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In federal contracting, are the days of building relationships with your local agency gone for good? The unintended consequences of FSSI.

After I posted a link to my little story about starting up as a federal government contractor, there was a flurry of activity on one of my LinkedIn groups, the Federal Government Contractor Network. It centered around something called FSSI.

FSSI stands for Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative, and was designed by the GSA to streamline the government’s purchasing process across multiple government agencies, in order to increase efficiency and save costs.

Currently, there are strategic sourcing solutions in place for wireless telecommunications, office supplies, express and ground domestic delivery services, print management, and computer software, with more to come. In the LinkedIn discussion, Professor Samuel Bornstein put out some of the numbers:

OMB and GSA expects to implement an additional 10 FSSIs in FY2013. GSA is about to release its FSSI for Janitorial and Sanitation Products & Maintenance, Repair and Operations Products (JanSan & MRO). From an existing list of 6,461 JanSan & MRO contractors, only a “select few” will be the winners, as Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs) are awarded. In the previous FSSI for Schedule 75 Office Supplies, there were only 15 BPAs awarded out of 569 contractors. We can presume that there will be many losers in the FSSI for JanSan & MRO, and many new small business federal contractors will not be able to sell to the government. As OFFP’s Joe Jordan recently stated, “Not all who want to sell to the government can sell to the government.”

Another commenter warned, “The days of visiting a local contract office and building a long-term business relationship based on knowledge and first-class service and knowledge may be gone for good.”

Is it all bad news for federal contractors? So here’s what we know – first of all, in a conversation with a procurement head for a medium-sized agency, I was told that FSSI caused her some problems at first, then when it stopped working altogether (presumably because the BPA holders weren’t building those relationships we’ve been discussing), the agency simply went and filed an exception. No more FSSI.

This is why maintaining your relationships is the critical issue. I can’t begin to tell you how many times in my 30 years of doing this, an agency winked and nodded and said, “Those XYZ guys do real good work for us,” making it real easy for us. We made XYZ a subcontractor, and voilà, our relationship as the prime contractor was immediately solidified.

Or an agency just ignored all the folderol as one more swing of the pendulum, and contracted using another vehicle we were on – being the company they have a relationship with, and again, problem solved.

FSSI will save some money. It will help GSA reduce cost. It will not be as friendly to small business as the open Schedules. And then the pendulum will swing, and FSSI will disappear or morph into something more friendly, reversing these unintended effects.

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