following requirements and specifications. It took them about three months to review the proposal and visit our facility. Once I was accepted, I had to get my facilities up to speed to do classified work.”
Helton says it’s easy to underestimate the amount of marketing, time and cost to prepare a bid. “For one bid, we had the best technology but didn’t have the lowest price,” he says. “It’s very important to develop a good reputation with the federal procurement people. They talk to other agencies about how your firm has performed. If you have a good reputation, other opportunities will follow.”
Seeking out those opportunities in federal contracting begins with getting your name out there. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1995 Adarand vs. Pena decision, which sharply curtailed the circumstances under which the government could assist minority businesses in securing federal contracts, the Clinton administration issued new procurement regulations designed to increase minorities’ access to federal contracts and subcontracts while also complying with the decision to eliminate affirmative action from the process. African Americans must now be certified for Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB) status with the SBA. In the past, the government relied on companies to identify themselves as disadvantaged. However, the revised federal rules actually make it easier for business owners who aren’t members of minority groups to become SDBs by demonstrating their disadvantage, such as businesses run by white female CEOs.
Certified SDBs are then eligible for preferences under new federal procurement regulations. Under this revised system, an SDB can win a prime contract with a bid that is 10% over the lowest bid, but only in industries where disadvantaged companies are underutilized. Large businesses that use SDBs as subcontractors also receive preferences.
More than 6,000 firms currently participate in the SBA’s 8(a) program, which helps small disadvantaged businesses compete for federal contracts. Last year, the SBA also reformed 8(a) regulations in an effort to encourage competitive versus set-aside procurement, says Calvin Jenkins, deputy associate administrator for government contracting and minority enterprise development. The SBA implemented mentor-protégé and HUD (historically underutilized) zone programs to increase procurement opportunities for SDBs and streamlined the 8(a) contracting process with 25 federal agencies so they would work more directly with 8(a) firms, eliminating the SBA as the middleman.
Next, you’ll need to qualify with the General Services Administration (GSA), the agency that coordinates federal buying policies and is the fourth largest government agency in contract dollars spent annually with the private sector for goods and services.
According to the Federal Procurement Data Center in Washington, D.C., federal agencies awarded nearly $190 billion in prime contracts for goods and services in 1997. The amount awarded to 403,000 small disadvantaged businesses totaled $10.7 billion. That figure nearly tripled to $29.7 billion when accounting for the 6.2 million small businesses overall.
Yet the total number of procurements decreased in 1997 to 310,445 from 316,813 in 1996, and the amount spent on contracts declined by more than $4.1 billion. Set-aside contracts declined by more than 4,200 and $500