Front & center

Long-awaited contract gives veteran-owned firms a higher profile

VETS losers can still eke out a win

Although 43 companies ? a relatively large number ? got places on the Veterans Technology Services governmentwide acquisition contract, there are many that bid and lost or didn't even try. But they shouldn't despair, according to business leaders and agency officials.

Many of those companies already have found places on the teams of winning bidders, and others will follow suit.

"The first thing I would do is contact [winning companies] to see if I can partner on the team. There's always that opportunity," said John Moliere, president of Standard Communications Inc. in Hume, Va., one of the winning bidders. "I've brought on two since award, because they were losers, but they're not loser people."

Companies that missed a spot on VETS should also continue trying to earn business through their own General Services Administration schedule contracts, he said. "If you don't have a GSA schedule, you probably shouldn't have bid the [VETS] GWAC," Moliere said. "You've got to have past performance. This isn't for the rookies."

"There's an affinity for vets to help other vets," said Scott Denniston, small business director at the Veterans Affairs Department. He urged firms to put more effort into what they can offer than into what contract vehicles they win.

"All the vehicles in the world aren't going to help you if you don't have a product or service that will help agencies meet their missions," Denniston said.

Michael Hardy

"One of the potentially great things is this could become the contract of choice for some agencies," said John Moliere, president of Standard Communications Inc.

Rick Steele

For its proponents, the Veterans Technology Services contract is a great vehicle. There's only one problem ? not enough agencies know about it.

But the Veterans Affairs Department and the General Services Administration have begun a promotional campaign, aided by some companies, to raise the profile of the contract, which is designed to make it easier for agencies to buy from service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses.

GSA awarded the governmentwide acquisition contract, called VETS, last December and issued a notice to proceed ? the step that formally opens the contract for business ? in February. Now, beginning with events at the FOSE trade show this month, GSA and the VA are talking it up.

"The companies, if they market it right, it's a great opportunity for them," said Scott Denniston, small business director at VA. "We in the government have to help with that marketing."

The VA wants to set up a Veterans Pavilion at the GSA Expo, scheduled for May in Orlando, Fla., he said. Meanwhile, Denniston advised companies to talk to agency officials.

Sometime in between FOSE and the Expo, GSA is trying to schedule an event that would focus exclusively on the VETS contract, said Jim Ghiloni, acting director of GSA's GWAC program. Although the details of the event are not set, "we're going to try to get some big-name players from GSA, from VA and from the Army, if they're available," he said.

The VETS contract was mandated by Executive Order 13360 issued by President Bush in October 2004. The order set a goal for agencies to do 3 percent of their contracting with service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses, and required GSA to create a governmentwide vehicle to make it easier for agencies to identify qualified contractors.

There are 43 companies on the contract, according to GSA. It has a $5 billion ceiling and a five-year span, with one optional five-year extension.

Interest is building

"We're off to a good start" at building interest, said Mary Parks, director of GSA's Small Business GWAC Center in Kansas City, Mo. "You usually take some time to get the word out and develop your customer base. I think in the first month and a half we've done well to get the response we've gotten from our customers."
John Moliere, president of Standard Communications Inc. in Hume, Va., and one of the most avid proponents of the contract, said the GWAC could be a dramatic addition to the information technology arena.

"One of the potentially great things is this could become the contract of choice for some agencies," he said. "For the better part of a year, I've been talking to contracting officers. We try to reach out and educate government people as to what it is."

With the creation of the set-aside and the VETS contract, Moliere has won the two battles he's fought in recent years. However, he said, the next battle is to get agencies to use the contract and try to meet the set-aside goal.

"I won't stop being an advocate," he said. "I'm very blessed. I'm able to walk. I'm able to talk and think. I like to think this is my way to [make a difference] for all of those guys who can't."

Of all the various set-aside programs, the one for service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses generally has the largest gap between the goal and the actual performance in most agencies, Denniston said.

"When you combine the ease of use of the vehicle and the visibility of the set-aside, the stars are aligned for it to be successful," he said.

Competing for prime contracts

The GWAC gives some awardees a chance to revise their strategies, said Karen Sobieski, vice president of sales, marketing and business development at FTData Inc., Laurel, Md. Companies that have been limited to subcontracts now have a way to compete for prime contract awards, she said.

"FTData has a GSA Schedule 70 and we were a subcontractor on a couple of other prime contracts, but the VETS GWAC is our opportunity to be a prime," she said. "It's very important. You control your own destiny more when you're a prime."

The contract is divided into two functional areas ? systems operation and maintenance and information systems engineering ? and FTData won in both areas.
"It gives us visibility," she said. Agencies "say they can't find quality service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses. You really can't say that anymore. The teams that have won went through a very intense selection process. That really helps address the federal concerns."

The winners all have teams around them as well, she said, making them far more versatile than they would be on their own. "Most of us have a good mix of world-class large businesses, medium-sized and small businesses" on their teams, she said.

The contract also allows some companies an introduction to the federal market they would not otherwise have. Atsec Information Security Corp., for example, is German-owned and lacks the familiarity with the U.S. government market other companies have, said Fiona Pattinson, the company's director of business development. But Atsec is part of the Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based VetsAmerica Business Consulting Inc. team, one of the awardees.

For awardees, the contract paves an easy road for agencies. "This isn't rocket science," Sobieski said. "It's just learning what the market is. Make it as easy as possible for somebody to do business with you."

Associate editor Michael Hardy can be reached at mhardy@1105govinfo.com.

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