The General Services Administration (GSA) Is Your Connection To Government Contracts
The General Services Administration buys commercial-type and general-purpose items and services for all government agencies. It uses a variety of contract methods, including Multiple Award Schedules and GSA Contract Schedules.
The General Services Administration (GSA), one of the government's largest agencies, helps other agencies acquire the products, services, consulting advice, space, real estate, and vehicles they need from federal and commercial sources. It acts as a catalyst for approximately $66 billion in federal spending annually, which accounts for more than one-fourth of the U.S. government's total procurement dollars.
GSA simplifies government buying and reduces government costs by negotiating large multi-user contracts and by leveraging the volume of the federal market to drive down prices. Federal agencies then place orders against these contracts. Orders are placed in a variety of ways—through catalogs, phone or fax, electronic requisitioning, auctions, the Internet, or by contacting suppliers directly. GSA contracts are awarded for a period of five years, with three- to five-year option clauses. Most GSA contracts are for standard types of services and "commercial off-the-shelf" (COTS) products and equipment in three major areas:
- general-purpose supplies, equipment, vehicles and services
- office space and land management, building construction, repair and maintenance
- information technology and professional services
GSA contracts are available to large and small businesses that provide nationwide or local services and products. GSA contracts are advertised, awarded, and managed by GSA regional offices and acquisition centers. All GSA contracting opportunities over $25,000 are advertised on the FedBizOpps website.
So, as you can see, if your business provides commercial products or services, GSA is a potential customer that you want to get to know and learn how to do business with. And, as you can also see, it is easy to understand why GSA is sometimes referred to as the "Sears, Roebuck" for the government.
GSA Service Organizations
The GSA has two service organizations:
- Public Buildings Service (PBS) — This is the largest public real estate organization in the U.S., maintaining more than 340 million square feet of workspace for more than one million federal employees in more than 2,100 cities, with an inventory of 8,300 government-owned buildings and leased properties.
- Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) — This is a consolidation of the old Federal Technology Service (FTS) and the popular Federal Supply Service (FSS). It provides federal and other customers with the products, services, and programs they need to meet their supply, service, procurement, vehicle purchasing and leasing, travel and transportation, and personal property management requirements. This is done by bringing hundreds of thousands of federal customers together with over 14,000 contractors through six primary business lines:
- Commercial Acquisition
- Transportation Programs
- Travel Programs
- Vehicle Acquisition & Leasing Services
- Property Management
- GSA Global Supply
Since the GSA's Office of Commercial Acquisition is the area that presents the greatest opportunity for small businesses, this is where we will focus our discussion. (For further information, see the Public Buildings Service website.)
GSA Schedules and Goals
Like any business looking to sell its products or services to the government through the GSA, your goal is to get on a "GSA Schedule" and obtain your own "GSA number." Here's what that means.
GSA manages a federal supply schedules program known as the Multiple Awards Schedules (MAS). MAS are long-term, government-wide contracts with commercial firms providing commercial services and products ordered directly by government buyers from GSA Schedule contractors or through GSA Advantage!, GSA's online shopping and ordering system. GSA Schedules cover a vast array of brand name items from office supplies and copier paper to systems furniture and from computers to laboratory equipment as well as a wide range of services, such as accounting, engineering, management, graphic design, landscaping and elevator repair.
To "get on schedule" — become a GSA Schedule contractor — you must first be awarded a contract. In order to obtain a GSA Schedule contract, you must submit an "offer" in response to the applicable Schedule solicitation. GSA uses practices similar to those found in the commercial buying arena and awards contracts to responsible companies that offer commercial items or services falling within the generic descriptions in each of the more than 40 different Schedules (these descriptions are referred to as Schedule Item Numbers or SINs). Contracting Officers determine that prices are fair and reasonable by comparing the prices or discounts that a company "offers" to GSA with the prices or discounts that the company offers to its own commercial customers (known as "most favored customer" (MFC) pricing). In order to make this comparison, GSA contracting officers require companies to furnish commercial price lists and disclose information regarding their pricing/discounting practices during the application process.
