The federal government awards millions of contracts each year. How do you go about finding leads on these contracts? Various methods exist that you will want to consider.
One way to find bid leads is through FedBizOpps, the official website listing of all federal government contracting opportunities and awards over $25,000. Federal agencies are required by law to post their contracting opportunities over $25,000 here.
Through this single point of entry, government buyers can post bids soliciting the products and services they need directly to FedBizOpps via the Internet, while commercial vendors seeking to sell their products and services to the government can search, monitor, and retrieve these bids.
The FedBizOpps system includes an e-mail notification service that lets companies looking for government business fill out a subscription form in order to receive e-mail notification of new bids that match the criteria they have selected. Companies can specify the agency, buying office, location, supply or service codes, etc. that they are interested in.
While the General Services Administration (GSA) is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the system, the content of the notices is the sole responsibility of the agency that has issued the notice.
All federal procurement offices are required to announce in FedBizOpps virtually all proposed procurement actions over $25,000. Government agencies are also required to publish information on subcontracting opportunities, including the names and addresses of firms awarded contracts over $25,000 that are likely to result in subcontracts.
There are exceptions to the notice requirements. For example, FedBizOpps usually does not list procurement notices when the supplies or services are classified or are required immediately due to an emergency.
Many procurement announcements are reserved for, or "set aside," for small businesses, minority-owned businesses, women-owned firms, and veteran-owned businesses and they are listed as such.
FedBizOpps postings cover both services and supplies that the federal government wants to purchase, plus the information you need to make an informed offer, including:
- the specific service or product wanted
- the buying agency
- the due date for offers
- the phone number of the agency contact
- the addresses for obtaining complete specifications
- links to related sites
Think of FedBizOpps as a classified ad section for the government. Since FedBizOpps is updated every business day with new notices, it is to your advantage to look for new "ads" everyday, just like you would in a newspaper. You don't want to miss a new opportunity.
One of the common misconceptions that some small business owners have about FedBizOpps is that it posts every buying opportunity that the government has.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. Remember that the only bids listed on FedBizOpps are those for $25,000 or more, and those account for only a small fraction of the total amount of bids that the government puts out.
To find bids in all ranges, consider registering with a PTAC or a commercial bid service.
Learn to navigate FedBizOpps website
While the government continues to enhance the capabilities of FedBizOpps and to make it easier and faster to use, finding your way around the site can be tricky and sometimes confusing.
The official manual explaining and illustrating the system can be found at the FedBizOpps Vendors Guide index page. You can view the manual onscreen or download it from that site. Make sure you go over the entire manual carefully and check each web page, as you go, so that you know where you are and what you are looking at.
It may take some time and effort to get to really know the FedBizOpps system, but it is worth it in the long run. The site contains lots of useful information, including synopses of government solicitations for products or services, actual solicitations, Requests for Proposals and Quotations, sources being sought, market surveys for government planning purposes, amendments/modifications, and award notices.
The search system has many useful options, allowing you to refine your searches, with just a click of your mouse, to a particular date range, classification code, place of performance, agency, etc. Once again, the time you spend trying out and learning about the search features will be time well spent.
Remember that finding what you need on any search system is always easier if you feed it "good" keywords—in the case of FedBizOpps, words that describe the products/services that you provide (or are capable of providing) and the correct product/service codes. If you find that your searches and/or the e-mail notification service are not retrieving bids that relate to the types of products and/or services your company provides, don't just give up. Go in and change your search criteria, trying different keywords and product/service codes.
If you are looking for subcontracting work, try searching FedBizOpps for awards. Use criteria similar to what you would use when searching for prime contracting opportunities. You can find out the award winner, dollar amount and point of contact. You then can search CCR for more details about the company receiving the award. This is a great marketing tool.
The look and functionality of the FedBizOpps site can change without notice, so it's in your best interest to keep up with any enhancements or changes in how the site works, what information you have to provide, etc.
The "Find Business Opportunities" page on FedBizOpps allows searching by many different categories, including award number, date, zip code, set-aside code, procurement classification, NAICS, and federal agency.
