GSA SCHEDULE BEGINNER’S GUIDE

GSA BEGINNER’S GUIDE

How do you qualify for GSA and how hard is it to get a GSA contract? 
In general, most vendors that have been fairly stable and successful within their niche in the open market, have got the necessary criteria that it takes to be an effective partaker on the federal arena.

Check if you Qualify to be a GSA Contractor

Hence, the General Services Administration has two most basic and clear-cut requirements for getting a GSA Schedule contract: having been in business at least two years, and having generated gross revenue of over 100K in each of the two years prior to applying. These basic standards are intended to ensure the likelihood that the applicant is a steady company, established within their field, and that they are going to be around for years to come, providing the gov’t with assurance that a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship will ensue. This is not to say that small start-ups can never enter the GSA world; however, the gov’t does want to partner up with organizations that have already proven themselves to some considerable extent. All in all, two years and 100K are not unrealistic expectations, but if a candidate does not currently have these milestones in place, he should not bother pursuing business with the GSA, until they are achieved.

To be exact on the “two years in business” prerequisite, one can actually start the preparation process earlier, say at a one-and-a-half-year mark. It could take several months to put together all the paperwork, and so the process of preparation should commence earlier. However, to actually submit all the paperwork to a contracting officer at the GSA, the hopeful will have to hit the two-year mark, on the dot. 

Steps to Get a GSA Schedule Contract and  how to get a GSA number

Next topic to consider is how to get on the GSA schedule. The procedure to get GSA certified can be described as threefold: 

  1. Putting together all the documents into what is called an “Offer”. This consists of roughly 150 to 200 pages of various documents, forms, templates, spreadsheets, affidavits, etc.

In this offer package, the applicant will describe the products/services they would furnish, as well as their existing pricing vs. the pricing they are prepared to offer to the federal buyers. The GSA makes certain that the prices offered are either the same or lower than what the applicant extends to their existing, commercial clients. The examining officer, officially called “Contracting Officer”, or CO, will ask for sample invoices that the applicant had generated in the recent past, in order to assure themselves that the vendor did indeed extend the aforementioned products or services, and that the pricing on those was either higher or the same as what is being offered to the feds. The GSA will ask for the best possible deal, and so candidates should be prepared to meet such expectations.

In addition to the above, CO will want to look at the vendor’s financial balance/tax documents, to ensure that the applicant is a solid, profitable organization.

There is a section where the candidate describes their experience within the given field. Some of the other criteria that will be examined are quality assurance procedures, duties of the various company officers, general corporate structure, methods of employees’ compensation, subcontracting plans (if applicable), letters of supply (in case of product resellers), and references from current customers.

  1. Once the package is deemed to be complete, it gets submitted to the contracting officer for further review and analysis. This is usually the longest stage of the process. Depending on a variety of factors, it could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. There is a chance the CO may initially reject the application; no need to be discouraged, as this is usually done to either further clarify what seems to the contracting officer to be incorrect or ambiguous, or negotiate a certain term in the offer packet that they find unfavorable, or unacceptable. It is actually normal for further documentation and adjustment to be required by CO, and in most instances can be produced by the applicant, for the offer packet to then be re-submitted. This is a part of the endeavor. Such re-submissions are often more than just one or two, and even though it is always better to get it all in on the first attempt, they are usually unavoidable, and are completely normal. 
  2. Eventually, after all the thorough examination, analysis, rejection, resubmission, negotiation and clarification, the schedule is awarded. Applicant’s Terms & Conditions, along with the catalog of products (if applicable) gets created and published on the GSA Advantage website and the vendor is ready to do business with the federal government. 

The project is now complete and sales orders should follow.  At this point, the newly-authorized vendor is eligible to receive orders through either the GSA Advantage, i.e., the Amazon of gov’t procurement, or through what’s called the eBuy, where RFIs/RFQs/RFPs are posted and responded to. The GSA Advantage is typically utilized by federal buyers when it comes to fairly low-volume product orders, i.e., up to $10,000 per order. Anything higher, as well as procurement of various services are usually posted on eBuy and responded to via contract bids, by the various vendors competing to win the business. One would have to satisfy the posted tender’s terms and conditions, as well as come up with attractive pricing, in order to get picked.

