As the federal government continues to look for ways to improve efficiencies and leverage commercial products and acquisition processes, more and more IT vendors are looking at opportunities to expand into the federal market.
Where to start?
There are a variety of ways to find and respond to federal government commercial item solicitations, but one of the most important factors for IT vendors is to proactively advocate for a federal agency to issue a commercial item solicitation.
Certainly firms should be using available information sources to find these opportunities, such as the Federal Business Opportunities website (fedbizopps) and the Federal Procurement Data System - Next Generation (FPDS-NG). The Federal Business Opportunities website enables contractors to search for solicitations and contract awards, by agency or keyword, while FPDS-NG is the current central repository of information on federal contracting, housing all contract award information for competitive intelligence.
However, one of the most effective, and often difficult aspects of federal business development, is to get in front government officials. With access getting harder and harder for many firms, especially new market entrants, vendors need to take advantage of every opportunity available, which includes trade shows, local events, and hopefully setting up one-on-one meetings as part of the government's market research (i.e. the government's due diligence to increase competition and create fair purchasing opportunities).
These efforts are critical to understand government requirements. Further, the firm needs to market their commercial goods and services in hopes of establishing the need for using commercial-off-the-shelf products and services. Through these efforts, firms can help shape future government needs, and increase the opportunity for the governemnt to purchase their products and services.
Another goal is to ensure that a future solicitation contemplates the award of a commercial item contract, under Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 12, Acquisition of Commercial Items. If the transaction involves commercial items, suppliers should ensure that the solicitation contemplates the award of a FAR Part 12 commercial item prime contract. This can also be an exercise to educate the customer, since from a practical standpoint, leveraging commercial acquisitions makes sense for the government, in addition to both prime and subcontractors. Prime contractors benefit since they will have a larger pool of suppliers, with fewer requirements at lower costs. Subcontractors benefit by having reduced compliance risks. However, the main point being that the government benefits from lower prices, fewer compliance-related requirements, reduced administrative costs, and increased competition.
The use of commercial acquisition procedures is difficult for the federal government, as the government's contracting officer must ensure prices are reasonable, and in some cases, determine if the items are "commercial" or not. Further, providing some of the required information might be foreign to a commercial firm, which raises the unique compliance costs of the government customer. With these complexities of using FAR Part 12, many contracting officers will go down the path of least resistance to a more familiar FAR acquisition strategy.
However, for proactive and aggressive firms who understand these complexities, and can market them to their potential customers, competitive advantages may materialize that will allow your firm to be in a position to win.