The Department of Veterans Affairs should improve the planning and data system related to the process it uses to verify that the companies winning work set aside for veteran-owned small businesses are actually eligible, the Government Accountability Office says in a new report.

In its assessment, the GAO acknowledges that the VA has taken steps to improve its verification process, but argues the agency needs to improve its long-term strategic plan. The plan “lacks performance measures” and its focus is too short-term, according to the GAO.

Additionally, the report is tough on the VA’s data system, which “does not collect important data and has limited reporting and work flow management capabilities.”

The GAO recommended that the agency refine its strategic plan and integrate efforts to fix the data system with the plan. The VA concurred with both recommendations.

Huntington Ingalls celebrates first full year

Newport News-based shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls completed its first full year as an independent, public company in 2012 after being spun off from Northrop Grumman.

The key to taking advantage of this new status is being more focused on the company’s specific business, said Mike Petters, the company’s president and chief executive, in a roundtable with reporters earlier this month.

Hiring and retaining shipbuilders, for instance, is quite different than hiring and retaining an IT staff, he said. As an independent company, Huntington Ingalls, which has an office near the Navy Yard in the District, can focus on its bailiwick.

He said the company is still in the early stages of building its brand.

“That is a work in progress — and you are not ever done,” Petters said. But “I think people know who we are now.”

SOS International protest rejected

The GAO earlier this month rejected a protest filed by Reston-based SOS International over an Army purchase of intelligence technical support services.

After SOS International filed an earlier protest on the program — which was first awarded to McLean-based Six3 Intelligence Solutions— the Army told the GAO that it would reevaluate the price proposals and make a new decision. As a result, the GAO dismissed SOS International's protest.

SOS International then filed another protest, arguing that the Army’s strategy was inadequate because it did not include plans to reevaluate the technical and past performance factors.

The GAO said it found the protest “to be premature” and dismissed it.

GAO denies Clark Construction Group

The GAO also ruled against a protest filed by Bethesda-based Clark Construction Group, which had contested awards made by the Army Corps of Engineers to six construction firms, including Fairfax-based Balfour Beatty Construction.

Clark contested its evaluation, particularly arguing that it had a lower price than Balfour Beatty.

However, the GAO wrote that the Army Corps of Engineers documented its analysis and that its decision not to select Clark was “consistent with the [solicitation’s] emphasis on non-price factors.”