Online bidding through FedBizOpps is becoming more commonplace. Soon it will be considered "regular business" to use FedBizOpps to complete your bid information, fill in your prices, and send in your offer to the buying location by simply clicking on the "Submit" button. (This feature first began to appear on some Requests for Quotes.) Bids are usually reviewed in the order in which they are received. If you are the successful bidder, you will be notified.
Information is arranged by classification codes. Notices of contract opportunities that appear in FedBizOpps are arranged by Federal Supply Groups (FSG). These classification codes are divided into two groups:
- service and product codes (alpha or alpha/numeric)
- supplies, equipment, and material codes (numeric)
When you look at the Federal Supply Classification (FSC) code, it is derived from the Federal Supply Groups (FSG). The FSG is the first two digits of any of the FSC codes.
These are broken down into:
PRODUCT SERVICE CODE (PSC): The (PSC) Group by the lettering system provides the product and service codes that will be used in the Federal Procurement Data System.
The following material provides an example of how this classification system works. We suggest that you look it over closely because using FedBizOpps to find opportunities requires a working knowledge of the system in order to narrow down your search.
The Letter "C" is the service code for Architect and Engineering Services - Construction. Under "C" are the following subcategories:
ARCHITECT AND ENGINEERING SERVICES (C) ARCHITECT AND ENGINEERING SERVICES - CONSTRUCTION (C1) BUILDING AND FACILITY STRUCTURES (C11)
C111 Administrative and Service Buildings
C112 Airfield, Communication and Missile Facilities
C113 Educational Buildings
C114 Hospital Buildings
C115 Industrial Buildings
C116 Residential Buildings
C117 Warehouse Buildings
C118 Research and Development Facilities
C119 Other Buildings
NON-BUILDING STRUCTURES (C12)
C121 Conservation and Development
C122 Highways, Roads, Streets, Bridges, and Railways
C123 Electric Power Generation (EPG)
C129 Other Non-Building Structures
ARCHITECT AND ENGINEERING SERVICES - GENERAL (C2)
C211 Architect - Engineer Services (including landscaping, interior layout, and designing)
C212 Engineering Drafting Services
C213 A&E Inspection Services (non-construction)
C214 A&E Management Engineering Services
C215 A&E Production Engineering Services (including Design and Control, and Building Programming)
C216 Marine Architect and Engineering Services
C219 Other Architect and Engineering Services
So if you are an architect and you only work on inspecting services you will fall under C213. This will help you define your search profiles and give you a better hit rate. FEDERAL SUPPLY CLASSIFICATION (FSC):
The (FSC) Group by the numeric system presents the classification structure of the Supplies and Equipment Codes, showing all groups and classes listed. The FSC is divided into 78 groups, which are subdivided into 685 classes. Each class covers a relatively homogeneous area of commodities, in respect to their physical or performance characteristics, or in the respect that the items included therein are such as are usually requisitioned or issued together, or constitute a related grouping for supply management purpose.
25 Vehicular Equipment Components
26 Tires and Tubes
28 Engines, Turbines, and Components
29 Engine Accessories
Now let's look at #29, Engine Accessories. The subcategories are:
ENGINE ACCESSORIES (29)
2910 Engine Fuel System Components, Nonaircraft
2915 Engine Fuel System Components, Aircraft and Missile Prime Movers
2920 Engine Electrical System Components, Nonaircraft
2925 Engine Electrical System Components, Aircraft Prime Moving 2930 Engine Cooling System Components, Nonaircraft
2935 Engine Cooling System Components, Aircraft Prime Moving 2940 Engine Air and Oil Filters, Strainers, and Cleaners, Nonaircraft 2945 Engine Air and Oil Filters, Cleaners, Aircraft Prime Moving
2950 Turbosuperchargers and components
2990 Miscellaneous Engine Accessories, Nonaircraft
2995 Miscellaneous Engine Accessories, Aircraft
You may wonder why we provide so much detail on these codes. Well, if you're going to do a search of the FBO site or you're going to get on a automated bid service of any kind, it's worth your while to get at least the first four codes down to narrow your search. Remember the first four numbers are the beginning of the National Stock Number, which specifies an "exact" product for the government.