As in any business field, offering what’s in demand and at the right prices, increases and pretty much guarantees chances of success. The GSA is no different, as in some respects, it is a mirror reflection for the open, commercial marketplace. 

However, there are certain intricacies at hand, when it comes to generating a good sales flow with the government, both substantive and procedural. We will be coming back to those, shortly.

  1. Can I get gsa certified on my own and when should I seek help getting a GSA contract are  questions often asked by new hopefuls. Sure, it is certainly allowed and there is not a law or regulations that point to the contrary. However,  the GSA can be a bit overwhelming for beginners; the type of technical input and formatting, complex templates and somewhat convoluted questions asked during the process may prompt one to seek outside help from an experienced consultant. Should such assistance be in order, Price Reporter would be glad to provide it. More information can be see on www.pricereproter.com

Can anyone buy from GSA?

Absolutely not. The general public are not allowed to shop on the GSA. 

The system was created for the sole purpose of numerous government entities to quickly and conveniently fulfill the needs for the necessary services, equipment, and supplies.  Everything offered through the GSA  carries lower costs than in the open market, thereby saving the taxpayer’s money, by qualified vendors who had satisfied the highest standard of diligence and professionalism, required to get a GSA Schedule contract.

What can I offer to the various federal organizations, being an authorized GSA vendor? 

Having figured out how to get started with the GSA, one would need to get more into the specifics of what she will be selling to the gov’t.

As we mentioned previously, the federal buyers are out to procure a huge variety of products and services. Government ‘s needs are basically the same as those of the buyers in the commercial sector. 

In other words, anything that is purchased by companies or individuals for their abundant needs, gets offered and sold through the GSA marketplace, as well. Be it food catering, personal fitness training, logistics and trucking, IT and finance, construction and engineering, restaurant or office supply, furniture and building maintenance, and endless other fields; the federal agencies need it all…

Below is an excerpt from a gov’t online source, listing all the main categories and their pertinent subdivisions on the GSA marketplace:

Facilities

Facilities Maintenance and Repair

Facilities Services

Facilities Solutions

Facilities Supplies

Food Service Equipment

Structures

Human Capital

Background Investigations

Compensation and Benefits

Human Resources

Social Services

Information Technology

Electronic Commerce

IT Hardware

IT Services

IT Software

IT Solutions

IT Training

Telecommunications

Office Management

Audio Visual Products

Audio Visual Services

Document Services

Mail Management

Media Products

Media Services

Office Management Maintenance and Repair

Office Services

Office Supplies

Printing and Photographic Equipment

Records Management

Scientific Management and Solutions

Laboratory Animals

Laboratory Equipment

Medical Equipment

Scientific Services

Search and Navigation

Testing and Analysis

Transportation and Logistics Services

Automotive Body Maintenance and Repair

Motor Vehicles (non-Combat)

Package Delivery

Packaging Services

Transportation of Things

Furniture & Furnishings

Fitness Solutions

Flooring

Furniture Services

Healthcare Furniture

Household, Dormitory & Quarters Furniture

Miscellaneous Furniture

Office Furniture

Packaged Furniture

Signs

Industrial Products and Services

Cleaning Supplies

Fire/Rescue/Safety/Environmental Protection Equipment

Fuel Management

Hardware and Tools

Industrial Products

Industrial Products and Services Maintenance and Repair

Machinery and Components

Packaging

Test and Measurement Supplies

Miscellaneous

Apparel

Awards

Complementary Special Item Numbers (SINs)

Flags

Musical Instruments

Personal Hair Care Items

Professional Services

for more information, visit: www.gsa.gov/masprofessionalservices

Business Administrative Services

Environmental Services

Financial Services

Identity Protection Services

Language Services

Legal Services

Logistical Services

Marketing and Public Relations

Technical and Engineering Services (non- IT)

Training

Security and Protection

Marine and Harbor

Protective Equipment

Security Animals and Related Services

Security Services

Security Systems

Testing Equipment

Travel

Employee Relocation

Lodging

Travel Agent and Miscellaneous Services.

What obstacles and challenges should I expect and how do I prepare? 

