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Micro-Purchases and Simplified Acquisitions: It’s Not Rocket Science

Wednesday, May 10, 2006   (0 Comments)
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But the government uses both methods to procure it. NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center website provides a great source of information for companies still cutting their teeth on the government purchasing processes

by Guy Timberlake, The American Small Business Coalition

I need to take a trip to Cleveland sometime soon. Not to go see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or hang out at The Flats (already done both), but to visit Carl Silski at NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center or GRC, as it’s commonly referred. Carl is the Small Business Officer at GRC and I met him in 2001 while I was on a short stint in the federal technology exposition business.

When I met him, Carl struck me as one of the government small business officials who really does try to make a difference. He has a genuine interest in helping, and takes the time to help you understand why or why not. Not an endorsement, just an observation.

The point of that comment is the focus of this article. While I was doing research for the first of The ASBC’s revamped Micro-Mondays events, I happened across the GRC website (www.grc.nasa.gov) and specifically the Doing Business with GRC page for which Carl is designated as the ‘Responsible NASA Official’. What I see on the pages are the conveyance of what Carl has done for years at GRC. Trying to help.

As The American Small Business Coalition prepares to turn two in April, we’ve reworked a few things, completely modified some and deleted others. We reformatted Micro-Mondays so The ASBC will become a more robust resource to the small business community by providing information relevant to Micro-Purchases, Simplified Acquisitions and the GSA SmartPay program. The information, which Carl and NASA have provided on the NASA.gov, is fantastic. Its relevant and actionable, not just to me but to anyone looking for a way to begin talking to GRC as a potential customer or even those already “in” GRC working to expand their business.

Micro-Mondays will provide a progressive format in which attendees (members and non-members alike) will have the opportunity to learn about Micro-Purchases and Simplified Acquisitions as they are utilized by government agencies. In exchange for participating, they’ll also gain free access to the market research compiled by The ASBC, which will restate what they see and hear at Micro-Mondays and provide them additional details that were not included in the live presentation. Members of The ASBC will always be able to reach the information, but the interaction and the Q&A will be a significant component of this program.

Here’s the deal. If you’re trying to get your foot in the proverbial government agency door, the one thing that everyone is (and should be) telling you is do your homework. If you review the content on the GRC page, it’s what they’re saying, too. I always get a chuckle when I read the introduction of my friend Mark Amtower’s book (Government Marketing Best Practices). In the third paragraph he references the typical outcome of companies who fail to dedicate themselves to learning the business before trying to do the business.

It goes like this:

“…if you come into this market without some education, beware. It’s like the line from a Mary Chapin Carpenter song: ‘Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.’ Most turn out to be the bug, as they expect market entry to be quick, seamless, simple and lucrative.”

If you read my last article, Will that be VISA or MasterCard? you already have an idea of how often the government is using the GSA SmartPay Purchase Card and how many acquisition dollars are being processed in that way ($5.5B since the start of the ‘06 fiscal year). The reason the NASA-GRC site is so useful as a resource for GRC but also as a model of what to look for on other agency sites, is the fact that they take the time to explain some of the nuances of doing business with them as opposed to doing business with other NASA organizations. That’s important. Is has less to do with the personality traits of the officials there and more to do with the mission of the organization as a whole.

They discuss micro-purchases, simplified acquisitions, current on-site contractors, prime contractors, the organizational structure, forecasts, active contracts and more as it relates to GRC. In the post September 11th world of government contracting, certain information is hard to come by. The lists of credit cardholders are nowhere near as available as they were prior to that day and many of the lists that are available are cryptic at best. That’s not to slight anyone by any means, quite the contrary. I’m in full support of doing everything that needs to be done to protect our nation, civil servants, first responders and warfighters. It just means that those of us in industry need to be a bit more creative and innovative in how we go about doing business. Innovative. Isn’t that a word regularly attributed to the small business community?

Back to Carl Silski and the GRC website. If you’re a company seeking a business opportunity with the John H. Glenn Research Center or its Plum Brook field station located near Sandusky, Ohio, they’ve laid out a market researchers smorgasbord. Let’s say, for example, you’re trying to work with the Space Combustion and Microgravity Technical Branch whose organization code is DRI. The first thing you’ll note is that the NASA folks were nice enough to provide an Organizational Listing complete with Organization Codes, Contacts and Phone Numbers. That’s a good start. You can peruse their site to learn a little about what the folks at DRI are working on, and even better, you can pull up the GRC Forecast to see if the DRI team has any upcoming requirements, which may have been funded for this fiscal year.

We’re not done yet. Carl and his team were in a good mood on May 4, 2005 because that’s the day they updated the list of Purchase Cardholders at GRC. Not only did they provide you a list of the names at GRC, but they also provided the organizational code for each cardholder that corresponds to the Organizational Listing mentioned earlier. To top it off, the last four digits of each cardholders phone number is provided as well. The last time I looked, GRC was a 216 area code with a 433 exchange. I’m sure Carl would have updated the information if it had changed.

All of this information is key to helping you understand the goals and objectives of the organizations at GRC. It helps you understand the mission of the center as it relates to the rest of NASA, and even how some of the NASA programs affect other agencies such as NOAA, DoD, USGS and others. If you don’t understand your customer and their problem(s), how do you expect your company to factor in as a value to them?

I guess there are a few points I’m trying to make here. First, do your homework. If you don’t know how to do it, find someone that can help you. Second, utilize the resources that are available to you and continue to expand your resource pool. Answers to some of the questions you have about doing business with the government and other contractors is often right in front of you. If you’re not getting answers to your questions, find someone else to ask. Third, relationships, relationships, relationships. Make them, keep them and grow them. In this business, it doesn’t matter how good your product, service or solution is if you can’t get it in front of anyone who can make the decision to use it.

There is help available.

About The American Small Business Coalition

The American Small Business Coalition is a private membership organization that provides access to information and relationships essential to doing business with the United States Government and Government Contractors. In addition to advisory-based practical and technical support, matchmaking activities and education opportunities, The ASBC facilitates qualified collaborations with Government and Industry intended to enhance the ability of The ASBC Members to capture and utilize business intelligence and business relationships.

Guy Timberlake, Chief Executive and Chief Visionary Officer of The American Small Business Coalition has nearly twenty years experience in the government contracting arena working for and leading small businesses. He is a committed entrepreneur and is also committed to serving the federal contracting community to promote good business between government and industry. More information can be found at http://guytimberlake.theasbc.org.


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