Introduction to Government Contracting

Part 1 of the series for the uninitiated

The United States Government is by far the largest purchaser of goods and services. A quick internet search can bring you all of the details of how the government spends money and what regulations come with that money to ensure that things are done properly. However, that isn’t what I’m aiming with this series. I am going to discuss the why’s and the how’s that one needs to be familiar with in order to be successful.

The first and most important thing that your team must have is competence. As in any service industry, without competent team members, you will never succeed. That starts with the delivery team, but must extend to the support behind them all the way to business development efforts.

Why work for the government? Is it worth it?

Yes. The government is a huge operation, but it relies on Industry to perform many of it’s services. This is creates an opportunity to make a difference as well as having a consistent customer of your services, provided of course that you are capable of meeting there expectations!

How much money is there to be made?

This question is tricky because on one hand the answer is unlimited! Contracts are regularly awarded in the tens or hundreds of millions, however, it is not as simple as raising your hand to say you want some cash. If that were the case, everyone would be doing that and this entire discussion would be unnecessary.

The US Government has a perhaps undeserved history of waste and lavish expenditures and as a result there have been many layers of assurance added to the procurement and delivery process. I discuss the various contract types in another post, but the important thing to understand is that the government will generally not allow you to make more money than you spend in the course of your delivery efforts. Everything has a profit (sometimes called fee) that is determined ahead of time and in most cases that is not allowed to grow.

So, the general rule of thumb here is that you are [usually] guaranteed to make money, but you’re unlikely to make it hand over fist.

So, where do I start?

Another tricky question because of the complicated and varied procurement process used by the government. First off, however, you must identify your desired customer, based on your service or product catalog. Simply put, who needs what you do the most? As I said, you don’t get work by just standing up and raising your hand.

One good way to get started is with subcontracting efforts. As a prime contractor [the direct recipient of work from the customer], it can be difficult to find, support and retain talent needed to work on the project for the long haul. Subcontractors can enable that because they have vetted and usually proven team members who can jump in quickly to help scale a team up. If you have just a few good people, you can build experience with them and with projects by meeting and partnering with large companies that need the assistance. I am not going to elaborate on this further, because I assume that the nuts and bolts of contracting is the main driver of my readership here. Leave a comment if you want more about subcontracting!

The most complicated part of this entire process is to understand the difference between contract vehicles and task orders. A contract vehicle can be described as a vetting process where industry competes for a chance to provide those services. It’s like trying to get into a club, you have to prove they need you in there and that you belong, but it does not guarantee you’ll get what you want in that club. Bottom line is, without a vehicle, you [usually] cannot get any specific work from the government. Vehicles come in all shapes and sizes, see this post for some more details about types and common vehicles, like a GSA Schedule.

Once you have secured a vehicle, you are eligible to compete for task (sometimes called delivery) orders. That is where you have to make one final pitch to the government customer and quote prices for your labor. This pitch is detailed in the next post.

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