Natural disasters are devastating. Entire communities – even entire cities – are often left to rebuild after fires, hurricanes, floods and tornados. And, though it typically takes months, if not years, to completely restore homes, businesses, schools and other critical infrastructure, there is always a sense of urgency to do as much as possible, as quickly as possible, to return things to “normal”.
That is why government agencies and non-profit organizations launch full scale relief efforts on the ground the minute it becomes safe to do so. It is also why they approve contingency contracting authorities and override typical procurement processes almost immediately after a major disaster. They are ready and willing to do whatever it takes to acquire the goods, services and constructions needed to keep people safe and healthy, and they are seeking to rapidly multiply their resources.
Case in point, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced this week that they “have raised the micro purchase threshold, the simplified acquisition threshold, and the simplified leasing acquisition threshold, in order to address the needs created by Hurricane Harvey.” Many other federal, state and local agencies are also following suit. For example, you can read about the Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy here.
Did you know? “The Thomas T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, passed in 2007, requires FEMA to contract with businesses located in the affected area when feasible and practicable, which brings unexpected and often substantial contracting opportunities in the wake of a disaster.”
At the same time, those spearheading emergency recovery efforts become heavily reliant on local businesses to provide assistance. They aren’t just looking for donations, either, as they understand that it is impossible to facilitate a full recovery on donations alone. Instead, they seek reputable and trustworthy contractors who can deliver basic necessities, provide ongoing service and perform quality infrastructure repairs and/or new constructions.
That means that contracting with the government in the wake of a natural disaster can be mutually beneficial to your community, your business and even the agencies seeking quality resources and a fair and reasonable price. Here’s how you can – and should – take action to provide assistance in a formal capacity right now:
Reach out to state and local agencies in the affected area(s), as well as the contingency contracting officers handling procurement for federal government and national non-profit organizations. Find out what they are doing to assist with recovery efforts and inquire about temporary changes to their procurement process, such as expedited procurements or a preference for businesses of a certain status (i.e. a local business, small business or disadvantaged business entity).
Most organizations leading recovery efforts are public sector entities, or receiving funding from the government. That means that they are still obligated to try to source from pre-qualified vendors first. If you want to help in a region in which you don’t typically conduct business, you will need to apply to become a vendor before you can respond to a solicitation. Since you are already making calls to inquire about assistance opportunities, ask about their vendor qualification process. They may expedite applications in an emergency, especially if they are trying to find specialized goods and services or they want to buy from local or small businesses first.
*Tip: Don’t rush so much to prepare your proposal that you omit information or fail to submit a quality response. You don’t want to get disqualified or create more work for the contracting officer by forcing them to follow-up with additional questions. Use this guide to quickly, but thoroughly, prepare a winning proposal.
There will be a drastic uptick in bid and RFP solicitations from both government and non-profit agencies. Sign up for free notifications if you haven’t already. Look for services, such as BidSync, that aggregate bid and RFP postings from thousands of public sector and non-profit agencies and automatically send them to your email every day. This will save you time and resources scouring each agency’s website and enable you to focus on your ultimate goal: delivering the goods and services that will help these communities rebuild as quickly as possible. Of course, if you do see a solicitation that aligns with your business expertise, respond immediately. The typical government solicitation is only on the “open market” for 21 days on average. We suspect that, given the urgency of relief and recovery efforts, the solicitations being posted post-disaster may have a much shorter response window. Plus, some agencies’ contracting officers may be authorized to “limit competition when needed” per emergency procurement declarations. If you have what they need, be sure to let the agency know immediately by submitting a bid/RFP proposal or picking up a phone to offer your services or expertise (a value-add that many agencies value from suppliers).
Let prime contractors know you are available to subcontract – or a source for quality materials – if they are looking for help on recovery-focused projects. You can also ask your connections to put a good reference in for you with contracting officers that may be seeking subject matter experts and/or sources for specialized procurements that are outside of their typical purchase categories.
Even though some contracting authorities ease their restrictions during relief efforts, public sector entities and non-profits that are eligible for government-issued emergency funds find themselves under extra scrutiny for every purchase. There are strict procurement guidelines in place to prevent fraud. As such, organizations like FEMA are likely to put strict terms in place for relief-related contracts. Be sure you review the fine print and understand the terms of your contract – including deadlines, reporting requirements, payment schedules, etc. – before you sign on the dotted line. Understand that terms may vary a bit from a typical contract with that agency.
This is not business as usual. Be flexible. Things can be very chaotic and very fluid. Contract awards can also come very fast, so be ready to hit the ground running the minute you submit that proposal. At the same time, remember that the rules for doing business with the government still apply. Be fair in your pricing, meet your deadlines, fulfill your contractual obligations and ensure you comply with government regulations, such as labor laws. Agencies may be making exceptions to their procurement policies, but will still uphold the standards set forth for government contractors during recovery projects, and they will also make note of those companies that don’t deliver on their promise. At the same time, they will remember those companies that went above and beyond. This could be a great opportunity to help your community grow stronger and help your business grow.
Of course, there are other ways to be a good community partner. Here are 5 more things your business can do to “give back” to those affected by a natural disaster.