The Secrets of Federal Contracts


The Small Business Administration's procurement scorecard [PDF] shows that small businesses received 22.3 percent of prime contracts last fiscal year. And $68 billion in U.S. government contracts were available in the first three quarters of 2013, according a report by Deltek [PDF].(The government's fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30). Have you staked your claim?

To help you get started, we asked contract experts for some tips on navigating the federal contracts system.

  • Start small. Heather Rattmann, marketing coordinator for Federal Schedules, advises easing into the federal contracts game by subcontracting with mid- to large-size companies. Big businesses that hold a U.S. General Services Administration Schedule contract are required to subcontract a percentage of their work to small businesses, she notes. To find out more about these opportunities, visit the GSA and SBA subcontracting webpages.
  • Get a handle on process. JeFreda Brown, a former Defense Contract Agency auditor, is CEO of Brown Accounting Solutions. She says that having solid internal controls, including written policies and procedures and accounting systems, are critical. "Because any business [that] secures a federal contract has to be able to adequately accumulate, allocate, and report government contract costs (and use an accounting system equipped to do so), the lack of an adequate system can actually cause a company to not win a government contract," Brown says.
  • Be diligent about meeting the requirements. Barry B. Herbert, Jr., president of program and project management at Harvin Consulting, is a former contracting officer's representative. He suggests that small-business owners carefully review the requirements of the agency and the proposal, including formatting details. "Because a reviewer might easily receive hundreds of proposals for one solicitation, the important information should be easy to find. The key areas are: understanding of the scope, past performance, and key personnel or subcontractors," Herbert says. He also suggests that businesses go the extra mile by identifying potential risks and offering ways to mitigate those risks as part of their proposals.
  • Learn as you go. If you've applied for several contracts without success, ask why. "Every proposal should not read like it's your first. If you lose an award, inquire as to what went wrong, including formatting, information, level of detail, and basic requirements," Herbert says.