GSA launches program to educate new and emerging contractors

The Obama administration announced a new pilot program on Thursday to help small and midsize firms break into the federal marketplace and better compete for government contracts.

The Business Breakthrough Program will offer a series of educational and training workshops to companies looking to win contracts that the General Services Administration issues. The program also will provide small firms that are new to government contracting access to GSA's mentor-protégé program.

"Getting involved and getting familiar with the government procurement process is not easy," said Ginger Lew, senior adviser to the White House National Economic Council, during an afternoon conference call. "It is perceived as being complicated. We have gotten feedback from businesses that this can be a challenge."

While the program is open to companies of all sizes, it ostensibly is targeting midsize firms that can get lost in the shuffle between industry goliaths and undersized firms that qualify for Small Business Administration socioeconomic set-aside contract opportunities.

"We are trying to provide a venue for larger- and medium-sized companies that can benefit from some training and outreach," Lew said. "We have heard from medium-sized businesses that they are falling through the cracks here. They did not fit the SBA programs, which are geared toward how to get certified as an 8(a) [small business contractor] or as service disabled or women-owned."

The new program will provide participants with the knowledge "not on how to compete for set-asides with procurement preferences but learning how to compete in the absence of those," said GSA Associate Administrator Jiyoung Park. The goal, she said, is to increase competition in contracting governmentwide.

The initiative will not provide any explicit contracting advantages to participants, although mentor-protégé firms are eligible for certain procurement benefits, Park said.

GSA, which awards roughly $50 billion in contracts annually, will host two series of workshops: one for companies new to government contracting and another for companies looking to advance in the marketplace. The latter program will provide participants with an in-depth view of GSA's procurement needs, including its governmentwide contracting programs, and information on the agency's green contracting initiatives, Park said. Both workshops will draw on case studies as a teaching tool.

The agency is now in the public input phase of the program. GSA heard from business groups at a roundtable discussion last week to solicit ideas for the program. The agency also will roll out a social media tool on its website next week to collect additional suggestions from the business community.

The program will officially launch in May at two undisclosed cities, and will be expanded governmentwide later this year.

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