Part of our mission at the SBA is to increase the participation of small businesses in Federal contracting. The purpose for this is two-fold: one, we want to help small businesses grow and ultimately become large businesses; and two, generally speaking the Federal government gets a better deal when more parties are interested in bidding for the same project.
It goes without saying that the Federal government is the world’s largest buyer of goods and services. The last year we have complete data for, 2009, indicates that altogether the agencies, sub-agencies, administrations, and departments that compose the Federal government bought just under $500 billion in goods and services. What’s more important is the fact that 22.8% of those procurement actions were directed to small businesses. Each agency has goals they negotiate with the SBA and they are graded annually on their efforts to ensure that small businesses receive a piece of the pie.
With so many different entities at the federal level, it can be confusing for a small business owner that has many other priorities and concerns to know where to look to find these opportunities. My goal in this article is to clear some of that confusion up.
The main repository for Federal contracting opportunities is the Federal Business Opportunities website, or FedBizOpps as its commonly called. FBO.gov has been designated as the single source for federal government procurement opportunities that exceed $25,000. Government agencies use the FedBizOpps system to post any and all relevant procurement information on the Internet, including procurement notices, solicitations, and specifications. You don’t need to register to use the basic search functionality, but if you want e-mail updates of contracting opportunities or to set up a “watch list”, you will need to register. I would recommend that you click on “advanced search”, and then search for opportunities by keyword, NAICS code, or geographic location. If you haven’t already identified your NAICS codes, you may wish to visit http://www.census.gov/epcd/www/naics.html as they will be used throughout the procurement process. Another method to identify NAICS codes is to look up a competitor’s profile through the Dynamic Small Business Search, which is available on the Central Contractor Registry (CCR), www.ccr.gov. We’ll look into CCR in more detail later.
The General Services Administration (GSA) manages Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) contracts, also known as Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) contracts. Under MAS/FSS, contracts are awarded to multiple companies supplying comparable products and services at pre-negotiated prices, terms and conditions. Once GSA awards the contract, Contracting Officers and other authorized users order directly from the Schedule contractor. In particular, firms that offer IT services & components, as well as personnel & human resources related services would find it beneficial to be awarded a GSA contract. Over 11 million different products and services are sold through GSA schedules, so chances are that your product or services is already being procured. Even if you don’t get awarded a GSA schedule, there’s a possibility that you can subcontract with a current contract holder. Information regarding how to win a GSA Schedule can be obtained from Pamela Smith-Cressel, Small Business Specialist for the LA area, at (213) 894-3210.
The two contract vehicles mentioned previously, FBO and GSA, represent the vast majority of the purchases made by the Federal government. However, contracting officers can make micropurchases of less than $3,000 directly via credit card. In many cases, contracting officials search the CCR, which is a government-maintained database of companies wanting to do business with the government, to identify qualified small business vendors. That’s why it’s important to register your business on CCR, even if you don’t foresee a major prime contracting opportunity. If you do find opportunities on FBO, or are interested in becoming a GSA contract holder, you will first need to register on CCR before submitting a bid.
Now that you’ve researched and hopefully identified some opportunities for your company to do business with the federal government, you should look into contracting certification programs to see if you meet any of the eligibility criteria. SBA currently administers two certifications, and they are:
8(a): For socially and economically disadvantaged businesses
HUBZone: For businesses located and employing individuals in a Historically Underutilized Business Zone
However, there are other certifications such as small business, veteran-owned small business, service-disabled veteran-owned small business, and woman-owned small business, that are self-certifying, and each will make your small business more marketable to procurement activities, as they are graded to ensure that they purchase from a range of socio-economic concerns. Some of the certifications, such as 8(a), HUBZone, service-disabled veteran even provide access to set-aside contracts. Set aside contracts are those which are restricted to a specific pool of bidders, as opposed to full and open competition. As an example, an SDVOSB set-aside contract would only accept bids from businesses certified as SDVOSBs.
Pursuant to the Small Business Act, large business prime contractors receiving federal contracts valued at over $550,000 ($1 million for construction) are required to establish plans and goals for subcontracting with small business firms. Subcontractor utilization factors into the performance evaluation for any given contract in which a business is the prime contractor, so in order to ensure a favorable rating, many prime contractors maintain strong small business outreach and supplier diversity programs. A complete directory of these firms can be found on our website at: http://www.sba.gov/aboutsba/sbaprograms/gc/cmr/casubs.html. Subcontracting opportunities can be a great way to become exposed to the Federal procurement market and learn the ropes and language before embarking on your own as a prime contractor.
If you have any hiccups along the way, or simply would like more information about the different types of contract vehicles, look for your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center. These are government-sponsored entities that provide assistance and training to small businesses that would like to do work with the federal government.
I’d like to close this article with a comment I overhead at one of our events. This comment came from a man who is an electrician first and a businessman second (in his own words) that just landed a $150,000 contract at March Air Reserve Base. He said, “It took me a couple months to figure it out, but it just goes to show you, if I can do it, anyone can.”