How the U.S. General Services Administration Works for Small Business
The U.S. federal government represents the world’s largest marketplace and awards contracts at the rate of three-per-minute every working day, giving companies large and small plenty of good reasons to pursue doing business with government agencies. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) awards a majority of its contracts to small businesses because they generate the majority of new jobs and contribute substantially to the nation’s economy, according to Felipe Mendoza, Associate Administrator of the GSA, who heads up the Office of Small Business Utilization (OSBU), the agency’s key point of contact for reaching out to the small business community.
OSBU advocates for small, minority, veteran, HUBZone (Historically Underutilized Business Zone) and women-owned businesses, promoting increased access to GSA’s nationwide procurement opportunities. It monitors and implements small business policies and manages a range of programs designed to nurture entrepreneurial opportunities and put the small business community in contact with key contracting experts.
From the GSA and OSBU websites, companies can link to dozens of valuable resources that can help them start doing business with the federal government, increase the business they are already doing or just brush up on the skills they need to function more productively and effectively in this massive but in some ways unique marketplace.
Becoming a Qualified GSA Vendor
The GSA uses the same general criteria as the U.S. Small Business Administration to determine whether a company qualifies as a small business. By that definition, a small business is a business entity that is organized for profit (even if owned by a non-profit organization), has a place of business in the U.S., and is not dominant in the field of operation in which it is bidding on government contracts. In addition, it must meet industry-specific limitations on annual sales and/or number of employees spelled out by the by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in its Table of Small Business Sizes (*PDF).
All companies wishing to do business with the Federal government must register with Central Contractor Registration (CCR), which requires a D-U-N-S Number (supplied by Dun & Bradstreet) that can be applied for online. It’s a one-time process and your registration remains valid as long the business entity remains in existence. You must also complete an Online Representations and Certifications Application (ORCA) registration.
Finally, you should link your company’s home page to its listing on PRO-Net, a database the SBA maintains to provide government buyers, contracting personnel and prime contractors that may be seeking subcontractors with easy access to information about qualified small business vendors. Links to currently available business opportunities and downloadable bidding documents can be found at FedBizOpps, a portal where businesses can search, monitor and retrieve opportunities posted by government buyers from agencies throughout the federal contracting community.
Micro-purchases (up to $2,500) and some simplified acquisitions (transactions of $2,500 to $100,000 that are set aside for small businesses) are paid for with government purchase cards. Any business currently set up to allow customers to use credit cards, such as VISA or MasterCard, should be able to accept government purchase cards. All other payments are made through electronic funds transfer (EFT), with direct deposit into your company’s bank account. Payment terms are spelled out in individual contracts, schedules and solicitations.
The Federal government purchases products and services from companies in virtually all Standard Industry Classifications (SIC), but transactions may be driven by current market conditions. For example, there is currently strong demand for companies providing products and services that can be used in the Katrina clean-up and rebuilding effort on the Gulf Coast.