Does Uncle Sam Want You?

Plato once said, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Likewise, electronic security dealers/integrators refusing to participate in the government procurement process will end up being also-rans if and when significant funding finally flows into the federal market.

However, for most security contractors, federal government work is a whole new world, one which differs considerably from the private sector. In addition to possessing the requisite high-technology skill set and uncompromising professionalism, contractors must either learn to speak the language and follow the protocols of the various federal agencies or partner with entities already established in this realm.

“The bidding is different, the awarding of contracts is different, the reporting is different; it is unique to the government to play in that game,” contends Peter Michel, chairman of the Security Industry Association’s (SIA) Homeland Security Council. “The more sophisticated projects are going to require total solutions and experience working with the government. Those already in this market are fine, but small businesses, or those not in it at all, cannot be profitable without a strategic partner.”

Although some may be intimidated by this situation, the good news is that it really is not as ominous as it seems. In fact, there are several sensible ways for electronic security providers of practically any size or specialty to get involved with federal government opportunities.

One method is open-market bidding, whereby government contracts are won the same way as standard business contracts. But, besides the usual challenges associated with private-sector work, this approach can be difficult because the federal government is political by definition, extremely fragmented, exceedingly particular, and notoriously slow in processing and payment.

An alternative to the open-market tactic is utilizing the General Services Administration (GSA), which facilitates selling products and/or services to the federal government by qualified suppliers. Companies may either file their own GSA Schedule contract or subcontract under other organizations’ contracts. GSA’s objective is to streamline the procurement process for federal agencies and suppliers alike.

Although GSA has been around for decades, the past few years have seen its purpose become more focused and its operation made more efficient. Today, it offers a path to tap into the billions of dollars annually spent by the U.S. government – the largest purchaser of products and services in the world. Many of the opportunities include special incentives or requirements for small businesses and minority-, female- or veteran-owned operations, all of which comprise the bulk of the electronic security dealer/integrator universe.

Homeland Security Expected to Untie Federal Purse Strings

Bolstering security in federal buildings has been an area of keen interest and urgency ever since the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed in April 1995. Of course, it really became a focal point following the devastating attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center in September 2001.

However, aside from a few exceptions, the security industry has yet to realize a substantial rise in orders. Even the activity spikes that some of those sectors encountered immediately following 9/11 have subsided.

Instead, despite erroneous reports and unfounded hype to the contrary, the industry has found itself in a transitive mode. Security providers have fielded many inquiries, but the economic slump and the deliberate mechanics of the government have largely left projects in a state of limbo.

Most industry analysts view it as a ramp-up period that, before the end of 2004 at the latest, will result in large sums being spent on security systems. And although the economy remains shaky, especially with war apparently imminent (at press time), the fact that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is finally up and running offers some encouragement. However, everyone is coming to the realization that securing America is going to be a massive, long-term undertaking.

DHS, which has requested a budget of nearly $40 billion, has the daunting task of consolidating and coordinating more than 20 federal agencies. The big question is how will that money be allocated; how much of it will ultimately wind up in the hands of electronic security installers and suppliers?

“DHS is clearly going to become a major funding source at the federal level for security-related activities,” confirms Michel. “But the biggest issue is making sure first responders [police, fire] can do the job, and their requirements are communications interoperability, which is primarily outside the electronic security industry. In new buildings, electronic security is considered, but not as emphasized as much as overall structural integrity [blast effect]. However, there is a long-term opportunity there, especially for high-quality, well-run companies.”

GSA Impacts $500B in Spending, Increases Interest in Security

GSA was established by the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act, which was signed into law by President Harry Truman in July 1949. Its intent was to improve the administrative services of the federal government by consolidating four small agencies into one, and minimizing duplication, cost and confusion related to handling supplies and providing space.

Through the years, GSA has been involved with many aspects of the government no longer associated with it. Today, it is one of the federal government’s three central management agencies, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., and 11 regional offices around the country.

GSA, which is comprised of three service organizations – Federal Supply Service (FSS), Public Buildings and Federal Technology – acts as a catalyst for nearly $66 billion in federal spending, more than one-fourth of the government’s total procurement dollars. In its policy capacity, GSA influences the management of nearly $500 billion in federal assets, including more than 8,300 buildings.

The GSA Schedule, or Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) as it is now more commonly referred to, most applicable to electronic security for those buildings is 539 Solutions and More (SAM), which provides security and law enforcement solutions to the federal and military community. It also includes 28 other schedules. Recognizing the expanding interest in security, GSA plans to introduce a more specific schedule on March 14, 2004 called Schedule 084.

A Simple Download Can Get the GSA Application Process Started

For dealers and integrators motivated to land their own GSA contract, getting the wheels in motion is a relatively painless process. Providers simply need to either visit the GSA Web site (www.gsa.gov), and then download, fill out and submit the online solicitation form, or call the appropriate contact person.

GSA’s Fort Worth, Texas, office is the main point of contact for electronic security companies. Specifically, interested parties may get in touch with Business Development Specialist Harry Henson at (817) 978-8684. An alternative contact, primarily for CCTV suppliers, is Bob Gever, contracting officer for the FSS in Philadelphia, at (215) 446-5026.

One of the most important factors in getting on a GSA Schedule is offering government agencies pricing that is the same or less than the amounts charged to a company’s top commercial customers. This is referred to as “best-value” pricing. A comprehensive listing of prices for products and services is required to receive a MAS.

There is no charge to apply for a MAS, which is good for five years and has options to renew for additional five-year periods. It can take less than 100 days to get approved; however, the required materials and procedures must be prec

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