million, while the number of 8(a) contracts rose by more than 11,964 and $64.9 million.
Due to downsizing, most government agencies now purchase products and services through the GSA, making it more difficult for agencies to conduct their own procurements. Reform legislation over the past four years has also encouraged procurement of commercial items, including information technology, which are sold on GSA federal supply schedule (FSS) contracts.
The Office of Enterprise Development of the GSA will also serve as a resource in helping you assess which agencies to approach with your products and services, and whether to pursue prime or subcontracting. A subcontractor is hired by a prime contractor to assist in completing a specific portion of a project. Small firms often team with other companies to become prime contractors. Prime contracting has its rewards, too: small firms gain experience because there are more opportunities and they can earn significant revenues in the process. But there’s also a downside.
“You don’t always get the work after you get the contract; there are no guarantees,” says Jack L. Ezzell Jr., president and CEO of Zel Technologies L.L.C. in Hampton, Virginia,
which provides software and systems integration for the DOD. He also mentions a common problem. “Minority firms should be wary of large majority companies looking to use their minority status to help them win contracts. Make sure you establish a relationship with your prime contractor and have assurances you’ll get the work.”
Ezzell says there’s little the SBA or government can do to help because essentially, the business deal is between you and your prime contractor. However, you might have legal recourse in some situations, depending on what is stipulated in the contract.
It’s to your advantage to apply for FSS contracts which cover the gamut of supplies and services at discounted prices. Any authorized federal official may make purchases from a GSA Schedule contract. Business and banking references are required. Once the GSA accepts your bid, you’re granted a five-year contract. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have business in hand, but that your name and product or services appear on the list of approved government contractors. Actually getting the business requires aggressive marketing on your part once you’ve targeted the agency you want to do business with.
“Focus on a few agencies, discover what they buy and meet with the small business office director to help you understand what that agency is looking for,” says Dietra Ford, associate administrator for enterprise development at GSA. Ford encourages small business owners to attend GSA networking sessions where they can meet agency procurement officials and prime contractors with whom they could eventually team on bids.
You can also find out about contracting information and opportunities in the GSA’s Government Business Daily; Commerce Business Daily, published by the Department of Commerce, which has a printed and online version; and Set-Aside Alert, a newsletter on minority federal contracting published by Washington Business Information (703-247-3434).
KEEPING PACE WITH TECHNOLOGY
To stay competitive in the contracting arena, you must have the capability to bid on