Why would government buyers prefer to order via GSA Multiple Award Schedules instead of procuring products or services on the open market? There are several reasons. When government buyers place orders against a GSA MAS contract, they are considered to have met federal regulations regarding competition, pricing, and other socioeconomic requirements. In addition, government buyers know that to be "on schedule," GSA Schedule contractors have already been screened for quality, responsibility, reliability, and other criteria during the application process; therefore government buying offices save the time, money, and trouble of having to go through that process themselves.
We assume that, at this point, you are seeing some benefits in getting your company "on schedule." Although the process can be somewhat long and complicated, it can be worth it to you and your company.
Assistance with the GSA Schedules solicitation process is readily available. GSA offers GSA Schedules Contract Training for businesses looking to become GSA Schedule contractors. To find more information, visit the GSA website.
And, as always, you can consult your local PTAC for help and advice on working through the process.
Step-by-Step Guide for Multiple Award Schedules
The six steps in this guide will, among other things, help you determine the correct MAS Schedule and the correct Special Item Number (SIN), evaluate the competition's products and pricing, assess market potential, prepare a solicitation package, and handle negotiations with a GSA Contracting Officer. The end goal is that you "get on schedule" and receive that much-sought-after "GSA Contract" or "GSA Number," which many businesses work very hard to obtain.
Step 1: Determine which GSA Schedule and which Special Item Number(s) [SIN(s)] apply to your company's product(s) and/or service(s). These are the numbers you will use throughout the application process and in dealing with GSA.
Note 1: There are more than 40 Schedules currently available through the MAS program. (See this GSA site for the complete Schedule List. Use the search command to find a brief description of the products and/or services that each Schedule covers.)
Note 2: There is a rule that may affect the GSA Schedule you choose. A contractor has to have sales of at least $25,000 in the first 24 months and for 12 months each following year or that GSA contract will be canceled.
- Go to the GSA Schedules e-Library and enter a keyword that best describes your company's product/service in the space under the word "Search". Then click the Search button. The search results will include a listing of the relative Schedule number(s) and the Special Item Number(s) (SIN) that best matches your keyword.
- Read the category description next to the SIN number and determine whether this SIN category is a good match for your product/service. If not, start a new search with a different keyword.
- Watch for the "Introduction of New Products" SIN categories, which could appear on most of the MAS Schedules.
- After finding a match on a SIN category, click on the highlighted SIN number itself. You will get a listing of all current contractors for that category, their contract number, phone number, business indicators (large, small, woman-owned, disadvantaged, 8(a), veteran ownership, etc.), and details about their GSA Advantage! status. You will also get contact information, including website, phone, and email address.
- Review this information to learn details about possible GSA competitors.
- Print and save this information for later research on awards.
- Save the name, phone number, and e-mail address of the GSA Schedule contact person, which appears at the top of the first page. You may need answers to questions as you go through the process.
- Jot down your SIN number and the Schedule number that corresponds with your desired SIN category (such as 75 Office Products/Services Schedule; or 03FAC Facilities Maintenance and Management Schedule). You will need your SIN and Schedule numbers later in this process.
Step 2: Determine whether your product or service is currently required to be purchased/contracted with so called "mandated" sources, such as the Federal Prison Industry or UNICOR, the National Institute of the Blind (NIB), or the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped (NISH).
It is difficult to win a GSA contract for products that GSA determines would compete with these mandatory product suppliers.
- Go to the GSA Advantage! website.
- Go to "Advanced Search."
- Enter a product keyword, click in the box next to UNICOR Mandatory Items, and click FIND IT.
- Go BACK and repeat the process using the box next to NIB/NISH/JWOD.
- If your product(s) does appear as a mandatory source item, further research is needed before proceeding. Do the following for each product shown as a Strategic Sourcing Item:
- Click on the highlighted UNICOR name button. This leads to its home page, which details its program, rules, and products.
- Click on the highlighted NIB/NISH/JWOD name button. This leads to its home page, which details its program, rules, and products.
- For either UNICOR or NIB/NISH/JWOD, contact the Schedule point of contact person listed in the GSA e-library research from Step 1. That person can advise you on whether to proceed with your own GSA solicitation or whether your product is too similar to a Strategic Sourcing Item.
Step 3: Research your competition. Your competitors are those contractors that already have a GSA contract for the SIN category(ies) you are considering for your own product/service. There are two parts to this research. Both parts should be done for each prospective SIN category.
