where RSA permits will be sought, the VCS may already be providing or seeking to provide retail services, and coordination between local management and local Canteen Service officials is essential.
Questions or Requests for Additional Information
- For general questions related to the Randolph-Sheppard program please contact the Department of Education’s program manager Deanna Jones, Esq. at (202) 245-6658
- For general questions or information on VA’s Randolph-Sheppard program please contact CFM Real Property Service at firstname.lastname@example.org
- For questions related to the Veterans Health Administration’s implementation of the Randolph-Sheppard program please contact Brandi Fate at (202) 329-6538 or Tony Sherman at (202) 632-7903.