The Federal Challenge: Where IT Firms Can Start in Their Hunt for Government Contracts
Guest: Boyd K. Rutherford, Associate Administrator, General Services Administration
Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2002
| Boyd K. Rutherford |
The federal government has called on companies and entrepreneurs to produce innovative technology ideas to help bolster homeland security efforts. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has proposed a defense- and technology-heavy fiscal year 2003 budget. The efforts have spurred a number of smaller information technology firms and companies newer to government work to look into government contracting opportunities. But many small firms don't know where to start when navigating the government procurement process. Click here for a Washtech.com special report.
Boyd K. Rutherford, associate administrator for enterprise development at the General Services Administration, was online to take your questions and comments on the federal procurement process, as well as offer some tips about where to start when tapping the federal government for work. The enterprise development office works to promote access to the GSA's procurement opportunities for small, minority and women business owners. President Bush appointed Rutherford to his GSA post last year.
Rutherford is a former director of business development for Kelly Law Registry of Washington. Rutherford graduated from Howard University in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in economics and political science. He holds a law degree and a master's degree in communications management from the University of Southern California.
Washtech.com's Cynthia L. Webb moderated the discussion.
An Edited Transcript Follows:
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Cynthia L. Webb: Boyd, thanks again for joining us today to talk about the GSA as well as general tips for companies looking to break into contracting work with the federal government. Since your tenure began with the GSA, what have your goals been for streamlining the procurment process for smaller firms?
Boyd K. Rutherford: It's a pleasure to have this opportunity to participate in today's chat. What I've set out to do in the Office of Enterprise Development (OED) is to assist small businesses understand GSA's procurement process. As part of this effort, we work with GSA's acquisition professionals to advise them of the challenges small businesses face with the current procurement process. In so doing we are hopeful that we can make the procurement process more small business friendly.
Fairfax, Va.: NISCO is a SDB-certified company and we offer cost management consulting and e-business Solutions. We have been trying to open a small door in the government sector for the past several months and have not been able to do so. What do you recommend we do?
Cynthia L. Webb: Boyd, this reader brings up a concern that many other firms have voiced. Do you have any general suggestions for starting points for companies looking to make inroads with government agencies and officials?
Boyd K. Rutherford: I'd recommend that the questioner start by researching the process for obtaining a GSA Schedules contract. This office can provide advice on this process. Our Web site (www.gsa.gov/OED) provides a six-step overview of what needs to be done to obtain a GSA Schedules contract. Also, OED offers a Schedules workshop every 3rd Tuesday of the month in our Central Office. Registration for these workshops can be made on-line at the OED website identified above.
For more detailed information on the GSA Schedules program you should go to: www.fss.gsa.gov/schedules.
Rockville, MD: How long does it take to get a GSA Schedule?
Boyd K. Rutherford: The length of time is dependent on the quality of the offer and the workload in the relevant GSA organization that reviews the offer. However, the average time is between 90-120 days.
McLean, VA: For a small business that has no previous experience conducting business with the federal government, what steps would you recommend taking fo build a federal practice? Should the focus be on obtaining a contract vehicle (GSA Schedule) or concentrating on business development by attending seminars, scheduling meetings and other networking efforts?
Boyd K. Rutherford: I would recommend that you pursue a GSA Schedules contract as well as pursue business development efforts. Just obtaining a Schedules contract does not guarantee business. You will still need to market your products or services. Another avenue would be to pursue subcontracting opportunities with some of our prime contractors.
Small, woman-owned business (location not specified) While we have done work with the federal government before, my company is interested in getting on the GSA Schedule to further our opportunities.
I've done a lot of research about the nuances of selling to the federal government, but nowhere, not even on the GSA site, can I find step-by-step instructions on how to apply and actually get on the schedule. Is there a Web tutorial or class that can help us get started? Do you have any other suggestions?
Boyd K. Rutherford: The Office of Enterprise (OED) holds schedules workshops every 3rd Tuesday of the month in our Central office (at no charge). You can register on-line at www.gsa.gov/oed. The April 16th workshop also will be broadcast via satellite around the country. Check our Web site for locations near you.
Dumfries, Va: In trying to gain a contracting number from the GSA. I believe that there is an IT/telecommunications department within your agency. Who is the best contact person for contracting number information?
