If you are a small business owner in the U.S., you may have given up on the idea of trying to win contracts with the federal government – or perhaps you never seriously entertained the possibility. There is a widespread perception that the government only wants to do business with large, established suppliers, and that the procurement process just isn’t one that small businesses can successfully navigate. Visions of massive bureaucracy, unending paperwork and unrealistic contractual requirements put off many small businesses from tapping into the huge potential of public procurement.
However, nothing is further from the truth. The U.S. government actively encourages the participation of small businesses in public tenders, and currently strives to have 23% of their contracts awarded to small businesses. They offer set-asides for qualified small businesses, as well as businesses that are owned and operated by minorities, women, veterans, and disabled veterans. Considering that the US government has spent over $5 trillion on contracts since 2000, there are billions of dollars of contracts each year that small businesses can tap into. To be clear, when the U.S. government sets aside contracts for small businesses, this means that large businesses don’t bid – letting small businesses win the contracts on their own merits.
Now, there is a new system in place for government procurement that is set to make the process easier. As of July 2013, the General Services Administration, which is responsible for U.S. federal procurement, is going live with their One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services (OASIS) program, which is set to completely revamp the way the federal government buys products and services. Their first contract is entirely devoted to procuring professional services from small businesses, and the Request for Proposal (RFP) contains over $12 billion of supply opportunities.
Small businesses that want to participate in OASIS must sign up in the System for Award Management registry. Doing this is free, and the government claims that this will give you a more streamlined and integrated environment – however, you should be aware that the process can take several weeks. Moving beyond simple registration, you may want to think about getting guidance. For example, an experienced businessman such as angel investor Steve Spinner can offer tips on what it takes to succeed.
As with previous procurement systems, OASIS provides specific set-asides for small businesses, and in fact has both a separate large business and small business program. It is also worth noting that if you aren’t selected for a particular contract, this doesn’t mean that you will be locked out of further government opportunities. According to Jim Ghiloni, the director of the OASIS program, “This program is not going to lock down in 10 years. There will be fluidity in the contractor pool over time. And if you’re not qualified when the RFP comes out, it doesn’t mean you’re locked out for 10 years.”
The opportunity to win lucrative federal supply contracts is not one that your small business can afford to pass up. While there is an upfront learning curve and effort, the US government is committed to contracting with small businesses.