How your SDVOSB can better sell to the Federal Government

Government, like all other business, is built on relationships.  Cost (of course) is also of primary concern, but not the only criteria for bids to be awarded.  Knowing how to negotiate the myriad rules that enable the federal procurement process to operate in a fair and transparent fashion has the downside of being difficult and slow to navigate.  To ensure your SDVOSB’s place as a player, you need to follow some important steps, from the basics, to those contacts your have built relationships with.

Some of these steps will make the government a lucrative client for your business.  Learning what the government wants, finding the key people that make purchasing decisions and make it easy for Uncle Sam to buy from you (sounds easy right?).

Uncle Sam wants to buy from your SDVOSB

You need to be completely accurate in your attention to detail – Your application can be rejected for the simplest things, like wrong font size!  Visit http://www.business.gov for examples on proposals that will help guide you through the maze of rules and regulations and access resources to help you succeed in your business.

You have to have patience and realize that the government can work at what seems like a turtles pace, taking a couple of months to 2 years or more to make decisions.

You need to spend a significant amount of time searching the internet – this time will pay off because you will find tons of useful government market information at no cost to you.

Along with the very important SDVOSB networking events, conference attendance, and submitting proposals, also be aware of the government’s use of  acronyms in their procurement process, if you learn their meanings you will boost your legitimacy.

No, the Government Does Not Operate Like Other Businesses.

Private companies use many different criteria for purchase decisions, from seat of the pants, to textbook precision.  Government on the other hand, must follow rules found in the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) document – 1 book with no less than 1,600 pages.  Obviously this will complicate the process, but set a standard the make procurement decisions fair, transparent, and of value to taxpayers.

Because of their huge buying power, government also has the ability to make your business margins very tight, including having profits on some of their contracts capped by law.  The reason that buyers are willing to sell at these often extreme margins is VOLUME.  If you deal with a company whose typical contract is $10 to $20 million dollars, you can still make a tidy profit at a small margin.

What Do You Have that the Government Wants?

You may want to start with Procurement Technical Assistance Centers:  PTA Centers are local resources that provide assistance to business firms, at little or no cost, on marketing products and services to all levels of government.

Next, become familiar with fedbizopps (www.fbo.gov) , the government listing source for proposals (RFP’s) for most competitive bids over $25,000.  Also on the site are forecasts for all governmental agencies, detailing what they plan to buy, when to buy, and how much they plan to spend.

Other good sources for Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses are SBA/Government Contract and Business Development, which list key people at the SBA who are involved with government contracting; Firstgov.gov, where you can search millions of web pages from federal and state governments, D.C., and US> territories, many of which are not available on commercial Web sites; and GovWorks, which maintains a vendor registration database that government officials can search.  GovWorks is a service-for-fee acquisition center under the US Department of the Interior Franchise Fund/

As you do searches, focus on procurement officers and key purchasing agents long term goals.  For example, see what problems they are having and bring them solutions that your company can provide; anticipate future business opportunities by watching bills working their way through Congress to find what their priorities are, and if your expertise will help;  and again, use your relationships to talk about forward thinking ideas that will help the government run better, budget better, or make processes go smoother a key to making the government want to buy from you, instead of the competition.

Learn about the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Schedules Program.

After you have procured a contract from the government, you will be introduced to the world of GSA, the governments purchasing agent, also referred to as Multiple award Schedules (MAS and Federal Supply Schedules.  GSA Schedules help realize cost savings, save time, and control the procurement.

GSA Schedule - it's that important

Note: GSA has delegated authority to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to procure medical supplies under the VA Federal Supply Schedules Program.

The GSA can make long-term agreements to buy from a business at “most favored customer” rates.  This lets the government buy quickly without going through competitive bidding, and can be very profitable, and just as important, prequalifies you for whatever type of work you are interested in doing, including competitive bids.

Profit and prequalification aside, the process of getting the schedule contracts is a difficult road; it can take months to process because you will be vetted for finances, operation quality and references.  They will do a very thorough examination of your business; so you need to be prepared.  Study the criteria on the GSA site to avoid surprises.

The schedules program is not a guarantee that you will get any contracts.  It just gives you a head start.  You may not receive any sales orders, and if no business is generated over some time, you can even be canceled.

The Devil is in the Details.

Remember the above referenced attention to detail?  If you want to win contracts from the government, you need to understand that federal agencies are very detailed and precise in what they need and you have to follow the rules carefully.  11 point font does not mean 10 point font, no phone calls to the procurement agent, means just that.  Read all of the fine print and find out how they want to be contacted.

