Thursday, April 30, 2009

Telling Uncle Sam What’s What

On Saturday, April 25, 2009, President Obama announced that he wants feedback from the government employees to help make a success. "We'll put the suggestions that work into practice. And later this year, I will meet with those who come up with the best ideas to hear firsthand about how they would make your government more efficient and effective."

A site that collects the ideas submitted by government workers is On the site individuals can register and submit their ideas on how to effectively spend the stimulus money and what changes need to be made. It is interesting to see the different topics that spring up as well as the conversations that these ideas spark. Many have multiple comments suggesting minor adjustments to the original idea.

In addition to The National, another site for government workers has emerged. Social media sites have been popping up a lot lately and are designed for use by anyone and everyone throughout the world. Within each site, there are groups that people can join and find others within their field or that share common interest. There are many sites that are designed for the government, not just miscellaneous groups. is a site where only four types of people can join: government employees (federal/state/local/international), public policy students and professors, a good government organization, or a government contractor with good intentions.

Similar to Facebook, Steve Ressler’s GovLoop provides those that work with the government a social networking community of support and information. It brings together others that understand the value of working for or with the US government on a regular basis. Currently, the site is buzzing with activity from a recent announcement made by President Obama. One of the posts discussing President Obama’s decision links to a website that asks government employees to list all their ideas. The site is packed with topics and lengthy discussions that deserve a look; it is interesting to see how those with an inside view think the government should change.

These two sites are examples of how the current government is promoting transparency and how the cooperation of the government workers will eventually fix the kinks within the operating system. "Federal employees have a lot of good ideas about how to do the work better and are eager to work with the administration to improve their agencies’ service to the American people," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. GovLoop provides a community for employees to connect with each other on a more personal level, which might help them overcome differences in the work place and solve bigger problems. The National Dialogue offers employees an opportunity to finally tell upper management what they would change and the multiple comments only support their ideas.

If you’re interested, Gateway to Government is a GovLoop member! Find us today at:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Committee Catching Corrupt Contractors

This past Tuesday, April 21, 2009, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) held the first meeting of the newly formed Sub-committee on Contracting Oversight. One of the hot topics for their meeting was whether the ‘guard dogs’ had the proper and necessary tools for their oversight on the awarding of government contracts.

"This is going to be about our concerted effort to identify the waste, fraud and abuse that has occurred in government contracting," McCaskill said before the meeting, which she promised would be the first of many.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee created the sub-committee in January 2009 as an effort to prevent fraudulent spending and promote government transparency.

While it may appear that Uncle Sam has taken a backseat in the past, he is certainly making up for lost time (so to speak). In addition to the recent committee formed to prevent future corruption, there have been increasingly more and more stories of the government prosecuting contractors now for past misdeeds.

As a recent example, two executives in Chicago from the company Urban Services tried to win a $2 million dollar contract for repairing garbage carts. One of the major problems with Urban Services winning the contract was that they were politically connected with the administration at the time; throughout the Daley administration Urban Services was a favored company, having won roughly $30 million in contracts. The government today indicted Urban Services for rigging the bidding process in July of 2005 so their company won the contract for repairing all the Street and Sanitation Department’s garbage carts. In addition, the court found the company is accused of underpaying their minority and woman owned small business sub-contractors.

While 2005 may not seem like the distant past, there is another example which dates back more than 20 years. A man in Michigan began defrauding the Defense Department back in the early 1980s and was banned from performing future government contracts in 1984. John C. Curtiss, now 65, did not appear at his original hearing in 1988 and had been missing until recently, when authorities in the Bahamas picked him up for a visa violation. Curtiss then came to Richmond, VA to face charges.

Though the government banned him from government contracting in 1984, Curtiss convinced his wife and a friend to continue to bid on government contracts on his behalf. Once they won a contract, Curtiss sold poorly constructed electrical products that he made in his home in Warren, Michigan to the military. Curtiss faces 105 years in prison and millions in fines for his 1988 convictions, not to mention an additional $250,000 plus five years if he’s convicted of failing to appear for his original court date.

Curtiss is an unusual case though. Rarely do individuals committing fraud with the government mange to leave the country for 20+ years. The active steps that the government is making towards preventing fraud and punishing individuals are impressive. As McCaskill stated yesterday, "Even a very small percentage of fraud costs taxpayers dearly. That’s why we have chosen this first hearing to look at the issue of fraud." Every penny counts when it’s the taxpayer’s money on the line, and with the recent transparency of federal spending it’ll be less likely than ever that circumstances like those of Urban Services and the Curtiss family slip under the radar.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Great Race to August 2010

When I mention the Stimulus package, many small business owners aren’t thrilled. Consider the number of Tea Parties held throughout the US this past month; not many people are excited about how much the government is spending. While Uncle Sam is spending money, there are benefits that small businesses can receive, whether they realize it or not.

