Aug. 24--When Fayette County contractor Santos A. Maldonado needed help navigating through the documents required to bid on government contracts, he turned to an agency at California University of Pennsylvania that has been assisting companies seeking government jobs for the past 29 years.
Maldonado, who is president of JoD Contracting Inc. in Washington Township, said the Government Agency Coordination Office at Cal U has provided him with valuable expertise that he has relied upon for several years to fulfill the many requirements of government contracting systems.
"It's just a huge resource for a contractor trying to do government jobs. They've helped prepare the bids. There's way more regulations than you have" when bidding on a job in the private sector, Maldonado said.
GACO reached a milestone in January when the businesses the agency has assisted since 1985 topped $3 billion in the total value of the government contracts they obtained. As of July 31, the total value of those 49,349 contracts and subcontracts from federal, state and local governments topped $3,154,535,000, according to Cal U.
"The opportunities (for government contracts) exist out there. It is just a matter of understanding what you need to do to get that contract. I think it is important for any business to take advantage of this service," said Deborah Wojcik, director of Cal U's GACO, which serves companies in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene and Washington counties.
GACO has grown to develop a client base of more than 1,600 businesses seeking support, advice and technical assistance in obtaining federal, state and local government contracts and subcontracts. Among the companies the agency has served are manufacturers, fabricating shops, janitorial services, landscapers, distributors of office supplies and airplane parts, Wojcik said.
"Most of the companies we come in contact with have no knowledge of how to deal with the government. We help them through the whole process," Wojcik said.
Just as important as preparing the bids for a contract is knowing what must be done to fulfill the terms of the agreement, Wojcik said.
"You have to read everything in that contract and understand what is in there," Wojcik said.
Among the services GACO offers to businesses are identifying the codes used for federal supplies and services; helping businesses determine their industry classification code; notifying firms of bid opportunities for government contracts; assisting in bid preparation; helping to file applications to be placed on state and local bidders' lists; providing specifications and standards data for federal contracts; and educating companies on doing business electronically.
With the agency's help, Maldonado's firm has worked at the Veterans Administration in Aspinwall, the U.S. Department of Energy at Bruceton Mills and the Pittsburgh International Airport in Findlay, doing electrical work, building parking lots and fences and landscaping at various government facilities.
GACO's success in helping companies land contracts has improved since the recession in 2008 and the October 2013 government shutdown that slowed down government spending, Wojcik said.
In the current fiscal year that started Sept. 1, GACO assisted businesses on 5,830 contracts worth $202 million, as of Aug. 1, Wojcik said. In the 2012-13 fiscal year, GACO assisted on 6,758 contracts worth $120 million. GACO was involved in 3,165 contracts worth $321 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year and 2,290 contracts worth $156 million in 2010-11 fiscal year. Business dropped in the 2009-10 fiscal year to 2,256 contracts worth $129 million.
The initiative to guide businesses through the government contracting process began in 1985 under former Cal U President John Watkins, who wanted to help the region as it suffered from the loss of thousands of jobs from the closing of steel mills and coal mines, Wojcik said.
"He wanted to set up a program to help bring jobs back in the area. When we first started, we did not know how long it would last," Wojcik said.
Cal U's GACO has lasted 29 years, with support from the Sarah Scaife Foundation and Scaife Family Foundation, both in Pittsburgh, which provided funding to establish GACO, said Michael W. Gleba, president of the Sarah Scaife Foundation.
The foundations understood that GACO not only addressed the economic needs of a region hard hit by the recession, but also provided a benefit from a national security perspective, because the Defense Department needs a diverse supplier network, Gleba said.
To help GACO in its mission, the Sarah Scaife Foundation has provided annual grants of $100,000. GACO uses the money from the Sarah Scaife Foundation for matching funds, Wojcik said.
Since GACO's beginning, the Scaife foundations have provided $4,175,000 in grants, Gleba said. From a financial point of view, the foundations' investments of $4.1 million helped generate a return of $3.1 billion -- "a high leverage investment," Gleba said.
The U.S. Defense Logistics Agency has provided GACO with a $205,325 grant for the 2014-15 fiscal year, up from $193,500 for the 2013-14 fiscal year, Wojcik said.
GACO is one of eight Procurement Technical Assistance Centers in the state and is part of a nationwide network of 98 procurement centers with more than 300 offices.
The Procurement Technical Assistance Program was authorized in 1985 to increase the number of businesses that could compete for goverment contracts, according to the Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers. The Defense Logistics Agency provides money through cooperative agreements with state and local governments and non-profit organizations to establish the technical assistance centers.
GACO has expanded beyond the Washington County campus, opening satellite offices on Pittsburgh's North Side and at Slippery Rock University in Butler County. Each office has procurement professionals to provide the guidance for businesses.
"The program has proven to be successful. It's been a good investment all around," Gleba said.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or [email protected].
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