When you are looking for active solicitations it's much easier to find what you need by "restricting" the search profile, after all the government wrote over 10,000,000 contracts last year, do you want to go through all of them?
While the General Services Administration (GSA) is responsible for the operation and maintenance of FedBizOpps, it is the contracting officer, not GSA, who determines the appropriate classification code for a particular notice. Therefore, the contracting officer is the one held responsible if a notice of a contract is misclassified and, as a result, fails to effectively notify the firms most likely to respond.
To search for opportunities using classification codes, go to the FedBizOpps website and click the "go" button next to "Find Business Opportunity" on the home page. Scroll down to "Search by Procurement Classification Code" where you will find a list of codes. Scroll through the list and highlight the code of interest to you. Scroll to the bottom of page and click the "Start Search" button. This will bring up a listing of leads.
There are two manuals available that can give you information to better identify your areas of interest. These are the Federal Supply Classification Cataloging Handbook and Handbook H2, from the Defense Logistics Information Service.
Numbered notes. When you read a posted notice in FedBizOpps, you will often see references to numbered notes within the text. (For example, you may see such phrases as "Notes 12 and 26 apply" or "See Note(s) 22 and 23.")
The purpose of these numbered notes, which are similar to footnotes, is to avoid the unnecessary repetition of information in various announcements. Whenever a numbered note is included in a notice, the note referred to must be read as part of the item or section in which it appears.
Tools to use
Among the Business Tools is a listing of the Numbered Notes used by the federal government to abbreviate contract postings. The file is in rich text format (RTF) that is suitable for use with most word processing programs used in the Windows environment.
FedBizOpps to identify government contracting opportunities
You can use FedBizOpps to find special advance notices of procurement opportunities by searching for "potential sources sought" in the system. At the FedBizOpps home page, click "go," scroll down to "Full Text Search" and enter the search term: potential sources sought. Scroll down and click the Start Search button to get the list.
These synopses provide you with an opportunity to submit information that will permit your capabilities to be evaluated while allowing the government to gauge interest in possible contracts. Responding is very important if a particular community (e.g., small businesses, minority-owned small businesses, women-owned small businesses, or historically black colleges and universities/minority institutions, etc.) desires a set-aside. The decision to set a project aside is often made on the basis of responses received to these Potential Sources Sought synopses.
If you want to be on the ground floor of a buy, this is the place to start. More and more government buyers are using "sources sought" to find qualified pre-bidders or to pre-qualify bidders for a project. It saves them lots of time.
Some contractors view this effort as a waste of time, preferring to concentrate on actual live leads. But you would be surprised at the amount of contracting that is secured this early in the process.
You can also use FedBizOpps to find out about important upcoming meetings and conferences dealing with federal procurement activities, including pre-proposal and bidders' conferences. These meetings are great places to market your capabilities, identify the competition, and structure potential teaming arrangements.
At the FedBizOpps home page, click "go," scroll down to "Full Text Search," and enter the search term: special notice. Scroll down and click the Start Search button at the bottom of the page. Check the "Title" area to locate the notices of interest.
Remember as you look through synopses in FedBizOpps that each one identifies a buying office and a personal contact. What a great marketing tool! If the item or service isn't exactly what you sell, you still have a contact to call to learn more about the buyer's needs.
Get included government contract solicitation mailing lists and SUB-Net website for bid leads
Another way of receiving bid leads is to get your company included on the Solicitation Mailing List (SML) of the specific buying offices likely to have a need for your product or service. The SML database lists the capabilities of businesses interested in selling to the government, and thus enables a buying office to find potential sources to meet its needs for products and services.
Some offices dealing with actions under $25,000 will still use the Standard Form 129, "Solicitation Mailing List," because many are not yet automated. So make sure you ask them if they still use the SF 129. With the federal government quickly moving into e-business processes, this method of finding bid leads will, most likely, eventually go away.
Once again, using the target list of prospective customers that you put together, make an effort to contact them. Be sure to contact the small business specialist at each agency to make sure you do what is necessary to be listed on the appropriate SML.