Government Business is Based on Relationships, Just Like Other Businesses

Cultivating connections with people inside the government is very important a number of key ways; you build credibility, create awareness of what you have to offer, and let them know that you are a serious contender in the marketplace.  Ultimately, your connections will allow you to be prepared before Request for Proposals (RFP) or Request for Quotes (RFQ) are issued, so the process of preparing bids will have already begun.  Having those connections, you will have a better understanding about the agency or department’s mission and requirements.  How do you cultivate these connections?  Lots of networking, such as trade-shows, hosted events, even cold calls/cold emails to key personnel.

Why Didn’t Your Proposal Win the Bid?

Finally, an advantage to you as a potential, but losing bidder is that the government, unlike the private sector, has to be much more transparent for their reason in choosing another company.  If you lose a contract in a private endeavor, you may never know if it was due to a lower bid, a golfing friend getting the job, or just bad timing, but with Uncle Sam, you have the right to a debriefing to find out exactly why you lost the bid.  The agency has to let you know what areas you may have been weak in, and what areas showed up your strengths.

So you lost your first government bid....get in line.

Debriefing requests to the federal government are actually quite common; can be helpful for your next bid, and are even useful if you are the winner of a particular bid, so its always helpful to request one, in either case, to keep you apprised of the thinking process that went on, and what strengths you led with, or weaknesses that held you back.

Obama Calls for More Small Business Contracting.

More and more attention is being focused at this time in making SDVOSB’s and VOSB a larger part of the procurement process since President Obama’s Executive Order on the Interagency Task Force on Veterans Small Business Development Act of 2008.

President Obama on small business

“In recent years, the federal government has not consistently reached its small business contracting goals,” Obama wrote in the executive order.  He went on to say “I am committed to ensuring that small businesses, including firms owned by women, minorities, socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and service-disabled veterans, have fair access to federal government contracting.  Indeed, ….we should strive to exceed the statutory goals.”

S/F,
PrepFire Solutions
A Verified Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business

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Direct your contracting officer here for sole source justification.

http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-15902.htm

[Federal Register: July 2, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 127)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Page 38687-38689]
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION

NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
 
48 CFR Part 19
[FAC 2005-43; FAR Case 2008-023; Item IV; Docket 2009-0017, Sequence 1]
RIN 9000-AL29
 

Federal Acquisition Regulation; FAR Case 2008-023, Clarification
of Criteria for Sole Source Awards to Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned
Small Business Concerns
 
AGENCIES: Department of Defense (DoD), General Services Administration
(GSA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
 
ACTION: Final rule.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: The Civilian Agency Acquisition Council and the Defense
Acquisition Regulations Council (Councils) are issuing a final rule to
amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to clarify the criteria
that need to be met in order to conduct a sole source Service-disabled
Veteran-owned Small Business (SDVOSB) concern acquisition.
 
DATES: Effective Date: August 2, 2010



Federal Acquisition Regulation

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For clarification of content, contact
Rhonda Cundiff, Procurement Analyst, at (202) 501-0044. For information
pertaining to status or publication schedules, contact the Regulatory
Secretariat at (202) 501-4755. Please cite FAC 2005-43, FAR Case 2008-
023.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:
 
A. Background
    The Councils published a proposed rule in the Federal Register at
74 FR 23373 on May 19, 2009, to revise the language in FAR
19.1406(a)(1) to clarify the criteria that need to be met in order to
conduct a sole source SDVOSB concern acquisition. The final rule
contains language that more closely mirrors the Veterans Benefit Act of
2003 (15 U.S.C. 657f). The final rule revises the language in FAR
19.1306(a)(1), which deals with sole source awards to Historically
Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) small business concerns based on
15 U.S.C. 657a(b), to match the language in FAR 19.1406(a)(1) to
alleviate confusion on the appropriate use of the criteria needed to
conduct a sole source SDVOSB concern acquisition.

[[Page 38688]]
 
    The public comment period for the FAR proposed rule closed July 20,
2009. Eight respondents submitted comments to the proposed rule. A
discussion of the comments and the changes made to the rule as a result
of those comments is provided below. Three respondents concurred with
the proposed changes to clarify the criteria that needed to be met in
order to conduct a sole source SDVOSB concern acquisition.

