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Session 1: Entering the Federal Marketplace

Wednesday, July 16, 1997
2:45 - 4:00 pm



Speaker 1: Della Ford, Small Business Administration

In this session, panelists were asked to discuss key issues related to doing business with DOD and GSA. They were asked to outline agency policy and procedures for entering the federal market and to address special needs and programs available to the small environmental entrepreneur.

Ms. Della Ford of the Small Business Administration (SBA), provided a comprehensive overview of recent federal procurement changes including the Federal Acquisition Streamling Act (FASA) and the Federal Acquisition Reform Act (FARA) that reduce paperwork associated with federal procurement and encourage federal purchase of commercial products. She explained the trend toward use of electronic commerce, changes in evaluation criteria focusing on performance and best value, and reviewed some of SBA's programs targeting the small business entrepreneur. She explained the Pro-Net Internet site under construction and several other new SBA initiatives.

These recent changes make it easier for most vendors to participate in the federal marketplace. For example, electronic commerce expedites the processing of orders, redefines minimum notice and response times, expedites and broadens information dissemination, generates increased competition, and makes it easier for buyers to comparison shop and to receive just-in-time deliveries of goods. The changes relating to "Best Value Practices" allow federal purchasers to make decisions based on performance and quality, rather than exclusively on the basis of low price. At the same time that government agencies are increasingly cost conscious, they must also improve service.

SBA has several programs that help vendors become aware of and take advantage of these changes. For example, SBA's "Prime Contracts Program" and "Subcontracting Assistance Program" help to ensure that small businesses get their fair share of business by teaming them with the large prime contractors through "8(a) Set Asides". This ensures that the large contractors comply with small business requirements. A Certification of Competency program also allows unsuccessful bidders to appeal, ensuring fair and open competition.

SBA's Procurement Automated Source System (PASS) contains a database of over 200,000 small businesses that is used by over 1,000 federal agencies. This electronic database is currently being updated to the PRO-NET. This Internet site is designed to be interactive with search capabilities and will be accessible through SBA's home page. Business can register by calling 1-800-231-PASS. By the year 2000, SBA anticipates that the most of the federal government will be conducting their procurement activities electronically. SBA's website, www.sba.gov/gc provides current information on that effort.

SBA is also conducting a pilot program with the Department of Transportation (DOT) to significantly streamline the 8(a) procurement process (e.g., small business set-aside program).

Speaker 2: Pat Geisinger, General Services Administration

Ms. Geisinger joined GSA in August 1989. As the small business Technical Advisor with the Office of Enterprise Development, she coordinates comprehensive business and counseling services and provides information and advice on selling to the Federal Government. Ms. Geisinger organizes and conducts a monthly small business breakfast designed to bring together minority, veteran and women small business entrepreneurs, interested in doing business with GSA, with representatives from Atlanta's large business and government purchasing community.

Pat Geisinger of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) explained the various ways that GSA helps small businesses find federal customers. She indicated that procurement over $25,000 are advertised in the Commerce Business Daily (CBD) which is now free on the Internet. For federal agencies that conduct their procurement electronically, the threshold will move to $50,000 and ultimately to $100,000, which means that more procurement will not need to go through a formal bid process. She said that many federal agencies are using the PASS system to find vendors for small purchases (under $25,000).

GSA is currently deciding whether it will use the existing FACNET system or use the World Wide Web.

GSA has three buying agencies: The Public Building Service (PBS) that is responsible for building construction and maintenance; The Federal Supply Service (FSS) that procures products, and the Federal Telecommunications Network (FTN) that procures telephone and other communications systems for the federal government.

GSA encourages agencies to buy recycled products and is actively seeking to contract with vendors that supply products that are environmentally preferable. GSA's Schedules program (FSS) is a way for new vendors to start doing business with the federal government. A New Item Introductory Schedule is designed to introduce new products and is particularly relevant for vendors of environmentally preferable products, as was done with refurbished toner cartridges, to the FSS schedules. Vendors must submit a 2-page form, prove the products commercial marketability, and provide evidence of $2,000 worth of federal sales to participate. However, sometimes GSA can waive some of these requirements for EPP products on a case-by-case basis.

Ms. Geisinger also mentioned GSA's Advantage program, which is an online shopping service [https://www.gsaadvantage.gov/advgsa/advantage/main/start_page.do]. It is essentially an "electronic shopping mall" with nine "stores" offering thousands of commercial products and is expanding to offer more than 4 million items from more than 6,000 vendors. Holders of federal government credit cards can place orders directly. In fiscal year 1996, federal government charge card sales exceeded $4 billion. Ms. Geisinger expects that figure to be much higher in FY 1997. She pointed out that services, such as film developing, are the primary types of purchases effected through the VISA card. Agencies can provide lists of charge card holders, something that could be a very valuable marketing tool to vendors on GSA schedules. She emphasized that vendors are responsible for motivating procurement officials to actually buy their products; simply getting on GSA's schedule does not guarantee sales. GSA does do some limited marketing. She also emphasized that GSA is no longer a mandatory source of supply for federal agencies and that federal agencies can buy direct on the open market, especially if GSA does not have a schedule for an item that are interested in buying.

For more information or for a copy of the appropriate vendor registration form, contact Ms. Geisinger directly at 404-331-5103.

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