As one can see, the above listings are pretty much all-encompassing, and so almost anyone would have something that would fall into at least one category, and perhaps more.  Now, as far as the potential selling volumes, current demands for certain segments over the others; this is a part of the strategic approach a vendor would have to adopt, in order to actually be successful. 

Obviously, everyone wants to be able to sell more, at the highest profit margins possible, and so naturally, that is when competition kicks in. Unless a vendor offers something truly unique, there will be other companies on the GSA marketplace doing something similar, and perhaps exactly the same. This is why one constantly needs to keep on their toes and watch out for what the competitors are up to. 

Just like in the commercial sector, one needs to be sharp and diligent, when pricing their products or services, describe them clearly and accurately, in order to enable federal procurement officers to search them easily and conveniently. Once again, the crucial point to mention over and over, is that pricing will be one of the decisive, if not the single most important factor, for the buyers when making their purchasing decisions.

The good news is that there are tools and methods available for the vendors to utilize in their quest to be more competitive. When it comes to products vs. services, products are easier to search up within the publicly accessible data that contains all the items being offered on the GSA, within every category. The criteria utilized includes part numbers, SKUs, descriptions, manufacturer, sellers’ and buyers’ info, date and volume for each particular transaction. Vendors are strongly encouraged to perform such research and analysis, in order to stay on the edge and ensure a decent sales flow.

When it comes to products, things work a bit differently; since services are often described uniquely by individual vendors, and do not have SKUs and part numbers assigned to them, they are more difficult to compile into a workable, concise intelligence report. Moreover, it is customary for services to be obtained by federal buyers through what is called the eBuy portal. The eBuy is where solicitations are constantly posted by the purchasing agencies via RFI (Request for Information), RFP (Request for Proposal), and RFQ (Request for Quotation). GSA-authorized vendors are granted access credentials to view such solicitations within their niche segment and are at liberty to respond with their proposals.

In order to win such tenders, one has to satisfy the terms and conditions posted by the procuring agency within the text of solicitation, and come up with attractive pricing for the required services. 

The eBuy is where the longer, high volume service contracts are acquired, so vendors are expected to actively participate in the bidding process, when striving to secure an adequate business pipeline. 

How is this different from servicing regular clients, in the commercial sector?

There are, indeed, some profound differences, when it comes to dealing with the federal agencies, vs. servicing your open market clients. A number of compliance regulations are in place. 

  1. GSA Schedule has to be renewed at every 5-year increment. You are granted a schedule for 20 years; however, it has to go through the process of renewal three times, every five years thereafter. This is normally initiated at least 6 months prior to the actual expiration date. The contracting officer examines a vendor’s sales activities, and in most cases the total annual gross sales volume has to be at least $25,000. For the majority of businesses, this is not an issue, however for someone who has not been active at all and let his schedule sit dormant, this may become a relevant obstacle. In some instances, the CO would let it slide and grant the renewal. In any case, should one not be able to reach such a figure, there needs to be an adequate, reasonable explanation as to why.
  1. Any changes to the Schedule must go through a modification process. In the commercial market, unless bonded by a pre existing agreement, you may choose to simply raise your prices on the clients, as you please. You are at liberty to add or delete products or services from your offerings, pretty much at any time. 

In the GSA world, any such alteration has to be prepared within a certain format, submitted to the contracting officer, reviewed, approved, and only then uploaded on the GSA Advantage. 

Price reductions and item deletions are fairly easy to get approved. However, new additions and price hikes could get pretty complicated and cumbersome. No one likes it when things get more expensive, and the gov’t is no exception. Clear and convincing reasons need to be presented to the CO, along with supporting paperwork, and sometimes market research results, in order for the numbers to be allowed to go up. In some cases, specifics of a price increase can be negotiated during the original schedule award. Depending on the segment, and a slew of other pertinent factors, this may or may not be fixed in. But regardless, a formal procedure must be followed through, and this could take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.

The same applies to adding new products and services. Vendors have to show where and how they obtain new items that they are about to list. This is intended to establish a probability that an uninterrupted supply will be made available to the buying agencies, on demand. Letters of Supply are obtained from the vendors’ suppliers and forwarded to the CO. In case the vendor is a manufacturer, a different type of certification is produced.

