The requisite paperwork can be daunting, but the General Services Administration (GSA) says the opportunities afforded by its Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) program are enormous.
In their presentation at The Work Truck Show, “Positioning Your Company To Do Business With The Government Through GSA,” GSA officials laid out the intricacies of the program, which is designed to enable federal agencies to purchase commercial products and services quickly, efficiently, and at fair and reasonable prices.
MAS enables federal agencies to comply with all Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) when “easy-to-use” MAS ordering procedures have been followed. The commercial products and services awarded under MAS contracts are divided into 43 distinct schedules. There are over 18,700 MAS contracts in place, covering over 11,000,000 items, so competition is described as “fierce.”
GSA Automotive is a mandatory source for all non-tactical vehicles through federal agencies, including the Department of Defense. Over the past two years, Ford, GM, and Chrysler sales accounted for 165,000 vehicles and $2.7 billion; light vocational body sales, 6600 vehicles and $170 million; buses, 1250 vehicles and $158 million; medium and heavy trucks, 2000 vehicles and $162 million; and ambulances, 270 vehicles and $23 million.
Contracts are awarded to vendors supplying the same generic type of items at varying prices. Agencies make best-value selections when ordering under MASs. GSA awards schedule contracts to responsible companies offering commercial services or products at varying prices, provided that the prices are determined fair and reasonable. GSA's negotiation objective is commonly known as “most favored customer” pricing. Once GSA awards the contracts, customer agencies order directly from the schedule contractor.
“We have multiple vendors that may be selling similar commodities and we give the federal government the opportunity to choose the best value,” contract officer Carmen Calloway said. “There may be several with the same product line, and we give the federal government a choice. This is where it's essential you are competitive with your pricing.”
She says the Commercial Sales Practice format is the “nitty-gritty” of an offer, along with pricing.
If deviations from a company's written policies or standard commercial sales practices disclosed in the chart on the Commercial Sales Practice format are so significant and/or frequent that the contract officer cannot establish whether the price(s) offered is fair and reasonable, then a company may be asked to provide additional information.
The contracting officer may ask for information to demonstrate that a company has made substantial sales of the item(s) in the commercial market consistent with the information reflected on the chart on the Commercial Sales Practice format, a description of the conditions surrounding those sales deviations, or other information that may be necessary in order for the contract officer to determine whether the offered price(s) is fair and reasonable. In cases where additional information is requested, the contracting officer will target the request in order to limit the submission of data that is needed to establish the reasonableness of the offered price.
As a MAS contractor, a company must prepare and distribute a catalog and/or price list for customers to use in placing orders. Also, contractors must provide electronic files to allow agencies to order electronically through GSA Advantage! and must maintain a minimum dollar threshold in sales to remain on the schedule.
To participate in the MAS program, an offeror must identify which schedule(s) cover the products and/or services the company wants to offer.
A MAS contract is not a guarantee of future sales. Federal agencies are not required to use the MAS program. GSA officials stress that each schedule contains thousands of contracts already in place.
The program helps reduce acquisition lead time and provides a wide selection of the state-of-the-art commercial supplies and services.
Although GSA provides information material on the benefits of the program, GSA does not market or promote specific contracts, does not distribute products of individual firms, and does not steer business to any individual contractor. Once a company receives an MAS contract, it will be required to market its products or services to the federal community and other authorized users of the MAS program. Because purchasing authority is spread out across the federal agencies and other authorized users of MAS contracts, marketing products or services may not be an easy task. GSA officials said that targeted marketing and relationship-building are critical to success.
Potential participants in the program are asked to identify their competitors by visiting GSA Web sites (www.gsaelibrary.gsa.gov and www.gsaadvantage.gov), which contain information regarding the products and services that current MAS contractors already offer. Key information: competitors' pricing, delivery time, warranty terms, services, and other conditions.
Examining all factors
Companies should think about how they would be prepared to meet or beat such terms. In addition, they are encouraged to examine other factors that purchasers under the MAS program may consider when awarding an order, such as past performance and expertise in providing the products and/or services that the company is seeking to offer.
Often, purchasers under the MAS program make their award decision based upon “best value” as opposed to lowest price technically acceptable, so a company needs to assess its ability to compete for orders under all possible award evaluation criteria.
“Federal users buying off schedules don't necessarily look for low price — they look for best value,” Calloway said. “It could be that your firm delivers 30 days quicker.”
