With government agencies funded through the end of fiscal 2012, contractors are readying for federal agencies to finally release solicitations that have been on hold for some time. The result is likely to be one of the most competitive contract markets in more than a decade.

To come out ahead, companies will need to recognize that the government is changing the way it buys — as well as what it buys.

Most agencies have been operating under specific goals for contract savings, and have been directed to buy smarter using techniques such as strategic sourcing, which leverages the government’s purchasing power. Agencies have been instructed to incorporate more competition and visibility into the process to drive down costs.

There is also a significant effort to collect more data on each acquisition. Agencies are hoping that better information on transactions and contractor performance will help them improve the structure of future acquisitions.

Changing missions, new administration goals and evolving commercial technology will also change what the government buys. Some recent events illustrate this point:

The Defense Department announced that it is anticipating a smaller, leaner military and will invest more heavily in drone aircraft and cybersecurity.

The Air Force announced plans to buy thousands of commercially available computer tablets as it moves from a paper-based to electronic flight publication system.

The government has begun to promote business practices that prevent damage to the environment, changing the way agencies build, use energy and buy products.

For government contractors, the changes call for flexibility, and being in the right place at the right time, which translates to being on large, multiple-agency contracts.

In the information technology area, there are six government-wide acquisition contracts, also known as GWACs. All government agencies can use these contract vehicles to buy a wide variety of commercially available IT products and services.

Four of the six are managed by the General Services Administration, which is also responsible for awarding and administering the GSA Schedules program — which covers all commercial products and services, not just IT. Last year, agencies spent approximately $60 billion dollars on goods and services through GSA Schedules and GWACs, and Deltek analysts expect sales through these contracts to continue to be robust.

Contractors should also be proactive in offering solutions, as the government is looking for companies with ideas to deal with complex issues, including how to streamline processes, how to go green and how to collect information.

When considering how to respond to a solicitation, the best teams will likely go beyond answering the basic questions to address some of the government’s underlying acquisition goals. Contractors that devise a green solution or figure out how to reduce cost could give themselves a competitive edge.

Carolyn Alston is general counsel of Herndon-based Deltek’s Washington Management Group. Deltek, which analyzes the government contracting market, can be found at www.deltek.com.