Why GSA’s Schedule program might not be getting as much attention from vendors as it deserves

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With so much attention on a series of forthcoming multiple award contracts, it might be easy for companies to forget about the old, reliable, GSA Schedule. As our next guest reminds us, the Multiple Award Schedule contract did record business last year. Larry Allen is president of Allen Federal Business Partners. He talked with the Federal Drive with Tom Temin about why the schedule contracts might not be getting the attention they deserve right now.

Interview transcript:

Larry Allen: Jared, one of the problems that the GSA Schedules have always had relative to other contract vehicles is that they’re always there. They’re always open. And things that are always there and always accessible. They’re doing a lot of business, but they’re not necessarily getting any attention from contractors or in the press, because other programs like GSA’s Polaris and GSA’s Astro, and the NIH CIO-SP4 contract, those all are new contracts, they have definitive start dates, you have to have your offer in by certain period of time to be considered. And even though they’re going to be on ramps for some of those programs, you have to wait for the on ramp if you didn’t get your offer in originally. So there tends to be a lot of buzz around some of the other contract vehicles because people are actively bidding, and you have to get on these at a certain time or not. Whereas in the schedules, it’s always there, you can submit it offer anytime. And that doesn’t really make headlines, but it does make for good business. And the numbers show that schedule contracts are more popular than ever with federal buyers. I think some of that has to do with meeting the needs attendant to the pandemic. But the schedules program has been popular for decades now. GSA’s numbers are showing that not only did the schedule program finished strong at the end of FY20. It’s actually ahead of projections so far for the current fiscal year. So, there’s good business to be had there.

Jared Serbu: A lot of interest on the government side, this is probably harder to measure. But can you see a waning interest on the selling side and getting on schedules or is that mostly anecdotal?

Larry Allen: You know it’s really a good question. I would have said that if we were having this conversation a year ago, anecdotally, interest in getting on schedule might have been waning. Certainly the number of schedules classes I was teaching had been reduced. But Jared in the last six months, that’s kind of changed around. My phone’s been ringing a lot more about people who are looking to get on schedule, looking to enter the federal market with new products. And people recommending that they take a look at getting on schedule, either their own contract or through somebody who has a contract already. Similarly, those schedule classes I’m teaching, I’m teaching them and they’re starting to fill up. So I think we’re seeing a little bit of a rebound. There may have been a lull for a while. But now industry is coming back. And it’s not just existing contractors, a lot of newer market entries.

Jared Serbu: Yeah. And he should point out in the newsletter, getting on schedules is one thing. But once you’re there, you don’t want to just let things lie dormant. It’s something you do need to attend to throughout time.

Larry Allen: Sure. Well there are a couple of things to keep in mind, Jared. One is it takes one set of skills to get on any IDIQ contract like a GSA Schedule, you have to be able to put together a good proposal. It takes another set of skills to be able to sell through those contracts, because remember, they’re all kind of like fishing licenses, and you’ve got to go out and catch the fish. And the third part is you do have to make sure that you stay compliant. And my experience has been that most companies are happy when sales increase. I know I’m happy when mine increased. But you also have to pay attention to the back office stuff to make sure that those increases stay within your company and don’t go back to the government because you weren’t complying.

Jared Serbu: Also in the newsletter this week, you’re talking about getting a little less DC centric and thinking about some of the other markets that sellers to the government might wanting to be paying attention to at the moment and you’re really interested in Huntsville it looks like. Tell me why Huntsville grabbed your attention.

Larry Allen: Jared, Huntsville grabbed my attention because it’s not new to being a enclave for federal business, but it really is expanding. The FBI is taking the lead and expanding some of its business, its presence in Huntsville. We’ve already had a massive army presence there. But we’re also getting stuff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Land Management, some other agencies, and that got me to thinking about contractors and how they approach the government market. If a contractor hasn’t really thought about Huntsville lately, it should because more government agencies are going down there that their enclave is expanding. I think conservatively speaking, there be over 20,000 federal employees over the next couple of years in Huntsville. That certainly isn’t going to replace Washington, D.C. But you start thinking about these places, Jared that are around the country, whether it’s Huntsville, whether it’s a place like San Diego that has a huge Navy complement, or San Antonio that has a large Air Force community around it. These are places outside of the D.C. area that federal business gets done. And you can even look at a place like Denver that doesn’t necessarily call a lot of federal agencies home, but has a lot of, every federal agency in the book has a regional office in Denver, and there’s an entire campus of federal offices outside of downtown Denver. So if you’re a federal contractor, and you’re looking for ways to energize your business, you might want to start to look at some of these areas outside of the Beltway. I know that I look outside of the Beltway, sometimes with fear and trepidation, Jared, but this would be a good time to do that.

Jared Serbu: That distinction that you’re kind of hinting at is really interesting to me. I mean, there are places where there are huge concentrations of federal employees like San Diego, like Hampton Roads, but they tend to be company towns for one particular department. Like if you’re doing a lot of DoD business, you probably have an office in Hampton Roads, that’s different than a place like Huntsville, and there’s a couple others I think of maybe like Martinsburg, West Virginia, where there’s a large diversity of different federal agencies, coupled with a high concentration of federal employees. And that’s a different animal and possibly more untapped opportunities for government sellers, then the big hunts, sorry, the big Hampton Roads’ and San Diego’s, that they’re probably already thinking about.

Larry Allen: Well, I think you’re exactly right. And I would throw back into that mix again, Denver, which has just a huge federal campus for lots of federal agencies, and they also have an enclave of federal offices in downtown Denver. So you look at places like Huntsville, like Martinsburg, West Virginia, like Denver, just to name three and you really got a diverse set of federal entities, they all have money. A lot of these agencies, you look at the ones, particularly under the Department of Justice, they traditionally do very decentralized buying, anyway. So these are good business opportunities for themselves. You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity in a good part of the country just because it’s not Washington, D.C. You want to look at where the opportunities are writ large.

Jared Serbu: Alright. Larry Allen is president of Allen Federal Business Partners. Good to talk to you as always, Larry.

Larry Allen: Jared, thank you and I wish your listeners happy selling.

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