Federal Contracting How-to Offered

The procurement center offers about 80 no-cost or low-cost classes a year to help guide business owners through the process

March 26--SAN ANTONIO -- Small business owners looking to do business with the federal government can get help from an agency called the Procurement Technical Assistance Center.

Part of the University of Texas at San Antonio's Small Business Development Center, the procurement center offers about 80 no-cost or low-cost classes a year to help guide small-business owners through the complex process. About 3,500 attend the classes each year.

A recent class introduced business owners to contracting with the General Services Administration. The GSA is the federal government's business manager and contracts for billions of dollars worth of products and services every year.

For a business to have a shot at selling to the GSA, it first must be registered to do business with the government.

"That's primarily a process of getting on a database," said Terri Williams, director of the procurement assistance center.

Williams encourages business owners to make an appointment with a business adviser at the center because registering "is not easy to do on your own."

Once that's done, she advises business owners to check out various websites -- such as www.USAspending.gov and FedBizOpps.gov -- to see what goods and services federal agencies are looking for.

The process is worth looking into because the GSA has an estimated budget of $26.3 billion, said Susannah Munro, a business development specialist who taught a recent class at the procurement center.

"That's a big chunk of what the government does, but it's only 10 percent of what the government buys overall," she said. "The government buys all kinds of services."

Government websites allow users to see about 40 areas of GSA purchasing, along with companies already on the schedule and their prices. Users can sort the list by state and city.

Applying to sell to the GSA involves plenty of paperwork, and it can take from weeks to as long as a year to be approved.

"The government will review and scrutinize your paperwork," Munro said. "They'll come back and ask you questions. They will want proof that you can succeed."

If a company's competitors list a per-hour price of, say, $68 an hour for construction management, "and you can't meet or beat that price, maybe you should wait, because you aren't going to be competitive," Munro said.

Also, business owners "need to make sure they provide something that the government purchases and that there isn't an oversupply," Williams said. A business may be rejected as a potential contractor with the GSA if myriad other companies offer those goods or if demand for the product or service is low, she said.

A company applying to do business with the GSA must have cash flow of at least $25,000 a year, Williams added, and have been in business for at least two years.

"We don't want to deal with companies that just put out a shingle," said Albert Garza, GSA's director of small business utilization for the Southwest Region.

The GSA will ask to see at least two years' worth of financial statements and other documentation that applicants can submit over the Internet.

When the GSA gets an application, a contracting officer will be assigned to the business, Garza said. He or she will make sure the application is in order.

"If not, we'll reject the offer, but we'll tell you in a rejection letter what you need to correct," Garza said.

Once a business makes the GSA list, the owner's work isn't done.

"It's almost like being in the Yellow Pages," Williams said. "People don't really know you," so she recommends that business owners "market themselves in person to the agency that's actually buying the product."

GSA contracts are valid for five years with three renewal options of five years each.

Business owners can get more information about government contracting on the second Wednesday of each month at a free supplier-vendor network breakfast that starts at 8 a.m. at Luby's at 911. N. Main Ave.

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