There are GSA Schedule contracts for virtually any and all services and products that the federal government procures. A company/business that wishes to obtain a GSA Schedule contract must prepare a proposal in response to a specific GSA solicitation for a particular product or service. The proposal document, prepared in accordance with that solicitation, is replete with arcane and sometimes complicated government requirements – terms and conditions, etc. and is divided into three basic components: (1) Standard government contract legal minutiae – Representations & Certifications, Terms & Conditions, etc.; (2) Corporate background and capability; and (3) Pricing.
The practical effect of GSA awarding a Schedule contract is a notification by GSA to the rest of the federal government, including military, that your company’s capabilities, experience and pricing/rate structure have been evaluated and has determined that your company is ‘qualified’ to perform on government contract; and that your pricing/rate structure has been determined to be “fair and reasonable”. The process, however, of obtaining a GSA Schedule contract is arduous and can be a protracted effort. That process may include lengthy discussions (with the GSA official evaluating the offer/proposal) – clarifying proposal content, intent or definition; writing or re-writing technical components of a proposal that will comport with ‘wishes’ of the reviewing Contracting Officer, etc. The process also includes a period of negotiations during which, among other things, the GSA Contracting Officer is ensuring that your pricing is structured in such a manner that the ‘government’ is your “Most Favored Customer” (MFC). That is, the rates/prices your charge the government are “equal to, or better than” those your company charges any other clients/customers.
The timelines for the entire process will vary, depending upon the type of Schedule contract your company is seeking, the workload of the reviewing Contracting Officer and the time that it will take to prepare your proposal. GSA has an ‘internal working policy’ to award a contract within 125 days of receipt of your proposal. That policy, however, does not have the force and effect of regulatory requirements and so the reviewing officer may take as long and he or she may need to evaluate and make an award. Having said that, a company whose proposal is not rejected outright, could very well expect an award in a period of 90 to 120 days. The timelines associated with preparing the proposal are obviously driven internally (company) – professional consultants/organizations that know the process well should be able to prepare a proposal within a 30-day period, assuming that company (client) information is readily available. Proposals can be, and have been, prepared internally. The distinction being, addressing the “learning curve” – assessing the feasibility and practicability of an ‘internal’ staff member learning, not only the process, but the nuances and subtleties of arcane federal contract regulations, options and requirements.
There is one “principle” reason why a company would go through the process and cost of obtaining a GSA Schedule contract – limit the competition in obtaining federal contracts. As pointed out previously, a GSA Schedule contract award means that your company has been determined to be qualified to perform and that your pricing is ‘fair and reasonable’. This means that ‘any’ federal agency or military installation can acquire your products or services by simply issuing a task order against the ‘master’ GSA Schedule contract. An agency can do this without issuing solicitations, RFP’s, RFQ,’s ,etc. for full and open competition. An agency can do this because your company is a ‘prequalified’ company, as demonstrated by your GSA Schedule contract. Another scenario that has evolved in recent years, using the GSA Schedule contracts, is that many agencies are electing to advertise (issuing modified solicitations) for acquiring products and/or services, but limiting the offering to GSA Schedule-holders only. And while this scenario is not the same as having the direct ‘task-order’ relationship with an agency that wishes to use your company services, it is still limited offering for those companies that have a GSA Schedule holder. Optimization of a GSA Schedule contract, once your company has been awarded the contract, should be a paramount component of your marketing strategies. Once your company has been awarded a Schedule contract, your company information will be included in a website/database hosted and maintained by GSA – GSA Advantage. In this ‘passive’ marketing effort, any agency or military installation can access GSA’s database (GSA Advantage) and will find your company’s information. This database is structured so that its information is stratified by class of product or service offered or desired and by geographic location. The more ‘proactive’ method to market a GSA Schedule contract is ‘direct contact’ with officials in federal agencies – Contracting Officers, Buyers, Small Business Liaison Officers, etc. Agency budget information is public information. It is relatively easy to obtain ‘appropriated’, ‘allocated’ and ‘expended’ fund data. Much agency budget information can be garnered about specific programs ‘planned expenditures’, (IT, products, Environmental, Engineering, etc) by reviewing these data. Agency officials can then be asked about specific programs that will be funded with appropriated or allocated funds. These inquiries, as part of a company’s marketing efforts, will lead to the eventual question: “Can these products and/or services be acquired using our GSA Schedule contract?” Nothing, in federal marketing, replaces direct contact, but company marketing strategies are policy decisions made inside the organization.
Finally, the cost-benefit analysis – is it feasible and practical for the company to expend capital, in the form of ‘general and administrative costs’, in order to secure a contract vehicle that offers opportunities not otherwise available, but which has no specific monetary amount directly attached? The above Schedule synopsis provides a glimpse of the potential of a GSA Schedule contract. A policy question left to the owners, principals, operators or investors of the business, is whether in a 20-year period, the company can recover the costs associated with obtaining their Schedule contract.
Note: A GSA Schedule is an operational contract for a period of 20 years, renewed every 5 years.