Power up your GSA schedule for 2008

Guest commentary

Let's face it: The General Services Administration got rocked in 2007. From congressional hearings to inspector general contract disputes and more, GSA had its share of being in the spotlight last year. Yet GSA has been through these cycles before, and I predict this year will be different.

This year you'll see a shift in focus at GSA to its benefits and advantages. This year you'll see:
  • Expanded offerings that have the potential to take integrators into a vast new market.
  • Specific schedule changes that reflect changes in the way government does business and favor integrators.
  • Companies that had left the program returning to the GSA fold, and more companies joining the program for the first time.

A handful of trends will drive these changes, not the least of which is an upcoming new administration. With an actual fiscal 2008 budget in place and a new administration on tap, you'll likely see a larger and quicker flow in government spending, as agencies and programs spend the money they've been allocated.

What does this mean for integrators? It means the requirements will be there for the bidding. Your job is to be prepared. Your job is to winterize your schedule contract, or you'll be frozen out of business this year. In other words, are your contract modifications up-to-date to reflect new solutions and current pricings?

Expanded offerings: State and local access

The state and local government market is enormous ? larger than the federal market and potentially growing to more than $25 billion, according to market researcher Federal Sources Inc.

State and local governments use Schedule 70. In recent months, states have been looking more favorably at GSA as a way to help offset their decline in revenue base and expand buying options. GSA and states are both pushing for open, cooperative purchasing across all schedules in 2008.

If all schedules are opened for states to use, GSA schedule-holders have the opportunity to be in front of a vast audience they have not been privy to before. To prepare for this, you should stay informed of the policy and political landscape. And make sure your company is aligned to support a new state and local market.

Schedule changes: Increased services schedules

Other longer-term schedule changes have already begun. Last month, GSA added four new services to its schedules contract.

In 2008 and moving forward, services will continue to grow, which will open a floodgate of opportunity for integrators. Larger integrators will find the most opportunities, and smaller integrators with a good track record will be primed for small-business set-asides.

The increased focus on services will dovetail into a greater emphasis on larger programs in 2008, particularly with greater congressional oversight and an increasingly risk-averse political environment.

To prepare for this, you should have your company review your established compliance and ethics programs. If you need to design better programs, do it now.

Increasing participation: Aging GWACs and MACs

The GSA schedule model has been around since 1949. Governmentwide acquisition contracts and multi-agency contracts are a newer addition, and they are already starting to show their age by creating confusion or simply losing their appeal. GWACs and MACs are built around certain government requirements. GSA schedules have deep-rooted policy and have weathered many administrations. Simply put, GSA provides a solution for more ongoing strategic needs.

In response, companies are in migration mode. Many that left the GSA schedule program are now migrating back.

To prepare for this, you will need to stay current on who is managing your GWAC or MAC contract program. Note that GSA has already taken over some agency GWACs and others could follow.

Bottom line advice

When is the last time you heard someone say, "This contract is going great?" It's probably been a long time, if ever. We hear a lot about contracts that go wrong or integrators that do not provide what was promised.

There is a way to stand out among the thousands of other suppliers on the GSA schedule contract. In addition to preparing for upcoming trends by following this advice, the No. 1 way to get noticed is: Prove it. Demonstrate your ability to be a stable provider. Show that you're experienced and you're engaged in government for the long haul by having a strong business development team. There's a long runway before acquisitions take off. Show that you're reliable and trustworthy and that you'll provide whatever support will be necessary now and for the foreseeable future.

Once you prove yourself, business will come to you.

Bill Gormley (bgormley@washmg.com) is president and chief executive officer at the Washington Management Group, a GSA schedule contract and VA schedule contract consulting services firm in Washington. For more information on Washington Management Group, go to http://www.washmg.com.

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