In government work, the first contract is typically the hardest to get. The learning curve is steep. Competition is brutal. That said, government work can be rewarding. It is like navigating a mine field, says Michael S. Rogers, CEO of Securityhunter, Baltimore: you have to be careful not to get blown up.
“It is very painful to learn federal contracting,” Rogers says. “You have to go all-in…otherwise you will get mauled in this market. You will learn the hard way — nobody teaches you this. Still, it is a good market for those who tough it out.”
“The first contract is the hardest to get because you have to make sure you have proven via past performance that you have the experience to be successful on the job,” explains Keith Jernigan, director of government programs at G4S Technology, a firm with a solid track record with ports, federal, state, local and municipal markets.
“The best way to ensure recurring revenue is with superior performance, so that when the contract is re-bid you have an outstanding reputation to leverage,” adds Jim Cotter of Kratos Public Safety & Security Solutions, which gets about 80 percent of its $1 billion in annual revenue from government security work.
The Current Landscape
There are often specific considerations when bidding government projects, including contract administration, wage determination and security, Cotter says. “It is important that the technical staff have the specific certifications in place to support the security systems that are planned or already deployed at government sites,” he says. “In the case of government contracts, it is also important to have contract vehicles, such as GSA Schedule 84, in place. In addition, it is critical for bidders to have infrastructure in place such as government-approved purchasing and accounting systems.”
Even with all the certifications in place, the current economic climate and budget infighting on Capitol Hill makes government security contracting difficult. “The industry is feeling the strain of the government operating with no approved or signed budgets, sequester and debt-ceiling limitations,” says Brian K. Holmes, director/government and special programs, Honeywell Security Group.
Many RFPs and RFQs are now issued with the understanding that they are not yet funded or that only a certain number of contract line items will be awarded or executed.
Trying to accurately evaluate how to best spend bid and proposal (B&P) funds without knowing how probable it is that an entire contract will be awarded also creates uncertainty from the bidder’s perspective, Holmes adds. “Operating in a state of uncertainty is challenging at best for both the procurement activity and bidders,” he says.
How Federal Government Contracting Works
One key to federal success is to get a Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA). Federal purchasing of security — or anything — is like launching a missile: Two keys are required and both must be turned. In purchasing, the two people are typically a procurement person with money in their budget and a contract officer. — the first has budget money; the second has the right to spend money and need for a service. Get them both to “turn the key” at the same time and the project launches.
A simple analogy might be government’s need for office furniture. Bidding on every desk or bookshelf would drive both the government purchasing agents and office supply vendors crazy; so, instead the Feds issue a BPA that states publicly that they may buy an indefinite amount of a certain product or service (whether desks or video monitoring systems). The bidder tells the government what it will provide for each and every instance that the service is needed, including delivery terms, guarantees, installation costs or discounts.