    1. Comment: Increase knowledge of the marketplace and SDVOSB
advocacy. One respondent expressed concern that the contracting officer
does not have sufficient knowledge of the marketplace to make a sole-
source determination without the advice of the U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs, the Small Business Administration (SBA), or other
entities that advocate for the veteran community. The respondent
further added that the regulatory language needs to mandate that the
contracting officer exercise a higher level of advocacy for service-
disabled veteran-owned firms to ensure these firms receive greater
representation in the procurement process.

    Response: The purpose of this regulatory change is to clarify the
circumstances under which a contracting officer may award a sole-source
contract to a small business concern owned and controlled by a service-
disabled veteran. This case does not address market research or
advocacy; therefore the respondent's comments are considered outside
the scope of this case.
   
     2. Comment: Correction to FAR 19.1306(a)(2). One respondent
requested an additional review be conducted regarding FAR
19.1306(a)(2), because paragraph (c) does not exist.
   
    Response: The reference to paragraph (c) is deleted.
    

    3. Comment: Revise the language in FAR 19.1306(a) and 19.1406(a).
Two respondents recommended revising paragraph (a) of FAR 19.1406 Sole
Source Awards to Service-disabled Veterans-owned Small Business
concerns to match the language in paragraph (a) of FAR 19.1306 by
adding the language: ``(a) A participating agency contracting office
may award contracts to a service-disabled Veteran-owned small business
concern on a sole source basis without considering small business set-
asides provided-''.
   
    Response: FAR 19.1406(a) has been revised to be consistent with FAR
19.1306(a).
   
   4. Comment: Revise the SDVOSB language to mirror the 8(a) language.
One respondent recommended that the language in the FAR for SDVOSB sole
source criteria mirror the language of the 8(a) criteria.
   
   Response: The SDVOSB program and the 8(a) Business Development
Program were established under two separate statutes with different
sole-source award requirements. The statute for the SDVOSB program does
not require the FAR language to be similar to the FAR language for the
8(a) Business Development Program.
   
   5. Comment: Raise the prescribed $3 million threshold to $3.5
million. One respondent recommended that the dollar limit for the sole
source awards to a Service-disabled Veteran-owned small business be
raised to $3.5 million from the prescribed $3 million to be consistent
with the dollar limits for non-manufacturing 8(a) awards.
  
    Response: Threshold changes are based on statute. Federal
Acquisition Circular 2005-013, FAR Case 2004-033, published in the
Federal Register at 71 FR 57363 on September 28, 2006, was based on a
statutory requirement, raising thresholds in the FAR due to inflation.
The escalation calculation for the inflationary threshold for sole
source awards to Service-disabled Veteran-owned small businesses was
not eligible for an inflationary increase (see http://acquisition.gov/
far/facsframe.html). However, FAR Case 2008-024 is the case handling
the next round of inflationary increases, and when that case is
published as a final rule, the threshold may be raised; the Councils
note that the inflation calculation is different for SDVOSB than for
8(a) and HUBZone because these statutes were enacted at different
times.
   
    This rule is a significant regulatory action and, therefore, was
subject to review under Section 6(b) of Executive Order 12866,
Regulatory Planning and Review, dated September 30, 1993. This rule is
not a major rule under 5 U.S.C. 804.

B. Regulatory Flexibility Act
 
    The Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and
the National Aeronautics and Space Administration certify that this
final rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial
number of small entities within the meaning of the Regulatory
Flexibility Act, 5 U.S.C. 601, et seq., because this rule clarifies the
intent of the existing language and is not a change in policy. The
Councils did not receive any comments on the Regulatory Flexibility Act
or a perceived burden on small business.

C. Paperwork Reduction Act
 
    The Paperwork Reduction Act does not apply because the changes to
the FAR do not impose information collection requirements that require
the approval of the Office of Management and Budget under 44 U.S.C.
chapter 35, et seq.

List of Subjects in 48 CFR Part 19
 
    Government procurement.
    Dated: June 25, 2010.
Edward Loeb,
Director, Acquisition Policy Division.
 
0
Therefore, DoD, GSA, and NASA amend 48 CFR part 19 as set forth below:
 
PART 19--SMALL BUSINESS PROGRAMS
0
1. The authority citation for 48 CFR part 19 continues to read as
follows:
 
    Authority:  40 U.S.C. 121(c); 10 U.S.C. chapter 137; and 42
U.S.C. 2473(c).
0
2. Amend section 19.1306 by revising the introductory text of paragraph
(a), paragraph (a)(1), the introductory text of paragraph (a)(2), and
paragraph (a)(3) to read as follows:
19.1306  HUBZone sole source awards.