Part 1 — Determine who your competition is, including company name, GSA-offered products, and prices for those products.
- Go to the GSA Library. Enter the first SIN number you are considering in the search line at the top of the page to determine which companies already have a GSA contract. The results are a listing of all current GSA contractors, their GSA contract numbers, phone numbers, and business size standards. Also listed is a column called "View Catalog," which indicates the contractor's GSA Advantage! status. It will show the Advantage! symbol or be blank. Note: GSA Advantage! is the site where government employees do their product research and online purchasing.
- Click on View Catalog for each contractor. The results will take you directly to the GSA Advantage! website listing for that contractor's products. The listing will show all of the contractor's products, item descriptions (including part numbers), and GSA contract prices. Note: In the case of services, pricing details may not be listed, so look under the column Contract Terms & Conditions.
- Review this information to determine how your products compare to those already available.
- Consider whether your company's prices for similar products are competitive with those currently available on that MAS Schedule.
- While viewing a GSA contractor's product, notice the two lines under each product listing; one lists the product's manufacturer and the other lists the product's contractor (the GSA contract holder). This information will tell you whether the contractor is a dealer or the manufacturer of the product. Note: In some cases, a contractor is a dealer for multiple manufacturers.
Part 2: In Part 1 of your research, you learned which possible competitors are currently on GSA Schedule, which products they offer, whether they are a dealer or the manufacturer, and their product prices. But there is more to learn about your potential competitors and the SIN(s) categories to help you determine your market potential. In order to determine this, your research in Part 2 is based on actual past sales from the GSA Schedules.
All GSA contractors are required to report on a quarterly basis their actual GSA sales. This reporting process is known as the "72A Quarterly Reporting." This data becomes part of the Schedule Sales Query (SSQ) Report that you will access in Part 2 of your competition research. The SSQ is the sales reported by contractors for specific report quarters from the current to the past five years.
The 72A Reports are GSA's way of determining the 0.75 percent Industrial Funding Fee (IFF) that all contractors must pay to GSA on a quarterly basis. (For more on the IFF, see Step 6.)
Note: Some contractors show $0 reported sales. There are two possible explanations for this: (1) they had $0 sales to report or (2) the contractor was only recently awarded its GSA contract, and enough time has not passed to file a 72A Quarterly Report.
To determine when a company was issued its GSA contract number: Go to the GSA e-library website, enter the contractor's name in the search line, and click Search. Click on the highlighted contractor's name. The results will provide useful research information, such as the contract number, contract end date, all contracted SIN(s) and GSA Advantage status, and the contractor's website and e-mail address. Remember to subtract five years from the listed contract end date shown to get the actual GSA contract award (start) date (all MAS contracts are awarded for five years).
- Your research in Part 2 is based on actual past sales from the GSA Schedules. At the GSA's Report Selection site, there are 11 report formats to choose from. Some formats indicate sales by quarter, while others are for yearly totals. More options include reports by specific SIN, Schedule, and contractor name or contract number.
- Use SSQ Report format 7 (Total by Quarter & SIN by Contract Number and Fiscal Year) to find each contractor's actual sales by SIN number on a quarterly basis. You will need the information you printed and saved in Step 1 of your research to look up each contractor by its contract number.
- Next use SSQ Report format 8 (Total for Each Quarter for a Specific SIN by Fiscal Year) to get the grand total of each SIN category by quarter. There are two things to look for here: (1) whether one contractor is getting the majority of the awards, and (2) whether the overall award amount for that SIN category is on the low side. If either of these is true, you might want to re-evaluate the idea of getting your own GSA contract for your products that fall within that SIN category. Another issue to consider if overall award amount is low: if, say, eight contractors shared only $20,000 worth of sales during the past year in one SIN category and if you add your company's product to that SIN category, will you fare any better or make the awards be larger?
Step 4: Locate the Schedule solicitation you have determined is best suited to your company's product(s)/service(s) and download all appropriate documents. The actual Schedule solicitations are updated at irregular intervals. In some cases the updates are known as "refreshed." In the case of refresh, they are numbered such as Refresh Number 5; always locate the solicitation with the most current "refresh" number.