Boyd K. Rutherford: Information about IT/Telecommunications equipment contracts may be found by calling the Federal Supply Service's IT customer service number at (703) 305-3038 or contacting the center via e-mail at IT.Center@gsa.gov. The center can provide information about the acquisition of hardware, software, maintenance, repair, leasing, training, systems analysis, design, installation programming, project management, database planning and design, telephones, radios, cellular telephones, cellular/paging (mobile) services, financial management systems and navigation equipment. The solicitation number is FCIS-JB-980001B.
Information about IT services may be found by calling the Federal Technology Service's Office of Information Technology Solutions at (703) 306-6701. Support services available include: Project Management, Systems Integration, IT commodity acquisitions, Software design and implementation, IT Planning, Enhanced (distance) Learning, Financial Management Systems, Smart Cards, Communications (LANs/WANs), Internet/intranet development and support, and Seat Management.
Information about telecommunication services may be found by calling Network Services, part of the Federal Technology Service, at (877) 387-2001 or by e-mailing the office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of the telecommunications services offered include: voice, data, wireless, video, satellite, wire and cable, and other telecommunications support services.
Maryland: What are the chances of a one-person corporation getting a GSA Schedule and competing for a federal contract in professional services?
Cynthia L. Webb: Boyd, there are a number of questions along this line. Do you have insight for very small firms that are curious about their ability to compete?
Boyd K. Rutherford: Size of the organization is not the determining factor in obtaining a Schedules contract. The ability to meet the government's requirements will be key. Prior experience, either in the private sector or with state and local government, will be considered past performance when submitting an offer for a Schedules contract.
You should note, that Schedules contracts are nationwide in scope. While some very small businesses may not be able to meet the total requirements, the Schedules program offers teaming arrangements where Schedules contract holders can team with one another to provide the total solution.
Client/Server Systems, Inc., Vienna, Va.:
It seems that the deck is stacked against any small IT firm that is not an 8a, woman-owned, vet-owned or disadvantaged. We are a small IT Services firm and even though we are Microsoft Partners, we cannot find a way to break into the Federal IT space. It seems that the SBA just gives "lip service" to a business owned by someone NOT in any of the categories previously mentioned. This is especially true in the post 9/11 world, where we find more and more federal IT contracts go to the few very large primes.
Boyd K. Rutherford: I would disagree. The Federal government encourages Federal agencies to do business with all small businesses. There are subcatagories within the small business programs (such as 8(a), Women-owned, & veterans), but they do not have a priority over any other program.
You may wish to contact my office at the telephone number provided on the Web site (www.gsa.gov/oed) and we can discuss some strategies with you.
Fairfax, VA: What is the difference between a GWAC and GSA?
Boyd K. Rutherford: GSA is the abbreviation for the United States General Services Administration--for which I work. GWAC stands for Governmentwide Acquisition Contract. A GWAC is a contracting vehicle established by Federal statute.
Washington, DC: My company has recently obtained a GSA Schedule Number. We now have to begin the marketing process. What steps do you reccomend?
Boyd K. Rutherford: Not knowing the product or service that you offer, I can not give specific advice. However, you should make certain that your information is loaded on GSA Advantage (www.gsaadvantage.gov); that you attend the various marketing events put on by government agencies; and go to the Federal Procurement Data System to see what agencies are purchasing (http://fpds.gsa.gov).
Ashburn, Va.: Are there any plans to implement more flexibility into the GSA schedule structure? More specifically, commercial IT offerings increasingly apply a fixed price for a "bundled" solution of products, training, and services. The current GSA schedule structure requires that each component of the bundle be broken out by special item number. This forces the contractor to create a commercial pricelist that separates the elements of its bundled solutions. This causes issues with pricing because the contractor loses certain efficiencies by having to offer its solutions piecemeal.
Boyd K. Rutherford: Under President Bush's small business agenda, he has tasked the Office of Management and Budget to review how government procurement impacts the ability of small businesses to compete for Federal contracts. This review will likely include the GSA Schedules program and the issues that you raised.
Rockville, MD: Will I be audited if I apply for a GSA Schedule? What happens if a concern fails an audit?
Boyd K. Rutherford: I assume you are not talking about a tax audit. If you were, the answer is no! When you submit you offer, the government has the right to verify that information contained in the offer is correct.
