Cracking the Code for Federal Government Procurement
Congratulations, you have decided to move into a new market – government procurement contracts. There are several secrets to understand, the first one being that this is a highly regulated world, at both the state and federal level. Second, recognize that printing itself is often considered a service in government contacts, however, there are also printed products such as labels or signs that are also needed.
Due to the complexity of the government procurement world, this article will focus solely on federal activities. State procurement varies, as each one has different requirements, priorities, and processes for becoming a vendor. If you are interested in becoming a vendor for your local state government, you’ll want to reach out directly to the state printing office to find out the exact requirements.
Federal or state, the decision to move into this vertical means taking the time to research exactly what is being sought by the government. In order to bid on — and win — a government contract, you need to sell the products or services at a competitive price. And be forewarned, it can take a long time to win your first government contract and may require you to invest dollars before that first contract is awarded.
Are You a Small Business?
This is a critical question. The Small Business Administration (SBA) works with federal agencies to award 23% of government contract dollars to eligible small businesses. The first step should be to determine if your facility qualifies as a small business under the SBA’s size standard, which for the print industry (NAICS code 323111, Commercial Printing — Except Screen and Books), is set at under 500 employees. To calculate your total number of employees, include even part-time and temporary workers for the preceding 12 calendar months.
However, before you can even start to consider competing for contracts, there are several key steps you need to take. First, register your business. All government contractors must have a Dun and Bradstreet number (DUNS).
Second, match the products and services you provide to a specific North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code. NAICS codes classify businesses based on the specific product or service they supply. For example, digital printing operations are classified as 323111, Commercial Printing (Except Screen and Books). But as previously mentioned, printing may be considered a service, so you will also need to search for the NAICS codes for products you are able to produce. So, for example, if you produce signage, you will choose 339950, Sign Manufacturing, which covers all signage except that on paper and paperboard. It is critical that you spend time matching your products to the specific NAICS codes as published by the US Census Bureau, otherwise, you will never be successful at winning the contracts.
Third, you need to register with the federal government’s System for Award Management, or SAM. This is the database government agencies search to find contractors. Using SAM, you will certify that your business is eligible for contracts reserved for small businesses.
Once you have completed these steps, you can move to self-certify as a small business through the SBA. This step is essential if you wish to pursue federal contracts as a small business, or even seek to pursue small business set-aside work. This is also where you can indicate if your business is eligible for contracts under other SBA contracting programs as well, because it is disadvantaged, women-owned, veteran-owned, or located in a HUBZone.
HUBZones and Other Designations
HUBZones are historically underutilized business zones. The HUBZone program was created in response to the HUBZone Empowerment Act, created by the US Congress in 1998. As with all SBA programs, your facility does need to be a small business to qualify. Additionally, your facility must be at least 51% owned and controlled by U.S. citizens, a Community Development Corp., an agricultural cooperative, a Native Hawaiian organization, or an Indian tribe, and have its principal office located in a HUBZone. Further, at least 35% of your employees must live in a HUBZone.
But what about these other designations?
Often, in the government procurement space, you hear the terms disadvantaged small business, women-owned, or veteran-owned. It is important to understand the meaning behind each of these designations, as they may play a role in your decision to move into the federal procurement marketspace.
The 8(a) program focuses on small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged firms. This program limits competition to certain contracts to disadvantaged businesses that participate in the 8(a) program. These businesses can compete for set-aside and sole contracts in the program, receive assistance to navigate the federal contracting system, as well as receive management and technical assistance. The federal government's goal is to award at least 5% of all federal contracting dollars to small disadvantaged businesses each year.
To qualify as a women-owned business, you first must be a small business and be at least 51% owned and controlled by women who are U.S. citizens. Additionally, women must manage day-to-day operations, as well as make long-term decisions. As with the disadvantaged program designation, the goal of the federal government is to award at least 5% of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses each year.
Finally, as with the other programs, the federal government earmarks federal contracting dollars for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses each year. To qualify under this designation, first, you have to be a small business and be at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more service-disabled veterans. Similar to women-owned businesses, one or more of these veterans must manage day-to-day operations and make long term decisions. Only veterans with a service-connected disability are eligible to apply for this designation.
Once you have certified through the SBA site and have registered in the SAM, you can update your facility profile accordingly.
The final — and the most important — step is that you need to maintain compliance with all the applicable laws and regulations for the federal government’s purchasing process as found in the Federal Acquisition Regulations. This is not something you can apply for once and then forget — if you want to remain eligible for these contracts, you will need to ensure you continue to comply with all of the requirements every year.
If you have reached the end of this article and you still want to become a government contract printer, or would just like more information on next steps for your specific business, visit the Small Business Administration site for federal contracting. At that site, you will find step-by-step guidance, as well as access to all the program information and greater details about what is involved with each designation. As with all new business ventures, it is best to go in with your eyes wide open!
Marci Kinter is the Vice President – Government and Regulatory Affairs for the PRINTING United Alliance. Kinter oversees the development of management resources for the Association and represents the screen printing and digital imaging industries, as well as their associated supplier base, before federal and state regulatory agencies and the U.S. Congress on environmental, safety and other government issues directly impacting the screen printing and graphic imaging industries. She is responsible for directing the activities of not only the government affairs portion of the Association’s activities, but the development and implementation of business resources for the membership.
In 2008, Kinter, in conjunction with colleagues from other printing trade associations, was instrumental in launching the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership program. The SGP Program is a registry system for printing facilities that includes third party verification. The program successfully launched as an independent organization in August 2008.
Kinter is a member of and serves as Secretary for the Academy of Screen Printing Technology. In 2001, Kinter received the William D. Schaeffer Environmental Award for significant advancement of environmental awareness in the graphic arts industry.
Before joining PRINTING United Alliance, Kinter worked for The American Waterways Operators, Inc., the national association for the barge and towing industry.
She holds bachelor’s degree in urban planning from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University.