Go to the site where solicitations are located at FedBizOpps:
- Click on "Advanced Search" at the top-left of the page and click GO to get to the Find Business Opportunities page
- In the "Full Text Search" space, enter the Schedule number (generally 2 or 3 digits). Then scroll down to "Search by Agency," highlight "General Services Administration," and click the "Start Search" button at the bottom of the page. The results will be a list of active GSA postings with that Schedule number. Note: You can enter the full solicitation number in the "Search by Solicitation."
- View each synopsis and determine the correct solicitation. Often there is more than just the solicitation listed, there may be modifications and/or amendment documents. It is important to know whether there are additional documents.
- Download ALL documents, including the solicitation, any modifications, etc. Expect it to be many pages. Example: For the popular Schedule 084, be sure to download the appropriate attachment (there are over 16 different ones) for your product in addition to the basic solicitation document itself.
- Click on the "Register to Receive Notification" line at the bottom of the solicitation announcement page and provide an e-mail address. This is a subscription to a mailing list for all future modifications or refreshed announcements for that solicitation.
Step 5: Complete the solicitation package. Now that you know which MAS Schedule fits your product/service line and have downloaded all necessary documents, it's time to complete the solicitation package.
- Remove cover pages. The first pages of a solicitation are the cover pages. They contain general information and notices of significant changes made to the solicitation since its last "refresh." These notices are informational and should be removed prior to submission of the solicitation package to GSA.
- Sign SF 1449. The first page of the actual solicitation is the Standard Form 1449 Solicitation/Contract, also known as the SF-1449 order for commercial items. Only complete blocks 12, 17b and 30a, b, c. The SF-1449 must be signed by someone able to bind the company into a legal contract with GSA.
- Read, understand and complete basic solicitation. All clauses that require responses must be completed; if they aren't, GSA will return your solicitation package as incomplete. Take the time to read the entire document, paragraph by paragraph, so everything is understood. Contact the POC (point of contact) with any questions or concerns you might have. An e-mail and phone number for the POC is listed on the cover page.
- Include pricelist and catalog/brochure. An important document in the solicitation process is your commercial pricelist. Two copies of your dated commercial pricelist and catalog/brochure containing the products you plan to offer must be submitted with your offer. There are several acceptable forms of pricelists, including published or printed, computer-generated, and copies of internal pricelists. In the catalog/brochure and your pricelist, you must mark the Special Item Number (SIN) next to ALL the products/services you are "offering." All the other products/services must be lined or marked out and the word "excluded" written next to those items not being offered. Do not supply a pricelist just for the GSA items; the Contracting Officer needs to see your actual commercial pricelist, not one that was specially designed just for GSA purposes. Note: If you are a dealer or distributor, a copy of your manufacturer's pricelist must be submitted along with a letter on the manufacturer's letterhead stating it authorizes you, the dealer, to sell to GSA and that it, the manufacturer, will provide all the necessary inventory to support the dealer's GSA sales for the term of the contract.
- Complete the Commercial Sales Practice Form (CSP-1). The CSP-1 form is a crucial part of any MAS solicitation. There are instructions on how to complete this form in the solicitation. In this form, you must state "whether the discounts and concessions which are being offered to the Government are equal to, or better than, the offeror's best price (discount and concessions in any combination) to any customer acquiring the same items offered under the SIN regardless of quantity or terms and conditions."
- If the answer is "yes," you must complete the chart for customer(s) who receive your best discount.
- If the answer is "no," you must complete the chart for all customers or categories of customers to which you sell at a price that is equal to or better than the prices being offered to the government. You must include an explanation of the situations that led to deviations from your standard practice.
- If the Contracting Officer is unable to determine that the prices offered are fair and reasonable because the deviations from your written policies or standard commercial sales practices are so significant, then the Contracting Officer may ask you to provide additional information. This may include copies of current company invoices to your "most favored customer" (MFC).
- Fill-in the Representations and Certifications. The Reps & Certs portion of the solicitation must be read and the appropriate boxes filled in. These cover such things as business size standards, small or large business, woman-owned, veteran-owned, etc. Also, register at orca.bpn.gov for your ORCA application.