Companies are encouraged to visit the Schedule Sales Query Web site (http://ssq.gsa.gov/), which provides detailed sales information on current MAS contractors. A search can be made to see whether competitors have successfully sold similar products and/or services under the MAS program.
If a company decides to make an offer for a MAS contract and is awarded, the company will have two years to generate its first $25,000 in sales, and must reach that threshold in every successive year in order to keep the contract. If a company is newly established or has had low sales to date (less than $50,000) in the products and/or services it wants to offer under the MAS program, it may need to recognize the difficulty of meeting this performance requirement of having a MAS contract. If it decides to make an offer under the MAS program, having a business plan to meet this performance requirement and other performance requirements will be critical to ensuring success.
Typically, it will take three to six months for the offer to be evaluated and for the company to be awarded a MAS contract. Well-prepared and documented offers with competitive pricing are more easily evaluated and may be awarded sooner. Offers requiring lots of corrections and clarifications take a lot longer to be evaluated.
Once an offer is submitted, GSA will verify that all required information has been included and use this information to evaluate the offer. Considerations: pricing, past performance, whether the products/services are within the scope of the schedule, financial capability, technical, subcontracting plan (if it is not a small business), and other regulatory compliance.
“We review it for completeness,” Calloway said. “The entire solicitation has to be submitted. All areas that require a response need to be filled out. Most-favored customer has to be designated. We select that at our level. We just need you to provide all the types of customers you sell to.”
The next steps
- Rewrites and clarification
“If an offer has substantial elements that are not complete, this is up to the judgment of the contract officer whether we will return your offer. If you are not meeting our deadlines in order to process your offer in 30 to 50 days, we will reject it.”
- Responsibility determination
“Does the firm have adequate resources to perform the contract? Those are questions we ask ourselves as we look at the offer.”
- Certificate of competency (COC)
The COC program indicates to government contracting officers all elements of responsibility of any small business to receive and perform a specific government contract. When the contracting officer determines and documents that an apparent successful small business offeror lacks certain elements of responsibility (including but not limited to, capability, competency, capacity, credit, integrity, and limitation on subcontracting), the contracting officer must withhold the contract award and refer the matter to the cognizant Small Business Administration Government Contracting Area Office serving the area in which the headquarters of the offeror is located.
“Once you have been found not to be able to obtain a contract with us financially, we automatically submit you to SBA's office and attempt to see a COC,” Calloway said. “This programs SBA to be a co-signer for you. You could be found capable. They have a special interest in small businesses and take that into consideration. Once we get approval, we award a contract.”
“A contract may be awarded without negotiations. That depends upon your office. With automotive, we always negotiate. When negotiations are conducted by the contract officer and the contract officer can't determine if prices are fair and reasonable, your offer will be rejected. So come to the table with an open mind.”
- Time lines
“We look to process in 30 to 50 days, as long as it's submitted accurately and completely.”
It is a component of GSA Advantage — an online Request for Quotation (RFQ) tool. e-Buy is designed to facilitate the request for submission of quotations for a wide range of commercial supplies and services offered by GSA Schedule and Government wide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) contractors. For federal agencies (buyers), e-Buy maximizes their buying power. By leveraging the power of the Internet, e-Buy increases schedule and GWAC contractor participation to obtain quotations that result in best value purchase decisions. For schedule and GWAC contractors (sellers), e-Buy provides greater opportunities to offer quotations and increase business volume for supplies and services provided under their schedule contracts and GWACs.
Vendors should consider submitting offers under the MAS Express Program, a specialized program established under the GSA Schedules Program. The goal of the MAS Express Program is to simplify, streamline, and ultimately accelerate the process for vendors to obtain Schedule contracts. Offers are currently being accepted under the MAS Express Program for 15 selected Schedules.
In order to participate in the MAS Express Program, vendors must meet specific criteria for certain products and services under these Schedules. Vendors must also successfully complete Pathway to Success, an education seminar designed to assist prospective schedule contractors in making an informed business decision as to whether obtaining a GSA schedule contract is in their best interests.
As an alternative to the paper submission of offers, GSA has developed eOffer, a web based application that allows a vendor to prepare and submit a schedule offer electronically. eOffer is designed to create an interactive, secure environment that simplifies the contracting process from submission of offers to contract awards. eOffer uses the latest digital authentication technology to ensure the integrity of data and to electronically sign the offer. Digital certificates are required to use eOffer.