State and Local Governments Can Buy from Federal Contracting Vehicles Right Now. Find Out What That Means for Suppliers.

Apr 27, 2020
Bidsync Industry Blog

In a rare move, the General Services Administration (GSA) just opened up its Multiple Award Schedules to state and local governments under a disaster relief blanket purchase authority. This essentially means that any government agency, at any level, can now buy directly from contracts typically reserved exclusively for federal agencies. It’s good news for vendors who currently hold these contracts, as it could open up additional business opportunities with state and local agencies. For those who don’t have one of these pre-negotiated “open” contracts in place quite yet, it’s a call for immediate action.

Why are co-op/open contracts with state governments and federal agencies so valuable right now?

We’ve talked at length about the unmatched value of government business over the years, and you know that state and local government contracts are the fastest way to jump-start business growth and secure long-term income stability. Just look at once-regional companies such Spectra Property Management, Proforce and DQE that have exponentially grown their revenue streams – and quickly expanded across the national market – thanks to their intensive focus on securing state and local government contracts.

However, many companies trying to break into the government sector have expressed frustration with the lack of relevant bid opportunities on the open market. That is because leading procurement organizations strive for a minimum of 70% of their purchases to be “under contract,” especially when it comes to commodities and services.

Though government agencies will publicly post tens of thousands of IFB, RFQ and RFP solicitations each year – the kind that BidSync aggregates and automatically delivers to your inbox each day, for example – many state and local jurisdictions either require or highly encourage agencies to try to buy off of a pre-negotiated statewide contract first. This best practice (from a buyers’ perspective) relies on a set of pre-approved vendors that have been added to “open” or “managed” contracts. These could include multi-state co-op contracts, such as the popular NASPO ValuePoint awards, or statewide co-op contracts, such as Pennsylvania COSTARS. Alternatively, they could simply be a portfolio of managed contracts defined by the categorical needs of each state, such as Texas’ SmartBuy or DIR contract sets.

Of course, in emergency situations such as the one created by the COVID-19 outbreak, agencies will often look beyond their traditional sourcing channels to secure the goods and services they need. In such instances, though, it is still preferred to buy from pre-negotiated co-op contracts such as the GSA MAS.

These “open” contracts significantly simplify common buys for state, local and even tribal organizations. They also minimize risk of impropriety, waste, purchase approval delays, etc. You’ll most commonly see open contracts used for the purchase of office supplies and equipment, computers, software, industrial supplies, temporary services, laboratory supplies, advertising services, and the like. Though, more recently, they have become highly utilized for the sourcing of masks, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and even IT hardware, software and services.

How do I become a pre-approved vendor on these various statewide and/or co-op contracts?

Unfortunately, you can’t simply request that an agency add your company, goods or services to these open contracts. Each individual state and co-op organization will define its competitive solicitation, review and approval process. For example, you can learn about the process that NASPO uses to establish, solicit and award its ValuePoint contracts here. However, not every agency is going to offer this information in a cut-and-dry manner online. That means that you are going to have to do some research. Start by reaching out to agencies that may use your product/service to see if you can meet with the procurement officer to discuss your offerings and learn about the agency’s process. From there, you will need to proactively watch for notifications of competitive opportunities when new contracts are established or expiring contracts are re-solicited and new vendors are invited to submit bids – no matter which online and offline channel(s) you’re using to stay in the loop.

Alternatively, if you have channel partners or resellers that are actively pursuing co-op contracts – or have already secured these contracts in certain categories – you can ask for them to “sponsor” your company’s goods and services. In the former situation, you would ensure that they included your products in the catalog they submit to the agency managing the “open” contract. In the latter situation they would have to request approval to add additional products to their original contract, assuming they are in the same category for which the original contract was awarded (i.e. computer hardware). It will be up to you to negotiate the pricing with this third-party so that they get a fair cut and you can maintain a competitive price point on the contract, but know that it’s no guarantee the agency will approve the catalog update for that particular contract.

Is there a way to sell to government agencies if my goods and services aren’t available through a pre-approved vendor on these statewide or co-op contracts?

The short answer is yes. There are there some categories that don't have contracts like this, so the soliciting agency will always post an “invitation to bid” or “request for proposals” on the open market. (Of course, there are many categories in which there is a great deal of market competition, but a statewide contract has not or will not be prepared for whatever reason. This is common for media purchases, medical services, or specialty equipment for example.

There are also scenarios in which agencies can solicit on the open market despite there being multiple vendor options on these open contracts. For example, procurement may authorize an exemption from use of the contract if the items on the existing contract cannot fulfill the customer’s needs.  In these cases, they will request that procurement grant a waiver from the existing contract and allow them to buy from an outside source. Just know this sales process will take much longer as there is red tape (and many stakeholders) involved in securing such a contract exemption.

Our advice?

Most importantly, remember that – unlike bid solicitations posted on the open market – these federal, statewide and co-op contracts do not equate to guaranteed sales. For the reasons noted in the last two points above, open contracts are multi-vendor contracts, which means they are still competitive contracts. Truthfully, securing your place on a statewide or co-op contract simply means that the oversight agency has confirmed that your company, goods and/or services meet their minimum quality, pricing and business standards. It also means that you’ve already completed many of the administrative tasks associated with doing business with their agency. This is appealing to buyers, and their customers, because it minimizes the work they must do to prepare, solicit, evaluate and award contracts for every single purchase. Many times, these open contracts allow buyers to shop and buy what they need online, much like an Amazon shopping experience. It is the speed and convenience of buying off these contracts that discourages customers from straying from this process. 

That is why, in the cases where these open contracts are the preferred or required purchasing method, it's almost a guarantee that you won't win government agency business without being on one. Start doing your homework now to see which contracts will serve your business best. Then, once you secure a contract, be sure you market that contract to government customers. They cannot keep up with every company that’s awarded a contract in every category. If you want them to buy your goods or services, let them know that they can do so easily since you are a pre-approved vendor on an open contract. It will make their jobs easier, enable them to secure the goods they need faster, and ultimately help you close more sales.