How Your Small Business Can Make an Impact in the Federal Acquisition Process

The federal government is required to spend 23% of their spending with small businesses, including 5% with women-owned firms, 5% with disadvantaged businesses, 3% with service disabled veteran-owned businesses and 3% with businesses residing in a Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone). As a result, certifications are very important for business owners to explore and obtain although they do not guarantee a contract. Rather, a certification, when used effectively, can impact the federal acquisition process, enabling a small business to compete for a contract that might have been out of reach.

If you are a newcomer to government contracting, you may know a little bit about certifications and a term called set asides. A small business set-aside means that the government has determined that a number of protected categories deserve to compete in a limited pool of competitors of the same size. At this time there are set-asides in the category of HUBzone, woman-owned, 8(a) for minority businesses, and service disabled veterans, and veteran-owned. If you qualify for any of the certifications through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), you have the ability to set aside a requirement by marketing and making your case during the acquisition process. If you are not yet certified, visit the SBA website to see if you qualify for any of the certifications. Your business cannot afford NOT to be certified!

If you are certified, there are many different ways that you may be able to set aside a requirement so that the competition is limited to the certification that your company holds. One way is to track a piece of business projected in an agency’s acquisition plan and let the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) from the agency administering the contract know that you are capable of doing the work that needs to be performed. In other words, it’s all about marketing your business and past work in a compelling manner. Another way is to speak with the contracting officer responsible for fulfilling that requirement. In speaking with the contracting official, your small business advocate, the OSDBU, may know that there are more small businesses out there in order to hold a fair but limited competition in the small business arena. It is in the best interest of the OSDBU and the contracting official to provide opportunity for small businesses to compete among themselves in order to reach the government’s small business contracting goals.

Often times if you let the OSDBU know that you are capable of doing the work, they will ask the contracting official to post on FebBizOpps as a Request for Information (RFI) or Sources Sought. RFI’s and Sources Sought are great ways to position a requirement as a set-aside. Both would be advertised on FedBizOpps in order to see if there are other businesses in the same certified category that could provide the required work. This process is informally called trying to satisfy the “rule of two”. This means that if the government can find two or more companies that are technically qualified with the same small business certification, as an example two woman-owned businesses or two veteran-owned businesses, the contracting official can now set-aside the requirement and put out a solicitation for only women-owned or veteran-owned companies.

If you know a solicitation for a large contract will be coming out, you can ask the contracting official if they can carve out a small portion for a set aside. This is one more case where contracting officials along with the support of the OSDBU can make a determination that some part of a very large requirement can be carved out for a limited competition. Just by asking, you can potentially open up more opportunities for your firm. But remember, when asking, have your list of certifications and details on relevant past performance on hand to share.

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