It often seems like there is a high bar to entering government contracting. In fact, many programs exist to help small businesses win government contracts and government agencies are graded on meeting required small business spend levels.
As with all governmental items, registration and paperwork are first. This section presumes the business is already incorporated in the United States.
NAICS Code – The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is used by federal agencies to analyze business. Unlike the later registrations, you pick these codes based on the category of your business. Choose wisely; the size of a small business varies by NAICS.
- See the SBA’s small business sizes by NAICS. NAICS & SIC Identification Tools | NAICS Association
- The Bureau of Labor and Statistics offers a browsable NAICS index. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov)
- The Census Bureau is the authoritative NAICS site, including classification manuals and change logs. Census.gov
DUNS Number – Dun and Bradstreet registration helps all companies improve their credit. It is mandatory for federal government contracting.
CAGE Code – Get the Commercial And Government Entity (CAGE) number from the Defense Logistics Agency.
Register at SAM.gov for federal contracting. SAM.gov is the official website for contract opportunities to bid or partner, assistance listings, services contracting minimum wage (wage determination), contract data (for your market research) and federal hierarchy information.
Contracting Assistance Programs – 23% of federal government spend is to go to small businesses, either directly from the federal government or through a large primary contractor. However, there are additional certifications to qualify for these programs.
- Our plain language is only directionally correct; the terms at the linked site matter.
- There are tests to ensure that the qualifying owner is not a figurehead.
Disadvantaged Small Business – At least 51% owned and controlled by a “socially or economically disadvantaged” owner. This usually refers to minorities but contains provisions for other disadvantages such as education.
Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB) and Economically Disadvantaged WOSB (EDWOSB) – At least 51% owned and controlled by a female.
- Program Details from the SBA
- Contact an SBA Women’s Assistance Center
- Reach out to ChallengeHER – Opportunities for Women in Federal Contracting for additional resources
Veteran and Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (VOSB, SDVOSB) – The latter is much more compelling with a 51% owner deemed to have a service related disability.
- Certify at https://vetbiz.va.gov/vip/ or self-certify at https://certify.sba.gov/
- Details on ownership are in 13 CFR 125.12
HUBZone – This program is intended to improve depressed areas Historically Underutilized by Business. If you are headquartered in and at least 35% of your employees live in HUBZones you may be eligible. See a map of HUBZones and begin the application process.
Some businesses may further qualify for 8(a) or 7(j) after going through the above certifications.
See which government agencies and contracts are underperforming their small business goals to identify opportunities.
Facilities Clearance – Businesses must obtain a facilities clearance in order to manage their employees’ security clearances. DCSA owns the FCL process. The Ft Meade Alliance provides an overview brief.
Mentor-Protege & Partnerships
Working with another business who already has a contract is an excellent approach to enter government contracting. This can be through a formal mentor-protege relationship or direct business to business partnership. This is also an opportunity to get sponsored for a facilities clearance to conduct classified work.
- The SBA maintains a guide to Prime and Sub Contracting including directories of contractors and contracts requiring subcontracts plans.
- The SBA manages a formal Mentor-Protege program
- See the SBA’s guidance on partnerships, joint ventures, and other teaming arrangements.
The Department of Defense (DoD) has a robust Small Business Office:
- Their Marketing to DoD is a phenomenal punch list and resource.
- The Programs page has a 5% rebate for Native Americans subcontractors and innovation opportunities often outside typical acquisition paths.
- The Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) help businesses pursue and perform defense contracts.
- Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR), nicknamed “America’s Seed Fund,” offer opportunities to rapidly develop new defense capabilities.
- See the DoD Prime Contractor Directory to find existing contracts in need of your capabilities. Also see their SubNet for posted subcontracting opportunities.
- The Acquisition Forecasts signal upcoming dollars intended to be spent. Use this to “follow the money.”
USASpending.gov contains details about money spent and contracts awarded. This helps follow the money to see which vendors may be lined up to receive it, and provide prime or partner opportunities.
- See the Subcontracting Checklist to be ready when meeting potential prime contractors.
The Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) also provides checklists and tools as well as resources, workshops and training.
Past Performance is a key driver for partnerships. Learn the PP rules from the Federal Acquisition Institute.