When the SML is extremely long, the purchasing agency may use only a portion of it for a particular acquisition and rotate the other segments of the list for other acquisitions. In such situations, the regulations require that a prorated number of small businesses be solicited.
Contracting for architect-engineering (A-E) and construction services follows a special procedure and does not use SMLs. For government contracts, A-E firms are selected on the basis of the professional qualifications necessary to perform the required services satisfactorily. Construction companies are selected in a similar manner. Firms interested in such work should file Standard Form 330, "Architect-Engineer Qualifications" (attainable from any federal government buying office or PTAC), with the agency responsible for the geographic area(s) or specialized area of construction in which the firm desires to work.
You can get SF 330 by going to the GSA website. Use the drop-down menu under "About GSA" and click on "Forms." Change the default to "Standard Forms" and then look for SF 330. Or you can go to the business tools area of this site for the latest downloads.
Remember that sometimes there is a geographical limit on who will be considered for an award.
Tools to Use
Get registered on qualification lists
A less common way to receive bid leads is by getting registered on a qualified product list (QPL), a qualified manufacturers list (QML), or a qualified bidders list. Qualification lists are used only for products that require lengthy or costly testing to determine whether they meet the government's requirements. The lists identify the specifications and the manufacturers or distributors of each qualified item. When the government wishes to procure a product for which a qualification list exists, bids or proposals are usually accepted only for specific products or from companies on the list.
To have your product or your company included on a qualification list, contact the small business specialist responsible for qualification at the buying office identified in the product specification.
If all else fails, you can always get help from a bid-matching service or your local PTAC office.
Search the SUB-Net site for posted bid opportunities
SUB-Net is a part of the Small Business Administration web site on which large businesses, government agencies, and other prime contractors post solicitations and bid opportunities.
This is a good place for small businesses to search and view bid opportunities. Small businesses may also register in this area to post a bid opportunity, but only if they are seeking teaming partners or subcontractors for a specific procurement that they would not be able to perform alone.
Go to the SUBNet website, where you will find a list of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Subcontract Solicitations, ARRA Prime Contracts Solicitations and Iraq Reconstruction RFP's. In addition there is a link to the SBA's Subcontracting directory, listing by state those prime contractors that have a contract over $550,000 ($1 million for contraction) and require a subcontracting plan.
When searching, again remember to think like the government. Choose search terms that have to do with your end products, not your process.
Use electronic bulletin boards
The Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as various other Department of Defense (DoD) organizations and agencies, use electronic bulletin boards (EBBs) to inform the public about contracting opportunities, provide details of government solicitations, and respond to questions about solicitations. EBBs also permit electronic submission of bids and proposals.
Unfortunately, to use EBBs, you will have to register at each particular site. So bear with the redundancy for now. As the government gets the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) running up to speed, the need to register again and again hopefully will fade. (Note: For now, you will need your tax ID, DUNS and CAGE numbers, as well as other information to register at DoD sites.)
In a typical bulletin board, the government posts a Request for Quote. Interested businesses can submit standard paper quotes or, in some cases, electronic quotes for the buyer to review. Most of the remaining documentation is still on paper There are still some agencies that were using electronic bulletin boards, but except for smaller buying offices, we believe that they will eventually become a thing of the past and will be replaced with an Internet version.
The EBB was the original system for transmitting information via computer and modem connecting to a special network through the use of telephone lines. The use of EBBs was largely the result of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994, which required the government to convert from an acquisition process driven by paperwork to an expedited process based on electronic data interchange (EDI).
Check agency bid boards
Bid boards, while still used by some buying agencies to post bid opportunities, are becoming a thing of the past, as the Internet becomes more a part of business life.
In the "old days," every DoD buying office maintained, in a public place, a bid board on which it displayed a copy of each small purchase solicitation it issued for contracts valued at less than $25,000. Every notice was posted on the bid board for seven calendar days. If it was impractical to post a copy of the entire solicitation, the bid board notice offered a brief description and the location of the full text version.
There are still agencies that use bid boards, and you can hire an individual in the area to visit the bid board and monitor it for you. That individual can either send you everything on the board or pick and choose for you. At one time, we had twelve of these prospectors getting bids for our clients. It worked, but was expensive and time-consuming.
