The U.S. government is big business and contracts for thousands of products. How-to advice helps businesses take advantage of these opportunities.
By Teresa Bouchonnet
On January 9, 2009, the U.S. government’s Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia (DSCP) awarded each of four different firms a contract worth a maximum of almost $488 million for a base period of two years, with three one-year option periods. Only 14 contractors bid on this solicitation for over 4,000 different line items—including textile products—listed on these contracts. If your company had completed the central contractor registration (CCR), your products may have been included in the award.
DSCP is just one of the centralized buying activities of the federal government. DCSP purchases more than $13.4 billion worth of food, clothing, textiles, medicines, medical supplies, construction and equipment items annually for the military and other customers worldwide. DCSP purchased an estimated $2.2 billion in clothing and textiles in fiscal year 2008, and plans to purchase an estimated $2.8 billion in 2009. That breaks down into more than 8,000 different items (or 31,000 line items), including many that require this industry’s products, such as:
- uniforms, sweaters, gloves, hats, socks, undergarments
- body armor, packs, parachutes, boots, shoes
- tents, flags, netting, covers, straps
- building paper and thermal insulation materials
- fiber rope, cordage and twine, blocks, tackle, rigging and slings
- sheets, towels, curtains, cloth, thread
This is just a sampling of the potential for tapping into government markets.
Textile businesses often fail to pursue federal and military markets because they don’t know the markets exist, they don’t know how to locate the solicitations, or they only see their business as a part of the process and do not look at the whole picture. They may also find the government contracting process just too confusing, or they do not know how to locate other businesses with whom they can build team arrangements that can fill the government’s requirements.
How to begin: the registration process
The federal government has three requirements that each business must fulfill before it can bid on a contract. Many different passwords will be created as well, and it is critical to keep these passwords in a place where you can readily find them in the future.
1. Your firm must have a Dunn & Bradstreet number. If you do not have one, call 866 705 5711, and ask for your number to do business with the government. There is no charge for this.
2. Go to a www.ccr.gov and complete the central contractor registration (CCR). Save a copy of the completed registration because you are required to update this every year
3. Three days after completing the CCR, go to https://orca.bpn.gov to complete the online representations and certifications application (ORCA). This process will include data from the CCR. Save a copy of the completed ORCA because you are also required to update this every year.
Finding a solicitation
The best place to find government contract opportunities is www.fbo.gov (FBO), since generally any federal purchase totaling more than $25,000 must be announced on this site. Register at this Web site to ensure that you receive e-mail notices about bids of interest. Most textile bids can be found using key words or classification codes 83 and 84. You can also learn from FBO about a number of different events, such as the next Joint Advance Planning Brief to Industry, May 13-14, 2009, in Springfield, Va. Registration information is posted on the FBO site; anyone interested in selling textile products to the military should plan to attend.
FBO may direct you to another Web site when the solicitation is posted.
The Army has the Natick site (www.natick.army.mil) for most of the research and development purchases for the military. The Army also has the Army Single Face to Industry (ASFI) (https://acquisition.army.mil), the Navy has http://www.neco.navy.mil and the Air Force has ww3.safaq.hq.af.mil/contracting. The Coast Guard uses www.uscg.mil.
The DSCP Web site DIBBS is located at www.dibbs.bsm.dla.mil/. This site has links to specifications and standards, patterns and award information, and is a good site to help with pricing since it includes price histories.
Another major centralized buying activity for the government is the General Services Administration (GSA). If you have commercial products or services that the government can use, this may be the type of contract to pursue. Go to the e-library on the www.gsa.gov site for current solicitations and contractor information.
If your firm can supply a component (such as thread, fiber or fabric) for an end product the government is buying (such as a uniform), search for teaming partners that can use your component to create the finished product. Use the Web sites mentioned above to locate previous contract winners, and market your firm as a supplier to them. Networking with potential partners at trade fairs and industry events is also a productive means to establish the contacts needed to pursue these opportunities.
The key to winning a government contract is following the bidding instructions. If you don’t understand something, or need more information, read the instructions again and again. If you still need help, e-mail your questions before the bid due date.
Correct errors. Correct errors. If you find an error in the solicitation once you have submitted a bid, you must let the contracting officer for the solicitation know before the bid is due. You will not win a protest on a bid if you knew about a problem ahead of the due date and you did not raise it with the contracting officer in a timely fashion.
Be on time. Submit the bid on time and in the manner requested, with all the required items. If the solicitation has amendments posted, make sure to read and acknowledge the changes. Some bids are reverse auctions where the lowest bidder wins. Some require revised offers, and you may not be able to take part in that step if your initial quote did not meet the basic requirements.
Request a debriefing. Always request a debriefing within three days after learning the bid results. This can be done by e-mail, but must be done in writing. Learning why you lost a bid will help you win the next one.
The Berry Amendment
The Berry Amendment restricts the Department of Defense from using appropriated funds for textile items more than $100,000 that are not grown, reprocessed, reused or produced in the U.S. A new addition to this amendment was included in the stimulus bill (H.R.1). These changes should be posted to the Web site, http://web.ita.doc.gov/tacgi/eamain.nsf/BerryAmendment/Berry%20Amendment?Opendocument. Note that the Berry Amendment does allow waivers. To learn more about the restrictions, visit this Web site.
Currently, the government has opportunities ranging from Solicitation Number SSR-09-0011 for “Product Development of U.S. Currency Production Materials” with responses due December 31, 2009, to Marine Corps Sources Sought Notice M6785409I3021 for “Improved Modular Tactical Vest.” Look into these markets and see if your business can supply something the government is buying. If my small, veteran-owned, women-owned, HUBZone certified business can find a solicitation on www.fbo.gov and win a contract with Natick on the very first try, so can you.