According to a recent study, only 14% of the small business owners interviewed felt that the stimulus ‘cash flood’ would affect them positively. 31% feel it will hurt their business, another 33% don’t think it will affect anything, and 22% aren’t sure what’s going to happen. With the multiple websites designed to help track how the money will be spent, it makes no sense to think that the cash flow won’t affect the economy somehow; the only real question is how. The US is pumping $787 billion dollars into the economy – SOMETHING is bound to happen.

Many are afraid that while money is being poured into the economy, the primary focus being government contracting, that big businesses will be able to snatch up all the good contracts. Since 1999, the Small Business Administration has been meeting their goal of giving 23% of all government contracts to qualified small businesses. However, there are a few loopholes, which many small businesses are concerned will ruin their chances at obtaining the lucrative contracts sure to be posted in the upcoming year. These loopholes, though, aren’t as easy to find anymore.

Originally, if a company started as a small business contractor and then grew, it wasn’t recorded and five years later could still be listed as a small business even though their profit margins and other considerations prohibited them from being classified as such. To combat this, the Small Business Administration passed a bill that would require a business to recertify every year, making sure that companies that grew no longer received the small business benefits.

In addition, there are plenty of set-aside programs associated with the government that can help any beginning government contractor to grow. One government contractor, Lani Hay, stated that the reason her company succeeded in the beginning was these programs. "It was initially the only value proposition we had to leverage as an unknown new business startup," Hay said. She got her “foot in the door,” by using these programs, allowing her company to grow and to create a name for the business within the industry.

Businesses shouldn’t be afraid of the massive spending of money; instead they should look to their state’s funding website and see where the local stimulus money is going. According to White House estimates, by August 2010, 75% of the stimulus contracts should be assigned - those business owners who don’t act now will be left out in the cold. There isn’t a fee for writing a proposal for a bid, excluding man hours and sometimes the required technical documents. Why not try to win one or two contracts in your home state - they’re available, and it might open new doors for your business that you hadn’t dreamt of before. The contracts are staying in the US to help stimulate your area; don’t be afraid to get your share!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It Ain’t Easy Being Green—Or Is It?

Not too long ago, my first thought when I thought about the government “going green” was of Uncle Sam and the Jolly Green Giant making some clandestine agreement in a field. Aside from that comical picture, there wasn’t really much that I knew about how environmental friendly the US government can be.

There has been some historical initiative on Uncle Sam’s part, largely originating in the 70’s with President Carter and his eco-friendly policies – does anybody else remember him turning back the thermostat and wearing sweaters in the White House to conserve energy? Today the government is taking a more active role in making their buildings eco-friendly and is looking to America’s small business owners to help their goal of making America go “green.”

These efforts are to go green are as important now as ever before. With unsure pricing on oil, the focus will be on renewable sources, energy consumption, and reusability. Environmental factors are also increasingly a concern. The Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority (PEDA) announced recently that they are using money earmarked for green initiatives to help create 155 jobs geared towards green products and services within the state. Installing solar panels on buildings is just one of the many programs funded by the recent stimulus package; most of the five projects approved by PEDA focus on reusing energy that before was wasted. In addition, Pennsylvania is offering grants of up to $1.5 million for businesses with green initiatives such as solar, wind, waste recovery, and alternative fuels for transportation.

Pennsylvania isn’t the only state that has announced its green efforts. The state of Illinois recently published a document online about their state government offerings of resources to help the community, business, and your home become more efficient and green. They even created a program called the Small Business $mart Energy (SB$E), which is a program which “…provides energy efficiency technical services for small to medium-sized for-profit businesses.”

Uncle Sam is taking active steps toward making America green. There are websites that have many links that offer tools, tips, tricks, and information on how to start a green business. There are also resources to find information on tax credits for green businesses, how to sell your green products or service to the government, gaining grants or loans in order to fund your green business. You name it, and there is a link to its “green” partner. While it may seem that the government is only rewarding efforts directly related toward environmentally friendly research, ANY business going green, even a salon, may be eligible for a grant (more information available at Simply search for related terms and plenty will come up within your state.

According to a study done in August 2008, federal agencies are still in the early phase of implementation. Many small businesses have already made the switch to purchasing and selling green products or by offering green services. Now more than ever, it is a great time to be a green business. Uncle Sam knows it is time to follow suit with the rest of America and to cut back on how much energy is wasted, and he has turned to YOUR small business to help him be earth friendly.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Don’t Feel Scammed By Uncle Sam

With any administration, there will always be a group of people that feel discontent or a certain animosity towards those in power. Especially with the complete make-over that the Federal Government has recently endured, now more than ever, people are expressing their opinions on the state of affairs. I decided to see what people on Twitter thought of when they heard/saw the words “government contracting” – something I write and read about everyday.

