Can I Participate in Government Bids Without a GSA Schedule?
The short answer is yes, you can participate in government bids without a GSA Schedule. However, it’s much more nuanced than that, and you can be missing out on huge opportunities within the federal marketplace. Open market sales to the federal government take much longer and can be more costly than sales through a government contracting vehicle, and other vehicles are not as flexible or available.
Many federal agencies are required to make their government procurements using either the GSA Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) program or other Multi-Agency Contracts (MACs). The GSA Schedule is often the general starting point for many government contractors who are looking to do business with the federal government. Having a GSA Schedule contract allows doing business with the federal government faster, cheaper, and more straightforward for both the government buyer and your company.
Why Are GSA Schedules Important to Government Agencies?
When government agencies are looking to procure products or services from contractors, they will generally turn to the MAS program. Since GSA Schedule contracts are already pre-vetted by Contracting Officers to ensure that the government contractor is compliant with all Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) they know they are purchasing from a reliable source. Additionally, since all rates are pre-negotiated, the agency can be sure they are receiving the lowest rates possible, and other terms and conditions of the work performed will already be established. Due to these factors, government buyers will often exclusively look at GSA partners for fulfilling their government needs.
Other Government Contract Vehicles
Of course the GSA MAS program isn't the only way you can sell to the government. There's of course the open market, which we'll cover below, and a few select contract vehicles. Becoming a contract-holder on a Governmentwide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) or MAC can grant you additional access to government opportunities. However, these vehicles are timely and only open every so often, while the GSA Schedule has a rolling award process, meaning you can apply at any time. GWACs are also only specific to IT products and services, while GSA contractors can sell from almost every industry.
Additionally, having a GSA Schedule does not hold you back from bidding on these GWACs or MACs. GSA Schedule holders can still become awardees on upcoming contract vehicles while also having opportunities to sell from their GSA contract. Plus, some GWACs such as Alliant 3 and Polaris are actually GSA-specific vehicles, meaning only GSA contractors are eligible.
What’s the Difference Between Open Market and GSA Schedules?
As mentioned above, the biggest advantage to being able to utilize the GSA Schedule vs. the open market is the pre-vetted, pre-negotiated rates set by GSA. The open market is also what agencies turn to when no solution can be found through a contract vehicle, so it is much less frequently used.
Finding business opportunities is significantly more challenging in the open market. There are several regulations that govern the relationship between items on the GSA Schedule and open market items. According to IAW FAR Subpart 8.402(f), open market items can be added to a Schedule order for administrative convenience, provided all open market procedures are followed. Contractors must also be sure that all open market rules are followed for any items. There is no dollar or percentage limitation to open market Contract Line-Item Number (CLIN)s. You can quote the Other Direct Costs within quotes, but your order Contracting Officer will have to decide if they are approved. In other words, the open market still has restrictions and is not always viable for government buyers or contractors.
Benefits of GSA Schedules
Additionally, the GSA Schedules program provides excellent marketing tools for contract holders that you cannot get on the open market. One example of this is GSA Advantage!. GSA Advantage! works like the “Amazon” of GSA because it lets contractors upload products, product photos, and product descriptions and utilize key search words for main selling factors to optimize search results. It’s also a great tool to scope out competitors and stay up to date on the offerors within your niche market.
Another tool available exclusively to GSA Schedule contract holders is GSA eBuy. This is an acquisition tool that agencies use to request information and quotes from GSA Schedule contract holders. GSA eBuy often contains high-dollar, high-profile contract opportunities not available anywhere else. GSA eBuy makes it easy to find business opportunities, respond to government requests, and establish new business relationships.
How to Find Out if a GSA Schedule is Right for You
Although having a GSA Schedule contract has a lot of benefits, the acquisition process can be time-consuming, and it takes a considerable amount of resources to maintain compliance after your contract is awarded. Since your GSA Schedule is meant to grow with your business, you’ll need to consistently update it through contract modifications when pricing changes, if you want to add/delete products, and for any other administration changes. Before you embark on the process of getting a GSA contract, you should make sure your company is eligible to sell to the government through a GSA Schedule and ready for the commitment. To learn more about becoming a contractor in the GSA MAS program, take a look at our blogs, “Is My Company Eligible to Sell to the Government Through a GSA Schedule?” and “GSA Contractor Requirements: What You Need to Get on a GSA Schedule.”
If you have any more questions about the GSA Schedule program and its benefits or requirements, reach out to one of our consulting experts today. Our consultants are here to answer all your questions and help you make sense of the world of government contracting.