- Include additional documents and data. There may be additional data or documents that need to be sent with the solicitation package. Carefully read all the paperwork (clauses) and follow directions to the letter since each MAS Schedule is different. (This gets back to our 3 Rs for success as a government contractor: Read, Read, Read.) For example, product warranty documentation may be requested. Here are some other common items that you need to include or consider:
- Products from designated countries only (not China, India or Pakistan)
- Registration in Central Contractor Registration (CCR Registration)
- A valid DUNS number
- Acceptance of credit cards as a form of payment
- A submitted VETS-100 form to the Department of Labor
Step 6: Negotiate with the GSA Contracting Officer and finally "get on schedule." Remember that the main reason for negotiations is to resolve major differences between the prospective contractor's proposal and the GSA's main negotiation objective: to always obtain the best price. Here are some tips for successful negotiations:
- You do not have to give in on all factors recommended by the Contracting Officer. You do have rights, and it is not worth losing money just to get a GSA Contract.
- A common point of negotiation is what is referred to as the "prompt payment discount." Do not feel pressured to give a discount in this area; stay with net 30 days.
- At the end of negotiations, the Contracting Officer may request a solicitation/proposal revision from you. The revision is GSA's way to confirm all the terms and conditions that you and the Contracting Officer agreed upon.
- If you are offering your best price and it is equal to or better than that of your best customer or group of customers, then you do not need to do better.
- Be aware of the 0.75 percent Industrial Funding Fee (IFF) that comes out of your product/service prices each quarter, so include this 0.75 percent in your GSA price.
- (f) Be sure of the shipping points and FOB points when negotiating. If the GSA Schedule Solicitation calls for FOB Destination, then you have to pay freight. Add the freight cost to your product prices if the solicitation calls for FOB destination pricing.
- Often the Contracting Officer will try to get quantity discounts. If your standard policy has been not to give these discounts, then decline this suggestion.
- GSA may want on-site warranty repair anywhere in the country. Watch out for such provisions; they can be costly.
- Generally provide domestic delivery only, not international.
Marketing a GSA Schedule Contract
Obtaining a GSA Schedule contract can be a bit overwhelming and
time-consuming. However, when you are finally awarded a contract, your
hard work is definitely not over. If you want to really capitalize on
your new opportunity and generate sales against your hard-earned
contract, you will now have to actively market your contract to
potential buyers. As many GSA Contracting Officers will tell you,
getting "on schedule" and having a GSA contract is only a license to
"hunt" for opportunities.
Here to help you in your hunt is a five-step approach to marketing
your company to all the federal agencies that shop for supplies and
services through GSA. Note that the first two steps—the Federal Supply
Schedule Price List and the GSA Advantage!—are not options; they are
required by regulation to be included in every GSA Schedule contract.
Step 1: Design your authorized Federal Supply Schedule Price
List and develop a distribution list. When you are awarded a GSA
Schedule contract, you are required to prepare, print, and distribute a
document called the Federal Supply Schedule Price List. Think of this
price list as an important marketing piece for your new GSA Schedule
contract. The price list, which is designed by each individual
contractor, covers 26 specific points designated or negotiated in the
contract itself, such as, FOB Point, Discounts, Foreign Items, Warranty
Provisions, Production Points, Delivery Times, SIN, Minimum Order, and
When designing your own Federal Supply Schedule price list, it is
best to keep it simple and short. A one-page flyer covering only the
required 26 points specified in your contract usually is best. (You can
give details about your product details in your brochure or catalog.) It
is very important to make sure that all the information in your price
list is correct.
Step 2: Prepare your electronic company catalog and submit it
to GSA Advantage! The GSA has a very sophisticated online shopping and
ordering system known as GSA Advantage! Using this menu-driven database
system, government buyers can search for the products they need, compare
prices and product information, and place their orders.
As a GSA Schedule contractor, you are required to submit your
electronic company catalog to GSA Advantage! no later than six months
after your contract award. However, it is best to do this within the
first 30 days, if possible.
You can submit your electronic company catalog into the GSA
Advantage! system by using the Schedule Input Program (SIP) software,
available for downloading at the GSA Vendor Support Center (VSC) website.
The VSC staff is there to assist new contractors with the submission of
their electronic catalog data and can be reached at 877-495-4849. Note:
New Schedule contractors must first register at the VSC website in
order to get a password to use with the SIP software.
When entering your information, be sure to:
- Use either the Option or the Accessory Tool when listing the
sub-categories for each of your products, such as color or style
- Mark any special categories for each product, such as "recycled materials" or "energy efficient."
