ANNETTE SCHUMACHER BARR, CPA, is a technical manager in the AICPA professional standards and services division. Ms. Schumacher Barrs views, as expressed in this article, do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA. Official positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.
Each year, the federal government contracts with thousands of CPAs to perform financial audits, assist in internal control review work, provide financial management services and develop performance measurement techniques, among other assignments. These engagements can provide a CPA firm with a reliable and often long-term client.
Even more opportunities for CPAs to work with the government should emerge in the future. Federal agencies, which constantly face downsizing and budget cuts, are being encouraged by Vice-President Al Gores National Performance and Review Program to contract out functions that are not inherently governmental. Thus, CPA firms are likely to see more administrative, financial management and accounting engagements open for bids. This also provides smaller CPA firms with a great opportunity, because all government contracts of $100,000 or less must be set aside for small business.
If your firm wants a piece of the government pie, it first must procure a government contract. You can do this by marketing your services directly to the federal agency you want to work with or to the General Services Administration (GSA), which expedites federal contracts. Heres information on how to do both.
STRAIGHT TO THE SOURCE
The first and best piece of advice is to check the Commerce Business Daily (CBD). The CBD, which is published every business day by the Department of Commerce, lists proposed government procurements, subcontracting leads and foreign business opportunities. Agencies are required to announce all intended procurements of $25,000 or more, and, although these announcements appear in the CBD only once, potential suppliers have at least 30 days to respond. You can subscribe to the CBD by writing to the Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office (GPO), Washington, D.C. 20402. Subscriptions for the CBD cost $137.50 for six months and $275 for one year. You also can review current issues at a GSA business service center, a Small Business Administration office, a Commerce Department field office, your public library or online at cbdnet.access.gpo.gov .
Once youve found the right agency or you know which one you would like to work with, you have to let the agency know of your interest in getting contracts and the services you provide. You must contact the agency and ask for a request for proposal (RFP). Agency contacts that supply RFPs are listed in the CBD, although some agencies require that you download the RFP from their Web sites. The RFP outlines the type of contract the agency offers, including scope of work, and provides instructions on how to fill it out. Once you have responded to the RFP, it is a waiting game. Your firm should hear back from the agency within four months of submitting the RFP, whether or not you have received the contract.
LET THE GSA DO THE WORK FOR YOU
If you have limited or no prior experience, the GSA may be your best bet for obtaining a federal contract. Each of the GSAs 12 business service centers (also known as small business centers) is staffed with specialists who can identify which GSA offices are in the market for your services. They will explain federal contracting terminology and policy, help you get on bidder lists and brief you on other requirements for GSA contracts.
At the business service centers, you can review announcements of upcoming contracts and obtain useful publications and reference materials.
The GSA can be even more of a resource for your firm. Here are some ways you can use its services to get a jump-start on the competition and proactively seek government contracts:
Attend GSA events. Attend all available GSA
networking sessions, procurement conferences and seminars. Host a
table at GSA trade fairs to market your services directly to the
government. GSA business service centers have details on these events.
Get on a proposal mailing list. To receive RFPs
automatically, you must obtain a solicitation mailing list
application (Standard Form 129) from a business service center and
send it to the contracting office. If several contracting agencies
are potential buyers, submit a copy of your completed application to
each office. You must respond, whether positively or
negatively, to every solicitation you receive; if you dont respond,
you may be dropped from the list.
- Market your services to GSAs purchasing office. Getting on a mailing list does not guarantee business. You must market your services directly to the Federal Supply Service (FSS)the GSAs purchasing office, which buys auditing and financial management servicesto get your firms name on the FSSs multiple-award schedule for auditing and financial management services.
|How Agencies Choose a CPA Firm|
Federal agencies that need the help of an outside CPA have two choices: They can contract directly with a CPA firm or they can go through the General Services Administration (GSA). If an agency chooses to contract directly, it must adhere to federal procurement requirements for ensuring contracts are awarded fairly, competitively and cost-effectively. It must, therefore, seek competitive bids, standardize and publish requirements, make determinations of fair and reasonable pricing and consider all opportunities for smaller businesses. If the agency, instead, does its contracting through the GSA, the GSA does all the legwork. The agency elects to use a multiple awards schedule (also known as a GSA federal supply schedule), which lists individuals and organizations that have applied to be awarded future contracts and have qualified for inclusion in the schedule. Due to staff reductions and limited resources, more and more federal government agencies are choosing to contract through the GSA.
The schedule provides federal agencies with direct access to a wide range of professional auditing and financial management services to assist with the completion of certain required financial system reviews, management control reviews and other finance-related tasks.
To have your name on the schedule, you must respond to FSS solicitations posted in the CBD during open season (when applications are accepted), which occurs approximately every 18 months. If you miss one, keep your eye on the CBD for the next one. In the meantime, you should monitor the CBD for direct postings of contract opportunities. For more information, contact Alexandra Walter by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the FSS Web page at http://www.r6.gsa.gov/fss/ .
- Consult other GSA sources of information. The following GSA publications offer additional contracting information:
Forecast of GSA Contracting Opportunities. This annual publication lists GSAs contracts for the next several years, giving prospective contractors time to develop marketing strategies, compile the necessary information and prepare proposals. Contracting opportunities are listed by region and type of goods or services required. The publication, issued by GSAs Office of Enterprise Development, is available free of charge from any business service center. It also is available online at w3.gsa.gov/web/i/ion/con_opp.nsf .
GSA Subcontracting Directory. Companies that have GSA contracts for goods or services worth $500,000 or more are required to have subcontracting plans that specify the amount of goods and services to be supplied through subcontracts with smaller businesses. This information is published semiannually in the directory. For a free copy, write or call your local business service center.
Federal Procurement Data System Federal Procurement Report. This publication contains statistics on procurements by the GSA and more than 60 other federal agencies. To be placed on the mailing list for a free copy of the report, write to the Federal Procurement Data Systems Division, U.S. General Services Administration, 7th and D Streets, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20407.
A GREAT JOB TO PURSUE
Seeking a federal contract is well worth the effort, because the government often makes the best client. The agencies generally pay on time, often within 30 to 45 days of the billing date, but, if payments are late, they must pay interest. In addition, federal contracts generally are large and may require the full-time services of your staff for months at a time. Because this is not seasonal work, however, your firm will not experience workload compression.
Most important, federal contracts often result in fascinating work. Your firm could perform financial audits of the Department of Justice or even the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. One of your auditors might even be asked to perform inventory testing on the space shuttleyou never know.