Colorado Springs, Colo.:
I was layed off three weeks after 9-11. Since then I have been searching for a job and I have come to realize how much I would enjoy working for the government, either on a government project through a third-party company or directly.
What do you see on the horizon or in the current landscape for job prospects for IT professionals looking to work with the federal government?
Boyd K. Rutherford: I'm not in the HR Department but you may wish to check http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/ for opportunities to work for the federal government.
Cynthia L. Webb: Boyd, there are a number of questions about getting on the GSA schedule, including years a company has to be in business to qualify. Is there a fact sheet or primer of common questions you could point interested parties to?
Boyd K. Rutherford: Cynthia, I would recommend that people with question about the GSA Schedules program should consult the Schedules Web site at www.fss.gsa.gov/schedules. There is a FAQ link on the Schedules website that should answer most if not all of those questions.
Cynthia L. Webb: Boyd, there is obviously a lot of interest in understanding the nuances of the GSA and other tips for doing business with government agencies. Do you have any closing suggestions for our readers to wrap up our discussion today?
Boyd K. Rutherford: In closing, I would recommend that interested small businesses utilize GSA's websites provided earlier in the conversation. They should also consult www.Fedbizopps.gov to identify active solicitations. For specific schedules questions, one may want to telephone the MAS Helpdesk at 703-305-6566.
For Teaming opportunities, I'd recommend that small businesses consult the Schedules e-library at: www.gsaelibrary.gsa.gov. The library identifies companies with schedules contracts by contract number. Thereby allowing a businesses to select companies with complimentary products and services.
Washington, DC: I understand that there are private companies that assist small firms with getting on the GSA Schedule. Does the government maintain a list of those firms? Do you recommend that as an efficient way to get a GSA Schedule?
Boyd K. Rutherford: One last response: There are companies that provide such services. I personally do not believe it is necessary to use such services if you have the time to go through the process. My office counsels small businesses everyday on how to obtain a Schedules contract. We also conduct a workshop on the 3rd Tuesday of the month on the subject (register on-line at www.gsa.gov/oed). This information is provided with your tax dollars. I'd recommend you utilize them first.
Thank you again for this opportunity--I would like to do this again.
Cynthia L. Webb: Boyd, this has been very informative. Thanks very much for taking the time to answer questions and provide details about the federal procurement process. And thanks, readers, for your many insightful questions. Have a great day.
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Editor's Note: Rutherford was unable to answer all the questions submitted during the one-hour discussion on March 27. But he volunteered to go back and answer several remaining questions. Those answers are below:
McLean, Va.: I believe I am required to pay GSA a 1% fee for sales going through my GSA Schedule. But is it true that GSA expects 1% to be paid on any sales to government customers where no contract is referenced -- even if it is procured through the Simplified Acquisition Process, not the schedules?
Rutherford: I'd be happy to clarify your concerns about the 1% fee. It is important to note that fees are only assessed on Schedules purchases. The contractor is not the one who pays the 1% fee. The customer pays the fee. The contractor collects the fee and remits it to GSA on a quarterly basis. Accordingly, the 1% fee should be factored in the prices quoted in the offer. If a schedules contractor receives an order for items they have under contract, the contractor should process that order as a sale against their schedules contract.
Alexandria, Va.: Do individual IT consultants who do business as "corporate name" qualify as small businesses according to the GSA? Would we get the same assistance that multi-employee, incorporated firms receive?
Rutherford: SBA determines the criteria for a small business not GSA. I would recommend consulting them. Very small business concerns, that is, companies iwth 25 or fewer employees receive the same consideration and assistance as other small businesses.
Fairfax, VA: Is a company required to be established for two years before getting on the GSA schedule?
Rutherford: The short answer to your question is no. There is no requirement that a company be in business two years before getting a GSA Schedules contract. However, what is required is that a company demonstrate that it has a track record of commercial experience.
McLean, Va.: What role does the Office of the Inspector General play in the contract negotiation process? Rutherford: As a general rule, GSA's Office of Inspector General does not play a role in the contract negotiation process.
Rockville, Md.: Does a small business require their own GSA schedule to sub under a prime?
Frederick, Md.: What is the process to ensure that government agencies are targeting contracts for "HubZone" or "8A Small Business Concerns"
Rutherford: The Federal Acquisition Regulations (commonly referred to as the FAR), provides guidelines for agencies to follow concerning HubZone and 8A Small Business Concerns.