When adding services, vendors are asked to provide proof that they are competent and experienced with performing them. Customer references and prior project experience need to be demonstrated, in order to get the new services categories approved. Reasoning behind this is for the feds to make sure they will eventually be procuring services from vendors that will get the job done.  

When a product or service is deleted due to no longer being available or relevant, a “minor” modification is in order. Although the likelihood of being approved off the bat is almost 100%, the formal procedure must still be followed.

Same goes for sales price reduction. Oftentimes, a product reseller will discount prices on some of the offered products, to attract more business from federal buyers. The contracting officers will normally be fine with lower figures; however, they still have to check off on the changes. 

  1. TAA Compliance. All the products must be compliant to the clauses of the Trade Agreement Act, i.e., TAA.  Basically, the TAA ensures that the offered items are either fully manufactured or substantially transformed/assembled in either the USA or an approved country. Below is the list of TAA approved countries, by category:

World Trade Organization (WTO) Government Procurement Agreement Countries

Armenia, Aruba, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea (Republic of), Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan (known in the World Trade Organization as “the

Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (Chinese Taipei)”), or United Kingdom)

Caribbean Basin Countries

Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bonaire, British Virgin

Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saba, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St.Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, or Trinidad and Tobago)

Least Developed Countries

Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia,

Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kiribati, Laos, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tuvalu, Uganda, Vanuatu, Yemen, or Zambia Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kiribati, Laos, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tuvalu, Uganda, Vanuatu, Yemen, or Zambia

Free Trade Agreement Countries

Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bonaire, British Virgin

Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saba, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Eustatius, Saint Maarten, or Trinidad and Tobago

  1. IT side of schedule management.  What many vendors find to be quite complex and burdensome, is the IT side of GSA.  Various templates and spreadsheets need to be compiled and formatted, and any time a change in the contract takes place, it has to be reflected on the GSA Advantage website, by uploading the updated Terms & Conditions, and catalogs. Up until now, it was done via SIP software. SIP is somewhat overly-complicated, not the most user-friendly method of upload, and takes a certain degree of knowledge and tech savviness to navigate. In addition to SIP, the GSA now allows EDI uploads. EDI works much quicker and smoother; however, one would have to find an IT service provider that is able and authorized to perform EDI uploads on the GSA system. 

Although somewhat complicated, potential applicants should not be discouraged by this. Whether by an experienced in-house employee or through a third-party consultant, such hurdles can be overcome with relative ease. 

  1. IFF fees. Every sales transaction that takes place via GSA contract incurs a transaction fee that must be paid separately from regular taxes. Industrial Funding Fee of 0.75% is what keeps the General Services Administration moving financially, as it is a self-funded government agency.

Vendors must take care to submit these quarterly, and in some instances monthly sales reports timely and accurately, to avoid any gaps and discrepancies, potentially leading to unnecessary complications. Many vendors get this covered internally, through their accounting department, although third-party consultants often include it as part of their ongoing contract management for regular clients.

  1. Marketing and advertising. Many GSA contractors often ask how they can solicit themselves to potential buyers. The answer is not a simple one. As a rule, government procurement professionals’ frown upon direct sales attempts. It is not customary for vendors to simply cold- call the various agencies and offer their products or services out of the blue. Even if the right contact info is somehow obtained by the vendors’ business development specialists, chances are, their efforts will be to no avail, and possibly even cause more harm than good. 

There are ways though, to make oneself known and accessible to the gov’t buyers. Attending trade shows is one; there is an annual GSA fair that vendors are able to attend, and establish connections by simply meeting the right people and establishing continuous relationships. That is the main benefit of such events, and it should most certainly be taken advantage of. 

Another method is indirect solicitation.  Instead of cold-calling people directly, one may 

post brochures and catalogs on various online platforms, that a gov’t buyer may be frequenting, as well as physically sending such materials to a publicly known agency address which is suited for such purposes.  

Another very effective way, which has been mentioned previously, is by making sure one’s GSA Advantage catalog contains accurate descriptions, easily searched by buyers; pictures, if applicable, help a great deal, as well.  Searching up what’s in demand currently, and adding those to existing catalogs would be most helpful. And last but not least, attractive pricing is one of the decisive considerations that most buyers will immediately consider as a crucial factor in their buying tactics. Procurement officers are obligated to save the tax payer’s dollars, so it’s a no-brainer that the best priced products and services will be prioritized. Once again, market analysis needs to be performed to this effect, whether internally, or through a consultant that offers such.  

