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Government Contractor’s Blog

Dealing with Financials—what are Contracting Officers looking for, exactly?

I’ve heard said that more than 80% of companies who apply for a GSA Schedule contract on their own get rejected on their first attempt.. When applying for their own GSA contract, many applicants do not have a full grasp of their Contracting Officer’s expectations. While not arbitrary, Contracting Officers’ expectations can be individualized and specific. If the applicant doesn’t know what a Contracting Officer wants, it can be very difficult to win them over.  Following the letter of the solicitation of not enough. You have to make a clear case that you are qualified and equipped to deliver whatever will be asked of you.

One place where these expectations may be less than clear is with company financials. There some are clear requirements, like having $250,000 annual revenue or 2 years of financial history*. If you don’t meet these standards, it might not yet be time for you to go after a GSA schedule contract. But even if you do, the point isn’t to go down a checklist that says you’ve met the minimum standards. Depending on your particular solicitation, you will be asked to provide financials from the past one to three years. The minimum guideline was put in place because without a history, the Contracting Officer (CO) may be unable to determine the state of your business. It is essential to give GSA all necessary information so that your CO will feel confident in your company.

Confidence comes with a clear overall picture of the applicant’s financial stability. This implies that the company could well be around for the next 5-20 years to fulfill an awarded GSA Schedule contract. It also shows the CO that the company has the ability to handle the exactitude of government accounting practices, including demonstration of a healthy profit, compared to your income. GSA doesn’t need a fully expanded financial statement, but the Contracting Officer would like to see some specifics of your Profit and Loss (P&L) statement, such as the various lines of income and major expense categories like employee costs, professional and legal fees, rent, etc.

Financials that would concern a CO show a negative P&L and unclear balance statements. Overloaded expense in some minor categories, such as phone, cars, or travel, may also raise a red flag.

If you are currently putting together a contract proposal, be sure that the picture you are creating is complete and accurate; not just in a way that says you met the minimum requirements, but in a way that says your business is responsible and ready to expand into the federal market.

For more information, contact Ivan Wohner at or 301-913-5000.

*There are examples of these requirements being waived by GSA in very specific instances.

Where did my pricelist go: the broad fallout of GSA’s TAA compliance issues?

The chances are that you’ve heard about the sweeping audit that GSA is conducting of products on schedules 56, 66, 73, and 84. If you have products on GSAAdvantage!, Whether or not your posting violates the TAA Trade Agreement Act, you must respond to the governments inquiries about country of origin by 5/13/16 or else your pricelist will be removed. And once it’s removed, it can be extremely frustrating to get it reposted.

By Friday, you are required to certify the origin of every product that you sell to the government. For any item found to be manufactured in the United States or a TAA Designated Country, you must provide a copy of the Certificate of Origin OR certification from manufacturer on official letterhead verifying the products they supply are compliant with Trade Agreements Act. If you discover that you have TAA non-compliant items on your price list, you will have to submit a modification to have them deleted, and upload a new catalog by 5/16/16.

You might be tempted to ignore GSA’s warning, saying, “All of my products are made in America. I should know, I’m the manufacturer.” Do not do this. Anyone who has not certified that everything they offer is TAA compliant will have their price list removed from GSAAdvantage! Any future instance of a product misrepresenting its country of origin, with an unverified origin, or from a country that is not TAA compliant will result in your pricelist being delisted and your GSA schedule contract being subject to cancellation.

That’s a heavy punishment, but for the federal government, it is a serious issue. The federal government has bound itself with a variety of laws beginning with the Buy American Act (BAA) of 1933. Basically, it says that the federal government may not purchase goods from non-US companies if there is a US company that can provide it…unless. That unless allowed for the 1983 Trade Agreement Act (TAA), which specifies the exceptions to the BAA. The trade Agreement Act states that:

If you are selling a product that was manufactured* outside of the US, it must be from a TAA “designated country”. TAA “Designated Countries” include:

  • Those with a free trade agreement with the United States such as Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Singapore
  • Countries that participate in the World Trade Organization Government Procurement Agreement (WTO GPA), including Japan and many countries in Europe
  • Least developed countries such as Afghanistan, Laos, and Ethiopia
  • Caribbean Basin countries such as Aruba, Costa Rica, and Haiti

China, Russia, Brazil, and India are not on that list.

If you have a product that was made in China, for example, you are violating the TAA. Now historically, Violating the TAA would have been a case of misrepresentation, triggering the False Claims Act. The FCA penalizes the company that misrepresents their product (saying it is TAA compliant when it is not, which causes the federal government to violate their own laws and trade agreements). The penalty is treble (3x) damages plus up to $11,000 per incident. In 2005, Office Depot settled for a 4.75 million dollar fine and OfficeMax settled for a $9.72 Million fine. These penalties were all for selling products to the federal government that were purported to have been TAA compliant, but were not.

And this is the question: How did non-compliant items get onto a GSA schedule in the first place? According to the settlement agreements, no fault was ascribed. That is, the government didn’t insist that the business “knew” they were in the wrong, the company didn’t declare that they were innocent. And that’s because, as our supply chain becomes increasingly globalized, the question of “country of origin” becomes more difficult to ascertain.

There are many ways for a non-compliant item to appear on a GSA schedule: perhaps during the initial award process, a catalog with thousands of products may have accidentally slipped in something that was made in china. Or a supplier or manufacturer may have given incorrect information to a distributer. Maybe an item that was once manufactured in a TAA compliant country may have had its country of origin changed without the distributer knowing. Or there may be some mix-up in how a business interprets the law. Whatever the case is, it’s still highly illegal. GSA makes this statement:

“Regardless if your firm is a manufacturer, distributor, reseller, etc., the responsibility for compliance with TAA and [Country Of Origin] representations rests solely with the GSA Schedule contract holder. GSA Schedule contract holders have a fiduciary duty to determine compliance with the TAA and to ensure that all COO representations in GSA Advantage are accurate regardless of any information provided by your suppliers or manufacturers if you are a distributor or reseller.”

So rather than waiting for a whistle blower or a complaint CAV to reveal these issues, GSA is being proactive. There should be no TAA-violating items for sale on GSAAdvantage in the first place, and they are taking steps to make sure that is the case.

If there is a TAA non-compliant item on your price list, the entire list will be taken down, and your GSA schedule contract may be cancelled.

If you need help or more information, reach out. or 301-913-5000 x 5015.

How to Wrap Your Head around a 1.8 Trillion Dollar Spending Bill

It can be difficult to wrap you head around a figure like $1.8 Trillion, the size of the spending bill that was passed Earlier this month. It can feel out of reach, and the people voting on these measures speak about it in only the vaguest of terms: “I’m pleased this bill lends a helping hand to middle- to low-income families.” Moreover, our political antennae are hyper- tuned to issues like waste and accountability, and we can feel as if the government is spending that money on the wrong things. It doesn’t matter your political or ideological bent: the federal government is going to buy something that you don’t like.

The stories of the Golden Toilets and the rabbits getting Swedish massages notwithstanding, the reality is that the government is going to buy normal, not very controversial, goods and services. Things that you sell. And the worst thing that the federal government can spend money on is your competitors’ products instead of yours.

It is important, then, not to think about the spending bill as a 1.8 Trillion dollar monolith of spending. Rather, consider it to be a $20,000 increase for IT training for a department that couldn’t your retain your services. Or a $100,000 for NASA project managers for their new lab constriction projects. These projects, and thousands of others, represent the spending bill. And think about this. 23% of all money spent by an agency must be spent on small businesses.

To discover exactly what agencies are going to do with their newly apportioned funds, look for their agency forecast.