Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

By Tom Ewing 

Federal Contracts - 2020 Is a Good Year to Start


December 1, 2019

If looking for federal government contracting work is on your 2020 business plan now is a good time to start. After all, in 2019, the federal government spent about $4.45 trillion. On the one hand, researching contracting opportunities has never been easier. On the other hand, looking for grants can demand a lot of desk time – an important consideration if you’re part of a small team that has to be out in the field or otherwise meeting more definitive deadlines that actually pay the bills. But like other web-based research it doesn’t take too long to improve your skills, making your time increasingly productive. After a certain point, you may indeed decide it’s more cost-effective to work with a search firm to find government contracts. Still, you’re always better off when you know more about seeking business-to-business services.

One reason this is a good time to start investigating government contracts is because the feds are consolidating their huge system of award management (SAM) websites. Note the SAM acronym. That’s deliberate, of course, as in Uncle Sam. As this is written, SAM is still something of a work in progress because behind-the-scenes testing continues. But as of November 12, is the authoritative source for federal contract opportunities.

SAM makes it easy to take first steps. A front-and-center search window is familiar and intuitive. It starts with a drop-down list to focus your search. Click on “contract opportunities” then move to the “I’m looking for…” search window. Example: NOAA is important for maritime businesses so type NOAA in the search bar and whoa! – you get data on 79,949 contracts! Better head back out to Starbucks. There are, of course, search filters. These can take a little practice but if you use the “Response/Date Offers Due” filter you can see what’s “active,” what NOAA is looking for now and how to get in the game.

Contracts are not the only valuable resource. Importantly, SAM includes documents with broader scope, documents with a planning perspective in which a federal agency or department is seeking the best business approach to working within a budget or timetable. You’ll want to save these docs for future reference. I noted the following on a NOAA contract search: “Call for Proposals for Participation in the 2020 Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX),” an annual event. This is a Navy notice, but NOAA is involved, seeking expertise on potential applications of artificial intelligence and unmanned systems to conserving and managing coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. Do you work in that space? Not sure, or maybe the deadline is too close? Click on “follow” to track and stay on top of future developments that may become real projects with real dollars.

Another way to establish an initial research “foothold” for federal contracts is to take advantage of acquisition forecasting sites. As the term implies, these sites list federal purchases likely to come up over the next few months. Not every listing becomes a purchase order, but it is a best guess compilation by an Agency’s staff. The forecast listings are required by the federal Business Opportunity Development Reform Act of 1988.

The Coast Guard and NOAA are likely of interest to most maritime businesses. Both have a forecast website. In FY 2018, CG contracts totaled $3.4 billion. Top service needs were for ship building and repairing ($1.1B), engineering services ($313M) and related aircraft parts equipment manufacturing ($180M).

The Coast Guard’s “Acquisition Planning Forecast System” is part of the Department of Homeland Security website. The search filters are not overly extensive but, as example, using the year 2020 as one search input resulted in 121 contracts forecasted for next year. These opportunities ranged from mailroom services at the CG’s Western Regional Center in Seattle to a new contract for the west coast groundfish observer program – between $2-$5 million, likely to be awarded 3rd quarter 2020. Importantly, keep in mind that the forecast is really a “heads up.” If you want to bid, you then have to find the contract after it’s posted within the SAM site. Also, businesses have to register with the Government’s procurement systems in order to bid.

NOAA’s “Forecasting and Advance Acquisition Planning System” is within its parent agency, the Department of Commerce. Like the Coast Guard, NOAA presents an extensive table of upcoming opportunities, again ranging from custodial and refuse services at specific sites to IT work to the next longline survey vessel contract.

A review of these forecasting databases is a great way to start thinking about contracting possibilities. The tabular information is extensive, including project descriptions, dollar amounts, likely award dates, small business advantages and, critically, contact names and emails. You can also begin to glean the many possibilities for more efficient, targeted searches, linked as closely as possible to your business – searching by NAICS codes, for example.

Small businesses, and particularly those within certain advantaged categories, can build on additional strengths within the federal contracting system. More on that in an upcoming report.

Tom Ewing is a freelance writer specializing in energy, environmental and related regulatory issues.


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