what are multiple award schedule contracts?
In some regards, the terms "multiple award schedule," "federal supply schedule," "GSA/VA schedules," and even just "contracting vehicle," in general, are more or less synonymous. MAS contracts originated with the General Services Administration -- an independent agency that acts, among other things, as the central purchasing arm of the federal government. Along with acting as primary purchasing vehicles themselves, MAS contracts also tend to be the building blocks toward other more specialized types of contracting vehicles like GWACs and BPAs.
With the success of GSA MAS program, other entities began utilizing similar programs -- notably the TxMAS (a Texas-based MAS program) and the CMAS (a California-based MAS program). It is important to note that these programs are NOT the same as simple state registrations, in a similar vein to an FSS contract not being the same as a SAM registration. A few decades ago, the GSA granted the Department of Veterans' Affairs control over select FSS contracts -- largely those dealing in medical-related fields; in these specific industries, the mandate is much stronger to purchase from schedule-holders, and thus, more significant to these specific industries.
should my business get a MAS contract?
In some regards, it is a lot easier to state whether a company definitely should NOT get a MAS contract as opposed to determining whether a company should. It should be noted that even if your company does not fall in a "should not" category, that does not necessarily mean it should; investment of time and money to obtain a schedule contract may make such a pursuit untenable at a certain time.
Companies that SHOULD NOT get a MAS contract:
- Companies not interested in working with the government. This seems like a no-brainer, but this includes companies that had never really considered gaining government work, but were sold on the idea of doing so. Government contracting CAN be quite lucrative, and particularly for small businesses, can be a solid and consistent client. However, it can also be a grueling experience that requires a lot of focus. For most successful contractors, government work tends to become their pre-occupation.
- Companies not able to achieve a certain amount of sales. With very few exceptions, most companies want to get to the next level of business development. However, not every company is ready for the expectations of government contracting. While not ever project or order is a multi-million dollar transaction (most are not, in fact), there does tend to be a proclivity toward bulk orders in government contracting. If your company does not have the means to produce mass orders at will, it's unlikely your company is quite ready for a MAS contract. Indeed, there are even requirements of maintaining at least $25,000 per year in orders and projects for many MAS contracts in order to maintain them.
- Companies in certain industries. MAS contracts do cover a much wider range of products and services than many people give them credit (No, they are not just product-based contracts!), but that does not mean every industry is applicable. Construction companies, machine shops, weapons & ammunition dealers and manufacturers, architecture firms, most food and beverage companies, companies whose products are made primarily in certain countries, most fuel companies, and raw commodity factories are generally not accepted.
- Product-based companies that are not able or willing to ship nationwide. While there are some exceptions, most MAS contracts -- even some of the service-based ones -- are meant to be nationwide. Although buyers do focus on localized spending as one of their means of determining who to purchase from, there is an expectation of delivery to anywhere.
- Companies that cannot gain certain standards and permissions. There is no set standard certification that a company needs in order to get a schedule contract -- so, a company does not have to be woman-owned, or ISO-certified, and so forth. However, there are specific instances of requirements. Some of these include: maintaining prevailing wages for employees, e-Verify hiring standards, gaining a manufacturer letter of supply if your company is a distributor and not a manufacturer, having environmentally friendly (green) products, holding certain safety standards in certain product manufacturing (particularly prominent in furniture manufacturing), and, of course, being able to gain a favorable DNB Open Ratings. Each MAS contract is different -- and even within each MAS contract there are differences -- so understand there is no catch-all.
- Questionable companies. This does not mean shady or corrupt businesses (though, yes, these will also be excluded). This more so implies companies barely on the brink of qualifications. So, perhaps it's a company that has $100,000 in gross sales; perhaps its a company that specializes in a new technology or service; perhaps its a company the only offer a single offering where a more total solution is needed. These are the instances in which there is no set rule that would bar them from gaining a MAS, but the awarding contracting officer may still reject anyway. This is possibly one of the most understated things about the MAS program: a contracting officer can just say no. This is not typically done at whim, but contracting officers already have extensive backlogs that are thoroughly overwhelming. If they see a relatively easy reason to reject your company, they will take advantage of it.
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