- At each product listing on GSA Advantage!, add the link option to your company's website.
- Include a product photo.
As you prepare your electronic catalog, it is critical to your
success to keep in mind that GSA Advantage! is the principal marketing
tool for a Schedule contractor to the buying agencies that will use it.
There are some things you need do to maximize your marketing potential.
First, when entering your product data into the SIP software, don't
use only two or three words to describe your product—take advantage
of all the lines that you are allowed for this purpose. This allows you
to do some marketing by including important keywords or unique details
about your product.
Second, make sure that the words and phrases you are using are the
most effective possible. (The "most effective" are those that will lead
government buyers to your product listing and convince them to buy your
products over other similar items in the system.) The best way to do
this is to do some research and searches of your own in GSA Advantage!.
Experiment with various words and phrases to get a sense of what "works"
in a listing and what does not. For example, which terms work best as
search words? Do sentences or just phrases work best for your type of
product? Which listings come up first? Look at how your competitors have
their information in the system. How do they list product part numbers?
How are names listed—e.g., HP or Hewlett Packard?
Lastly, make sure that all the information that you have entered is
correct, including grammar and spelling. Your information will appear in
the system exactly how you key it in, errors and all.
We realize that the initial set-up on GSA Advantage! can be very
time-consuming, especially if you have many products to enter. But
because submitting your company's electronic catalog is basically a
one-shot deal, your efforts to make it right—and to make it
marketable—are worth it.
Step 3: Place an ad in GSA's MarkeTips Magazine. GSA's MarkeTips Magazine,
which is mailed to more than 150,000 federal and DoD buyers and
end-users worldwide every two months, provides an opportunity for you,
as a GSA contractor, to promote your products or services to the federal
marketplace. Best of all, the advertising space in MarkeTips is
free of charge for GSA contractors. But because space is limited,
advertising space is offered on a first-come, first-served basis and
vendors are limited to one ad per GSA contract. But, again, the ad is
To get started, visit the MarkeTips website and download the latest advertising specifications and guidelines. Go to GSA website and enter the word MarkeTips in the Search command. At the MarkeTips
home page, you can download past issues of the magazine as well as
locate the MarkeTips field editor serving the GSA Acquisition Center
that covers your contract.
Make getting your free ad in GSA's MarkeTips a priority in your marketing efforts. It should be done within the first 30 days after award of a new contract.
Step 4: Use GSA logos on all your marketing materials. A great
way to market a new GSA contract is by incorporating one of the "GSA
Schedule" or "GSA Contract Holder" logos, along with your contract
number(s), into your company's marketing materials and brochures. Be
sure to also include a GSA logo on your company's home page. Simply go
to the GSA website, use the search term "logo" and this will link you to the logo site. Then download the logos you prefer.
Step 5: Make your website "GSA-friendly." Some companies have
a separate website for federal agencies via their link from the GSA
Advantage! system. But an even easier approach is to make updates or
changes to your company's website to reflect your new GSA contract.
Here are just a few possible changes to consider:
- Use one of the GSA logos with your contract number on your home page.
- Provide a link from your company's website to your company's
product listing on the GSA Advantage! website. Contact the Vendor
Support Center staff (see Step 2) for help, if needed.
- Establish a special company e-mail just for GSA Schedule
inquires. Be consistent by also using this new e-mail address on the
Federal Supply Schedule Price List form and on the GSA Advantage! website.
- Use any of the special symbols (e.g., energy-efficient,
recycled, environmental items) for which your company's products qualify
on your company's website. Again, be consistent and use the same
symbols on products listed on the GSA Advantage! website.
In addition, here are some more miscellaneous marketing ideas:
- Market your GSA contract to any local federal agencies in your
area that might have a use for your product or service. Consider your
local U.S. Post Office, IRS Office, VA Hospital, FAA Authority, Social
Security Office, federal court house, National Guard facilities, etc.,
- Subscribe to professional journals and industrial or trade
magazines that cover your line of business. Run ads in the publications
that government employees might read. Be sure to include the GSA logo
with your company contract number in the ads.
- Participate in GSA's Small Business Outreach events. For more
information, call the Office of Small business Utilization (OSBU) at
202-501-1021 or e-mail to email@example.com.
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