    (a) A contracting officer may award contracts to HUBZone small
business concerns on a sole source basis (see 19.501(c) and 6.302-
5(b)(5)) before considering small business set-asides (see subpart
19.5), provided--
    (1) The contracting officer does not have a reasonable expectation
that offers would be received from two or more HUBZone small business
concerns;
    (2) The anticipated price of the contract, including options, will
not exceed--
* * * * *
    (3) The requirement is not currently being performed by an 8(a)
participant under the provisions of subpart 19.8 or has been accepted
as a requirement by SBA under subpart 19.8.
* * * * *

0
3. Amend section 19.1406 by revising the introductory text of paragraph
(a), paragraph (a)(1), and the introductory text of paragraph (a)(2);
redesignating paragraphs (a)(3) and (a)(4) as paragraphs (a)(4) and
(a)(5), respectively, and adding a new paragraph (a)(3) to read as
follows:

19.1406  Sole source awards to service-disabled veteran-owned small
business concerns.
 
    (a) A contracting officer may award contracts to service-disabled
veteran-owned small business concerns on a sole source basis (see
19.501(d) and

[[Page 38689]]

6.302-5(b)(6)), before considering small business set-asides (see
subpart 19.5) provided none of the exclusions of 19.1404 apply and--
    (1) The contracting officer does not have a reasonable expectation
that offers would be received from two or more service-disabled
veteran-owned small business concerns;
    (2) The anticipated award price of the contract, including options,
will not exceed--
* * * * *
    (3) The requirement is not currently being performed by an 8(a)
participant under the provisions of subpart 19.8 or has been accepted
as a requirement by SBA under subpart 19.8;
* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2010-15902 Filed 7-1-10; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 6820-EP-P

S/F,
PrepFire
A Verified Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business

VetBiz.gov The Center For Veterans Enterprise Web Portal

Vetbiz.gov is a perfect example of a static government site that could learn so much from social media sites such as facebook or communityofveterans.org. In this static site, designed by government employees, they have created content that “they” feel is relevant to entrepreneurs and start-up companies owned by Veterans. Ok…thanks…I guess we should all take our ques from gov employees on how to start a business. So like most unhelpful government sites this one contains static information on how to use your GI Bill to start a business, Small Business Checklist, How to find a SCORE representative, How to write a business plan, etc, etc. This is great information that will take you through days 1 and 2 of starting/running a business. They pretty much took the information from SBA website (which I personally think is bad) and dumped it into the Vetbiz.gov site put some pretty graphics around it and prayed that this helps a vet returning from Iraq start his own business. They could not be more wrong.

The most helpful thing for a Vet returning from Iraq or a Vet recently laid off from his job at the local factory would be a social site for Vets entrepreneurs with recommendations and ideas “by all for all” to use.

I didn’t receive training in the Marine Corps on web hosting and I can’t find the section on vetbiz.gov that helps me register the domain name of my company and use google web based email for free. Where is that section? Has anyone seen the section that tells me about efax and how I can get a fax number that sends a PDF to my email for free? Can someone send me the link to that part of Vetbiz.gov? And the link to the free conference call service so that I can do conference calls with my partners who are located across the state…cannot seem to find that link or website either on Vetbiz.gov.

I could keep going…but you get the idea. The VA needs to design a Vetbiz.gov site that actually works for vets…and not a site that works for the people in OSDBU at the VA. There is nothing more helpful to a vet than another vet who is willing to share his after-action report on his experience starting a business. This is the type of example where Vetbiz.gov could be most useful to Vets starting a business. And the cost of doing this…..free…call the VA…I said free. Well not quite free but pretty close. See when you create a community that is able to be updated by its users and policed by its users people do the work for you for free (See Myspace, Facebook, CommunityofVets.Org). I personally do not know of a group of people that care about each other more than Vets. We have experienced this first hand at PrepFire. CEOs of successful SDVOSBs at HMS Technologies and Three Wire Systems and many more have taken the time to meet with us and offer us advice on when they were getting started and what worked for them. These same people would love to have a forum to help out other SDVOSBs and VOSBs. Let’s not just talk about it…take action… Call the VA OSDBU or Center for Veteran Enterprises department and demand it.  Here is the number – 800-949-8387and here is a list of the staff http://www.vetbiz.gov/about/staff.htm

R/S,
Joel Stevens
PrepFire Solutions, LLC