Contracting for the Government

There's money in government jobs along with bureaucratic hassles and headaches. January 10, 2008

Question
Where do you look to find local city and government bids? I'm looking for small local contracts but have no idea where to find them.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor L:
Builders Association plan rooms. Most of these are awarded through a builder, so the scope is actually in the builder's bid. If you can possibly get your foot in the door with a commercial builder that does that kind of work, then they will solicit you for a bid as a subcontractor. This is actually great because they are out looking for work for you.



From contributor P:
I don't mess with this stuff anymore because in my area the selection process isn't quite something I want to be involved in. That said, there's usually some sort of posting at city hall for bid contracts. Some municipalities are required to run an ad announcing bids over a certain amount, so watch the paper. Also, you can check with whatever your town has for a city engineer's office or improvements office or whatever. Oftentimes there's a bid-list you can get on and they'll contact you if a project comes up on whatever lists you're on. School board meetings and city council meetings might give you a heads-up on upcoming projects. If the town isn't too large, go straight to the head of the different departments. On smaller projects, the head of the department might have the ability to select a contractor to supply items up to a certain dollar amount without having to go through a bid process or approval from some committee or whatever. Contributor L's way works well too, especially for larger projects. Recently I've become involved in a couple of Historical Society projects. They're better than straight out government projects, I think.


From contributor J:
If you're interested in federal government jobs, go to the SBA website and you'll find links to the eCommerce web site. You can also contact the contracting office at the federal agency nearest you. They can help you get the ball rolling as well. It takes time to get your foot in the door. You'll need a Dunn and Bradstreet number and Workman's comp if you don't already have it. There's a link on the SBA site to get that D&B number.

I worked in DoD finance and contracting for a long time while I was in the Air Force. The contracting process for all federal agencies is essentially the same. The money is usually good but the bureaucracy is more trouble to deal with than you can imagine. They pay slow when everything is perfect, and if one T is not crossed, the process stops and you don't get paid at all (and no phone call to tell you what's wrong). The up side to that is you get paid an interest penalty when they don't pay on time.

Another thing you'll want to do is get set up and authorized to take the Government purchase card. That's just a Visa card that's administered by the government so agencies can bypass the contracting process for single purchases under $2500. (That threshold may have gone up since I left two years ago.) Some agencies are given higher purchase authority but I've never seen it over $10K.

If you bid a job with the government, bid a little high and offer a discount for prompt payment. All government agencies are required by law to take cost effective discounts. The financial managers have a performance indicator that is closely watched by senior management. They get beat up if they miss those discounts, so rest assured, the payment processors take notice when that's in the contract.

I'm not telling you to avoid this process, but I will offer this advice. Don't get involved with the federal government if there is even a remote chance your business will live or die because of one of their contracts. These finance payment centers are sweat shops and have huge turnovers and the resulting training problems. It's not uncommon to get paid 90 days after you complete a job. Each agency has a special office that deals with congressional inquiries over complaints from mom and pop businesses that are drowning because the bureaucracy won't respond.