September 30 marks the end of the federal government’s fiscal year. Historically, agencies rush to award contracts before this date in an effort to spend all the money Congress appropriated to be spent on goods and services during the year. What can contractors do to maximize their chances of end-of-year contract awards? Keep reading to find out.

First, make sure you are eligible to do business with the federal government. Federal law requires every government contractor to register through the Government’s System for Award Management or “SAM” website, before it is eligible to receive a federal prime contract. Registration is free and requires only that the registering contractor have a DUNS number issued by Dun & Bradstreet.

The scope of information collected in the SAM is vast and includes, for example, certifications related to business ownership and size, compliance with applicable labor standards and labor laws, compliance with domestic trade restrictions (e.g., Buy America Act and Trade Agreements Act), and compliance with procurement integrity laws, among others. While contractors only register once, every year they must re-certify the accuracy of their answers and information. Any change that might reasonably affect the accuracy of these representations and certifications needs to be addressed before any contractor bids or proposes on a new federal contract.  

Remember, these representations and certifications are considered “material” to the government’s decision to award a government contract, and are incorporated by reference into virtually every public contract that is awarded. This means that any inaccuracy could serve as the basis for termination of the contract, or worse, prosecution for fraud under the False Claims Act, among other severe penalties.

Second, become familiar with any special programs from which you or your firm could benefit, such as set-aside contracting opportunities for small businesses. Being a small business is beneficial for a number of reasons. First, for FY 2012, Congress set a small-business-contracting goal of 23 percent. In an effort to achieve that goal, numerous contracts are “set aside” for small business, meaning competition (if there is any) is restricted solely to qualified small businesses. (Incidentally, for the seventh year in a row, agencies fell just short of that goal.)  

The advantage of restricted competition is colossal, especially in today’s overly competitive environment. And, because Congress’ modest small business contracting goals persistently go unachieved, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is working to improve its small business contracting rules and regulations. For example, SBA just recently made significant changes to its women-owned small business (WOSB) set-aside contracting regulations that will make it easier for agencies to set aside more contracts in more industries for qualified WOSBs.

Andy Howard is a partner with the Alston & Bird law firm and co-lead of the firm’s Government Contracts practice. Howard is based in his firm’s Los Angeles office. Alston & Bird’s headquarters is in Atlanta.

In this video, contracting expert Shawn Herring tells how to get started as a federal contractor.