The more enterprising contractor will also check out the agency's web site, to see what they buy and who they sell to. This will help narrow your focus when it comes time to find actual bid leads from individual agencies.
Create own contracting opportunities by submitting unsolicited proposals
Sometimes you can create your own contracting opportunities by submitting an unsolicited proposal. Such a proposal is a written offer to the government to perform a task or effort that you initiate. To be considered, an unsolicited proposal must offer a unique and innovative concept to the government. You can learn about an agency's research and development needs from advance notices on BizOpps and from informal contacts with agency personnel.
The FAR provides general guidance for submitting an unsolicited proposal. The proposal should contain an abstract of the proposed effort, the method of approach, and the extent of the effort. It should also include a proposed price or estimated cost. You should clearly mark any proprietary data you wish to protect from possible release to others.
The Department of the Army Pamphlet 70-3, and FAR Subpart 15.6 together include ground rules for submission, preparation, basis of evaluation and geographical location of command having potential interest in the unsolicited proposal.
These regulations allow the government to use other-than-competitive procurement procedures when they receive a favorably evaluated unsolicited proposal. They also require that the prospective contractors be notified of government's intentions regarding the proposal.
If you're not sure what specific buying office might be really interested in the item or service, then send it to the headquarters operation in Washington, D.C. For example, for the Department of Army, instead of sending a proposal to the electronics command, send it to headquarters, U.S. Army in Washington. For the civilian side, it would be similar. For example, instead of sending a proposal to the Chicago regional area of the FAA, send it to FAA Operations in Washington, D.C.
Remember you are sending in a proposal that is supposed to help the government agency accomplish its mission. They want a well thought-out and clear description of what you are proposing as a solution.
SBAExchange initiative is suspended
The SBAExchange program, which provided the opportunity for a business to market its products and services to the government, has been put on hold.
The SBA kicked off this program on March 30, 2003, but suspended it some three months later.
Any business that had signed up for the now suspended program should have been notified and fees paid should have been refunded.
If you have questions concerning this program, contact SBAExchange Program Manager Carol Thompson at (202) 205-6118 or email her at [email protected].
The following is a description of the suspended program and how it works:
Another opportunity for you to market your company's products and services to the government is the SBAExchange, an electronic tool created by the SBA to assist small businesses in their e-procurement efforts. Under SBAExchange, government buyers can award simplified acquisitions up to $100,000 (including micro-purchases) and make purchases and payments electronically with the government-wide commercial purchase card. In addition, small businesses can participate, with little or no technical expertise or equipment investment, in an e-procurement system.
Remember that purchases of between $2,500 and $100,000 are, by statute, reserved for small businesses. Therefore, all purchases made through SBAExchange will be made from small businesses. (SBAExchange will also allow agencies to make purchases implementing the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act under the rules of the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled.)
Also keep in mind that purchases under $100,000 account for 98 percent of all federal purchases.
Small businesses that decide to participate in SBAExchange receive a number of benefits, including a fully hosted, supplier branded, e-commerce website; exposure to federal buying authorities, large federal prime contractors, and other large buying officials; an electronic catalog; a centralized order management system for receiving and processing Internet-based orders from federal, state, local, and commercial buying authorities; a management system for tracking new business and for creating and submitting quotes; and assistance in managing their new site.
Agencies also receive a number of benefits, including credit toward small business goals, access to socioeconomic data and demographic reports, and a tool for monitoring agency and individual staff small business goals and objectives.
The cost for small businesses to participate in SBAExchange is $1500 per year. Additionally, a transaction fee of 2 percent will be added to all orders. Instructions regarding payment arrangements and discounts can be found at www.sbaloanexchange.com/.
In order to participate as a small business vendor on SBAExchange, you have to be enrolled in the Central Contractor Registration.
SBAExchange differs from other electronic commerce programs and malls in that there is no requirement for small businesses to have a contract with the government in order for government buyers to buy from these firms. For example, GSA Advantage! is an electronic mall of catalogs for pre-existing contracts with GSA.
For more information on SBAExchange, simply follow the step-by-step instructions available at the website www.SBAExchange.gov.