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Key Words: "Federal Government Contracting"
Your small business is established in the federal government contracting sector. You have become a member of the government contracting community by registering with the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) Data Base. You have proposed, negotiated and have been awarded your first government contract(s) and have a successful past performance history with the government in selling your products and/or services.
On several occasions open solicitations or procurement activities have referenced a ," GSA Schedule", as a qualification criteria or as a venue by which to buy items or services you can supply. This article will discuss the GSA schedule program, how to apply for and negotiate a schedule for your company and how to utilize it as a sales and marketing tool.
II. THE GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION (GSA)
From the GSA Web site:
"Founded in 1949, GSA serves as a centralized procurement and property management agency for the federal government. GSA manages more than one-fourth of the government’s total procurement dollars and influences the management of $500 billion in federal assets, including 8,300 government-owned or leased buildings and 205,000 vehicles. GSA helps preserve our past and define our future, as a steward of more than 420 historic properties, and as manager of USA.gov, the official portal to federal government information and services. GSA’s mission to provide superior workplaces, expert technology solutions, acquisition services, purchasing and E-Gov travel solutions and management policies, at best value, allows federal agencies to focus on their core missions.
GSA’s Disaster and Emergency Operations Vendor Profile form puts small businesses on the government’s radar so they do not miss out on federal contract opportunities in a time of disaster. More than 1,500 small businesses have used the online form to identify themselves."
Putting it simply the GSA is a federal government buying agency. It performs many buying-related activities which you can read about at the GSA Web Site:
GSA is empowered to accept procurement requirements from all other federal agencies, locate and source qualified bidders and negotiate pricing for supplies and services on behalf of the government. Although all federal agencies perform procurement themselves that is peculiar to their individual domains, a vast number of products and services, particularly those common among agencies, are procured by the GSA. Over the last 10 years the GSA has sought to establish economies of scale through volume buying.
III. THE GSA CONTRACTING PROCESS
To equitably compete and pre-position terms, conditions and pricing for supplies and services, the GSA divides what it procures among various commodities and services lists with generic schedule designators. The agency also assigns procurement contracting officers to each schedule who conduct regular open advertising against the schedules through solicitation. The schedule numbers and contracting officers are listed at the following web site:
Upon completion of negotiation, a specific supplier is granted a company-unique schedule identifying number under the applicable generic GSA schedule. The pricing, terms, conditions and validity duration are set for the specific company and the schedule number is unique to the firm. The company schedule is then authorized by the GSA for publication on the web for use in subsequent proposals to government agencies. The company GSA schedule is listed at the GSA Advantage Web Site and becomes part of the data base which government buyers can search.
Granting a GSA schedule to a company does not constitute a sale of goods and services. It simply establishes the pricing and the contract vehicle for readily buying from that company by a federal agency. A GSA Schedule saves time and effort for the buyer and it can be presented by the seller at his web site as an expedient way to get under contract with a federal agency. The agency places the order through the GSA. The GSA adds a small fee to the price of an item or service which the contractor collects from buying agency and pays to the GSA. The fee funds continued GSA operations and services. Under competitive conditions, sellers are authorized to offer discounts from their GSA schedules in the proposals to prospective agencies. State governments are also allowed to buy off GSA schedules.
Federal agencies can put in place blanket purchase agreements (BPA's) through the GSA with specific companies for long term buying. GSA also conducts Government Wide Acquisition Contracts (GWAC's) for IT and other technologies. Recent examples of a GSA GWACS for large and small business are the Alliant and Alliant SB Programs.
IV. BASIC STEPS TO APPLYING FOR AND NEGOTIATING A GSA SCHEDULE:
A. Register Your Company in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) Data Base
If you are not familiar with this process please utilize for guidance the menu item at this site on registering your small business for federal government contracting:
B. Obtain Your "Open Ratings", Evaluation
Open Ratings is a service run by Dunn and Bradstreet that the GSA uses. It out sources what would have to be done by the GSA Staff in terms of initial past performance ratings in response to GSA Schedule Applications. Here is a web site to learn more about it:
The site explains the process and shows some sample reports.
C. Locate your Generic GSA Schedule:
Examine the major generic schedules listed and determine the best match for the products and services your company offers. Note the name and contact information for the contracting officer designated for the schedule. Also note the open solicitation link to the FEDBIZOPPS. Carefully review the solicitation completely and determine that you can comply with the specifications, terms and conditions and requirements in the document.
D. Contact the Schedule Contracting Officer with Your Statement of Intent and a Concise Capabilities Statement
This is where the marketing phase of the process begins. It is best to contact the contracting officer with a statement of capabilities (CAPE). Your CAPE should be brief, concise and electronic. It should highlight the information in IV.A., B. and C. above and the management, technical and past performance elements of your products and services. Establish by letter (preferably electronic by email) your intent to submit a proposal for a GSA schedule to the contracting officer. Also confirm your anticipated proposal delivery date by telephone if possible and confirm by email. Highlight your CAPE as a qualification criterion for a company schedule award under the generic schedule you are proposing against.
E. Carefully Prepare and Submit Your GSA Schedule Proposal
Respond to each requirement carefully and in the order presented in the open solicitation. Pay particular attention to the requirements for cost and pricing data presentation. Utilize for guidance the menu items on proposal preparation and negotiation at this site. Understand that your proposal may be audited, particularly for previous pricing history related to your products and services. The contracting officer may negotiate with you the final pricing make-up of your products and services based on audit results and history. Since GSA schedules are in the public domain it is worthwhile to examine the reports available through the GSA web site on previous awards for the same or similar products or services. In addition, most companies who have GSA schedules post them at their web sites so you can get some insights into competitor pricing by looking at the fully loaded rates and their respective escalation from year to year by going to the sites and analyzing the rates located there.
F. Schedule Award
When you are awarded your GSA Schedule it should be prominently displayed at your web site and contained in your marketing literature. You can offer it to prospective federal and state customers and you can discount from it under competitive conditions. Please read the terms and conditions regarding required sales necessary on your schedule for it to remain in effect. Within a specified time frame it is necessary to have a designated dollar value of sales activity or your schedule will automatically become inactive.
Carefully follow the directions in your schedule contract for collecting the GSA fee from your agency customers as a function of pricing quotations and payment. The fee is calculated as a designated percentage over and above that which your schedule prices display. It must be collected by you as a function of your quotation to your customer.
In addition to featuring your schedule prominently at your web site, your GSA rates should be included in your market literature and your schedule number should be included as a reference in your new business proposals. A GSA schedule permits a quick ordering process for your federal and state clients. In your dealings with prime contractors to which you aspire to subcontract you can reference your schedule as valid pricing which they can readily include in their proposals to government agencies. A GSA schedule facilitates teaming with other synergistic small companies in proposing large scale efforts.
Keep in mind that obtaining a GSA schedule does not guarantee new business will come to you. Very few companies await government agencies to find them by searching the GSA data base. Most small businesses actively market their schedule to targeted agencies as an expedient way to contract with them or as a qualification criterion for new business awards.
UPDATE 7/16/2012 - You may download the latest free guide to GSA Schedule 70 at the second, vertical Box Net "References" cube in the left margin of this site.