How to Be Uncle Sam’s Favorite Nephew

According to many government sources and security professionals, the new procurement polices and program changes to the General Services Administration (GSA) Federal Supply Service Multiple Schedule (MAS) program have been successful and generated incredible growth. Much of this growth is attributed to the post-9/11 need to secure government facilities. As a result, many new contractors are motivated to enter the government marketplace.

With the GSA MAS program’s status as most popular and streamlined process for procurement, agencies have found the program a quick and easy solution to their agency requirements. In fact, GSA projects MAS sales to double the volume of last year’s sales for GSA Schedule 84, which includes products and services for security, law enforcement, emergency preparedness and first responders.

GSA sales for Schedule 84 reported as of March 31, 2004 are in excess of $800 million. To date, sales are nearly equal to the total reported for the 2003 fiscal year. The GSA has a healthy load of new offers pending, but as a GSA contracting officer (CO) recently said, “GSA does not necessarily need more contractors. What the agencies really need are good contractors.”

This need for good contractors has infused many meetings and procurement conferences, where all participants concur it is difficult to win business. Agencies are working to get the best deal and there are no guarantees to GSA contract holders. Although a GSA contract is a preferred source of supply, many agencies are combining procurement methods and even using reverse auctions to buy.

Recent negotiation efforts on behalf of clients have been more complex than in the past. As companies prepare to submit their GSA schedule offers in the days to come, they will find the process a little tougher than previously disclosed. (see sidebar on right side.)

Competition for Government Jobs Remains Fierce Among Integrators
The GSA compares contractor pricing then negotiates the best deal for the agencies. New policies have the GSA checking the financials with a new requirement to include performance history from all offers. Although previously required only from contractors offering professional and guard services, as of August 2004, the GSA requires all offers to submit a list of past customers for a survey to be completed by Open Ratings, a service that provides the GSA with a survey of a contractor’s past customers to determine their performance.

Agencies may streamline their procurement process following Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 8.405 by using the GSA MAS program of reviewing three MAS contractors and making a best-value decision to award contracts. GSA is tweaking the MAS process to ensure the choices are from good contractor.

Receiving a GSA contract is only the first step — it does not promise the award of an order. The talk among a lot of integrators is how more companies are competing for business since 9/11. There is not a homeland security rainbow with a golden treasure at the end. Competition is fierce for all opportunities. You must be committed and successful to be among those considered on most projects, and it is still necessary to offer the most competitive pricing to win.

Recently, the Small Business Administration (SBA) advisor for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offered a presentation at a conference and suggested companies not even consider selling to the government if they did not have a strong commercial business going. He suggested they begin by building on their commercial success.

To become a successful government contractor, it is important to first understand the rules of doing business with the government while launching your marketing effort to get that business. You must work especially hard to establish relationships with agency decision-makers.

Planning, Research Can Save Time, Money in the Long Run It’s always good to start with a realistic business plan and build upon it. Consider the size, location and financial ability of your company. Perhaps it is best to test the waters by first seeking government opportunities in your area. Federal bidding opportunities are posted daily and can be sent to you electronically from Another way to prospect federal government projects and other high-level jobs is LeadTracker, a Web-based service launched in May 2002 by SSI and refined in August 2004 (see “Publisher’s Perspective”). This service, located at, delivers hundreds of leads each month for a low subscription fee.

Some uninformed companies have rushed to submit a GSA offer for every manufacturer in their line card. This is unnecessary and costly. Most of the major security suppliers have participating dealer programs that list their authorized dealers as the place to send orders.

Some manufacturers include a provision to offer dealer installation and maintenance services at either an hourly rate or an unpriced rate to be negotiated at the task-order level. This may be a way to get your feet wet without substantial investment and with less risk. Participating dealer programs are also a way to save on costly and time-consuming paperwork. It is overwhelming to keep current with all of the GSA pricing, and each time a dealer or integrator submits a line of products that is already awarded by the GSA, the pricing will be compared to competitors’ price lists to determine if the offering is fair and reasonable.

If your company does not buy as well as others in your market, you may not be as competitive in your offer to the GSA. Most of the manufacturers offer a good GSA program for all levels of their dealers. This is an excellent way to successfully partner: You can combine multiple manufacturers’ products and services on a single government purchase order (PO).

A disadvantage to not having a GSA contract is you will not be able to view GSA E-buy ( E-buy is an electronic tool for agencies to request quotes from GSA contractors, and only they can see the opportunities listed. Dealers without their own contract must depend on manufacturers to inform them of the activity.

If you have made the decision to pursue your own GSA contract, be prepared for the submission requirements. You will need a supply letter from the manufacturers you wish to offer. You must demonstrate you have made substantial sales at the pricing and terms on which you are basing your offer.

You will negotiate with the GSA based on giving GSA terms equal to your best customer. It is important to research how others have priced the same or similar products to the GSA, which will check this out in the process. You must also provide past history of work completed whether a manufacturer or an integrator.