  1. I am a small business, will I succeed? Will the gov’t even consider me, vs some of the bigger companies out there?

No need to be alarmed. In fact, about 80% of all companies on the GSA qualify as small businesses. Moreover, the buyers are obligated to set aside a large chunk of their procurement to go in the direction of such companies.  

The GSA works closely with the Small Business Administration, to encourage the growth of small entities. To say that the GSA is small business-oriented would not be an overstatement.

Are GSA contracts worth it?

The short answer is a yes. The benefits that being a GSA-authorized vendor brings are numerous:

  1. GSA credentials open up enormous opportunities by allowing one to get involved in business dealings with dozens of federal agencies, which there are plenty of:

Executive Office of the President (EOP):

Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR)

The White House

Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Agricultural Research Service

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

Economic Research Service

Farm Service Agency

Forest Service

National Agricultural Library

Natural Resources Conservation Service

Rural Development

Department of Commerce (DOC)

Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)

Census Bureau

International Trade Administration (ITA)

NOAA Fisheries

National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST)

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

National Ocean Service

National Technical Information Service (NTIS)

National Telecommunications and Information Administration

National Weather Service

Patent and Trademark Office

Department of Defense (DOD)

Air Force

Army

Defense Logistics Agency (DLA)

Marines

National Security Agency (NSA)

Navy

Department of Education

Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC)

Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

National Library of Education (NLE)

Department of Energy (DOE)

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)

Office of Science

Pantex Plant

Sandia National Laboratories

Savannah River Site

Southwestern Power Administration

Y-12 National Security Complex

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

National Library of Medicine (NLM)

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Citizenship and Immigration Services

Coast Guard

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers

Intelligence Careers

Secret Service

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae)

Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes (OLHCHH)

Public and Indian Housing (PIH)

Department of the Interior (DOI)

Bureau of Land Management

Bureau of Reclamation

Fish and Wildlife Service

Indian Affairs

National Park Service (NPS)

Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE)

US Geological Survey (USGS)

Department of Justice (DOJ)

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

Federal Bureau of Prisons

Office of Justice Programs (OJP)

US Marshals Service (USMS)

Department of Labor (DOL)

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)

Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)

Department of State (DOS)

Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN)

Department of State Library

Department of Transportation (DOT)

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

Department of the Treasury

Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Bureau of the Fiscal Service

Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN)

Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC)

United States Mint

Department of Veterans Affairs

In addition to the above, the state and municipal governments, as well as local agencies, such the police, fire, and public works, were recently allowed to utilize the GSA for their purchasing needs. 

It is obvious that the amount of expenditure by all these organizations combined is quite huge: roughly 30 billion USD were spent through GSA procurement in 2021, and that number is expected to increase significantly, going forward. 

  1. The US government is the highest spending customer in the world. When the going gets tough in the commercial sector, be it due to a recession, pandemic, or other foreseeable or not so foreseeable circumstances, federal vendors have the advantage, with such a stable and credible client aboard. And even though the feds are not totally immune to various economic ups and downs, the impact of such fluctuations will, in most instances, hit them much less than the commercial segment.
  2. “GSA – approved” stands for quality, diligence, professionalism. It is implied, as a matter of course, that one has what it takes to first become a federal vendor, and then maintain their good standing over the course of contract duration. The ability to satisfy various criteria that were previously mentioned speaks for itself and positions the vendor as a reputable and stable organization, worthy of doing business with. This instills a great deal of confidence and respect that carries over to all areas of business, outside of the GSA, and can be used as an effective sales and marketing tool with private customers.

Conclusion:

All in all, getting on the GSA and maintaining a GSA schedule is a big undertaking.  It comes with an array of responsibilities. There are numerous compliance and technical aspects that come into play that will require expenditure of company resources on financial, technical, and human levels. It is a new and unmarked territory which naturally brings worries, doubts, and uncertainties. 

There are, however, effective navigational and managerial tools available at one’s disposal. After all, thousands of businesses; big and small have benefited tremendously from participating on the federal marketplace, and your business should, too.

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