what are contracting vehicles?
In government contracting, contracting vehicles may be the most well-known and highly scrutinized subject -- all the more interesting in that so many people aren't even familiar with the term "contracting vehicle," even when they actually have one. In a technical sense, contract vehicle is a streamlined method the government uses to buy goods and services. Contract vehicles are centrally managed by a federal agency, which reduces acquisition administrative costs and creates time and resource efficiencies. In another sense, they are essentially contracts for contracts: they establish the rules and guidelines of how purchases are made at the beginning in order to avoid the continuous redundancy of negotiating new terms every time.
From the perspective of the government, there are highly valuable in terms of saving time and money, as a purchasing process can be reduced from multiple months to as little as a few days. Think of contracting vehicles as the templates of government purchasing -- government contracting algorithms, in a way. Credentials, pricing, capabilities, and so forth are already established; contracting vehicles allow for a near plug-and-play purchasing process of the government just needing to figure out how much they need of something -- be it products or services.
From a vendor perspective, having a contracting vehicle does offer an edge. A lot of people refer to contracting vehicles as "hunting licenses," but that's not entirely accurate as 1) this implies a contracting vehicle is essentially mandatory and 2) this implies that contracting vehicles are passive registrations, when they are more purchasing methods. A better analogy is the difference between shopping online (the contracting vehicle) and shopping by mail-order (more conventional contracting). The edge is based largely on convenience, not registration.
should my business get a contracting vehicle?
This question is the main reason for the scrutiny of contracting vehicles -- notably involving the GSA/VA Multiple Award Schedules (also known as Federal Supply Schedules). These types of contracting vehicles have been around for decades, but they came to a higher prominence in the late 90s to early 2000s as consulting companies realized they could charge a sizable fee to get on schedule as the application process to get a schedule contract can be quite intense. More and more companies -- mainly small businesses -- were being pushed into obtaining a schedule where they may never have previously even considered it. Thousands of companies have lost a lot of money with little to no benefit because they were ill-informed on the purposes of schedule contracts, and instead were lured in with the promises of "guaranteed" riches. Because of these instances, contracting vehicle reputation has soured a little.
With that said, though, if you are a business in certain industries that wants to engage in consistent, direct business with the government -- be it state or federal -- then a contracting vehicle is, or at least will become, practically required. Note, if your business is looking toward doing more subcontracting work with larger corporations, if your business is really only interested in an occasional job maybe once every two years or so, or if your company is in particularly industries, the amount of effort it takes to get the average contracting vehicle will likely not be worthwhile to your business. This is especially true as, for many contracting vehicles, you have to maintain certain levels of business transactions in order to maintain the contracting vehicle.
On the menu to the right of this page, you can see further detailed information about each type of contracting vehicle -- how to apply, the actual documentation, etc -- to better help you understand if a certain contracting vehicle is right for your business. However, a basic rule of thumb is: If one of the primary goals of your company at its onset was to do business with the government, then yes, you likely should look toward gaining a contracting vehicle at some point. If it took another party to "sell" you on the idea of working with the government before you had really considered it, you should think very hard on it first.
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