This is a new requirement. Your financial condition will also be considered in the GSA’s final decision. The GSA contract can help open the door. Your hard work may get your foot in, but being a good contractor will keep it open.

Following GSA Rules, Regulations Will Benefit Everyone Involved
To be a good contractor, you must keep in good standing. When you receive a PO, make sure all pricing is accurate and delivery can be met. If you encounter any problems, tell the ordering agency immediately. Keep accurate notes of any discussions or conflicts. The agency can fine you if you do not complete a project on time or fail to deliver products as promised. If the paperwork does not match, you will not get paid.

You can also use electronic solutions to be paid quickly. Once your GSA contract is awarded, you are required to register with the GSA vendor support center and report your
sales to the GSA quarterly. You will also be required to pay .75 percent of your sales to the GSA. This is called the industrial funding fee and is considered in the pricing terms when negotiating the award.

Your regional GSA Administrative CO will send a representative to visit you at least three times during each five-year effective period of your GSA contract. If the GSA does not feel comfortable after visiting you, it will keep visiting until any outstanding issues are resolved.

The first visit is an orientation to explain the rules and what is expected of you as a contractor. The next visits are to issue you a report card on your performance and compliance. The GSA will review your GSA orders, invoices and any documentation used to prepare the sales report. Plan to code GSA orders in your accounting system so you can run an automated report. Keep physical copies of orders and invoices with other reporting data in a separate file.

Make sure you have available all data pertinent to your contract, including a copy of current GSA pricing. The GSA representative will spotcheck orders to make sure you have properly charged the government. The GSA will also check to ensure you have not left out any orders that should be reported as GSA. A report card is posted so agencies can determine if you’re a good contractor.

Policies, Laws Provide Smaller Businesses With Special Incentives

Laws and policies may provide you a business advantage. Large businesses have stronger resources and, therefore, an advantage over their smaller and less affluent cousins. Laws and policies set aside a certain portion of the opportunities to small and disadvantaged businesses.

A business classified as large per the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) standards is required to submit and execute a small business-subcontracting plan to federal agencies when a contract is awarded in excess of $500,000 (see FAR 19.7). This is also required of GSA contractors.

The small and disadvantaged business categories include small; women-, veteran- and disabled veteran-owned; and hub-zone businesses. A large business must seek to subcontract a portion of their business to these categories to meet the plan’s requirements. In other words, if a company subcontracts $10 million in business, the GSA would like you to set a goal of assigning 30 percent of that figure to a small and disadvantaged business. When companies partner to offer a solution, the government calls it teaming, and it’s encouraged under GSA contract buys.

Uncle Sam is very interested in being fair. Companies should consider the benefits of these classifications and advertise their status (visit Also consider locating your business in hub zones (see because grant money is available for these businesses. Uncle Sam wants to help us be successful.

Creatively Using GSA Tools Can Help Integrators Find Jobs

A contractor can gain an advantage by creatively using the tools available under the rules. Using a GSA schedule contract, a company can solicit an opportunity to design a total solution for both products and services. Under FAR 8.405, agencies are directed to use the GSA contract procurement vehicle by receiving three or more quotes from GSA contractors through reviewing GSA advantage or GSA authorized price lists and making a best-value decision. This eliminates the need for advertisement or the formal bidding process.

There is generally no dollar limit — It is better to be one of the three than one of the multitudes both for the vendor and the agency searching. There are also GSA solutions for multilocation projects. Under the GSA schedule, contract agencies can award a blanket purchase agreement (BPA) to a company, then issue task orders to complete a multilocation or long-term project.

Some companies are successful in large projects by teaming under a BPA. Certain agencies advertise the opportunity but narrow their search by naming GSA contract holders only as a source. The agency may then whittle down the players to no more than three contractors. Some also elect to use a reverse auction among the prequalified group. The pricing can get quite competitive, but it includes best value such as past performance, which is often a key consideration.

It Pays to Be a Social Butterfly When Establishing GSA Relationships

A good contractor should network with key decision makers and join associations. It is also important to know the CO. When calling on the agency end user, ask to meet the procurement specialist. Make it easy on the buyer by being knowledgeable and providing a quality quotation. Always provide past performance history.

Meet your GSA CO at a GSA Quality Partnership meeting held four times each year. Joining industry associations is key because they provide great information on the latest technology and trends in your market.

Uncle Sam will not know about you if you do not market your business. Advertise your procurement vehicles by listing the information with commercial advertising. Don’t forget to issue a press release. If you have a GSA contract, use the GSA logo on your business cards, your trade show booth and general literature. GSA Advantage will link to your Web site, and consider creating a government page on your site. Use E-mail and direct mail to reach government decision-makers.

Visit a GSA customer service representative and participate in any local programs. Also, try to visit agencies — both end users and procurement specialists. Get your foot in the door and keep it there!

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