I wasn’t surprised with some answers. It appears that everyone’s first thoughts immediately go to mercenaries, transport, or weapons systems. Typically, people think of big businesses that are known as big business government contractors, such as Lockheed Martin or Boeing. While they do receive a large portion of the contracts, smaller businesses are reserved at least 25% of all government contracts. It just seems like a lot because when analyzing charts showing how much government contracting companies made annually, it appears drastically divided. However, I can assure you that many government agencies are looking for small business owners to work with—for example, the Air Force is actively looking for businesses to increase competition and innovation for their benefit and spends roughly $9 billion a year on small businesses.

My only argument for that is how many small businesses do you know that hire aerospace engineers? Well, there is one that I know about the created a GPS navigation system for the Air Force, and was sub-contracted out by a bigger business that had won the original contract. A problem that arose from this instance was that they were scammed out of winning the bid themselves and the prime contractor left them out of the loop. While this example might be what most small business owners fear, some good came from the experience.

A new act is being created in order to prevent something like this from happening again. United States Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Chair Mary Landrieu (D-La) states, “Sections 205 of the Weapons System Acquisition Reform Act will go a long way toward protecting small businesses from conflicts of interest while eliminating waste and inefficiency at the DoD. Section 203 of the bill would also help to maximize competition for defense acquisition contracts, which will help small businesses because it creates more potential opportunities for them to participate.” While this is a small victory for the technology driven sector of the small business community, it is proof that Uncle Sam is starting to force himself to take care of small business.

Another opinion about government contracting is it is an over-budget, red tape bureaucratic institution, full of earmarks, campaign donations, lobbyists, and corruption. While there is truth to that statement, there are inaccuracies as well. For instance, the US tried a contractor in Iraq who committed widespread fraud on US dime in Richmond, VA on Monday and will be required to pay back every penny to the US Government. Originally, the judge in Alexandria, VA had made two rulings that would have allowed the contractor to forgo repaying the government. The Richmond court found the contractor guilty under the False Claims Act—creating fake invoices and inflating his costs significantly. The government does not actively pursue corruption, but just like anyone doing business, finds it along it’s way. This is just one example of how Uncle Sam tries to fix his mistakes—because who is perfect?

The final opinion I came across was that government contracting is a long process, involves lots of compliance documents, long decision period, but once you get it, it PAYS! I think that’s true with any business venture. You have to build a reputation before people begin to come to you and the profits begin to show. However, with government contracting, not only do you have to show that you are willing to work with the government, i.e. prove that you can wait the 3-6 months for payment, but that you offer quality services and/or products. In addition, the compliance documents usually refers to the contracting and bidding process that we can help you with at a minimal fee, unlike other companies that typically charge anywhere from $135 to $235 per hour!

There are many negative connotations with the words “government contracting” and it really shouldn’t be that way. The US government is the largest buyer in the world and just because the media mentions the nastier sides of it doesn’t mean your business shouldn’t benefit. As this article proves, while there is corruption, red tape, and big businesses involved in federal contracting, Uncle Sam tries hard to favor small businesses, punish the corrupt, and allow the red tape be a barrier against future fraud.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Taking “Big Jake” by the Horns

This week I visited a little place called Fort Worth, TX. We drove in at night and it didn’t seem like much; it almost reminded me of a ghost town. I’ve never been to Texas – in fact I can count on one hand how many times I’ve left my precious East coast. So on a Monday night, Fort Worth didn’t look like anything special. In fact, it scared me a little and I dreaded waking up the next day, convinced that it would be worse in daylight. The next day I wasn’t surprised so much as stunned at how much they embrace their roots: cowboy boots used as signs, longhorn heads everywhere, a cow skull hung above my hotel bed, and the Western horse saddles set-up as bar stools in the hotel restaurant. Texas is an entirely different beast from the rest of the United States.

Longhorns parading in front of the Stockyard Hotel

As a native Virginian, I’ve been exposed to the so-called “Southern” lifestyle: mud splattered trucks in the high school parking lots, camouflage jackets as daily attire and, of course, that music. However, I could escape it because not everyone in my area was from Virginia; many were from Pennsylvania, Maryland, or farther away because there is a Naval base in my hometown. Located within miles of the Mason-Dixon Line, we are an eclectic county.

It takes some time for me to adjust to change, but when I visit places I like to force myself to go outside of my comfort zone and try something new. For instance, I rode a Longhorn steer, something that was never on my to-do list or had even crossed my mind. But it happened. I knew this was probably the only time I’d ever have the opportunity to ride a steer and stay on. It helped that I wasn’t alone–I had my business coach Carrie Wilkerson standing by, having already gotten up on the bull, telling me it was simple and doable.

Once I sat on top of the rather calm beast, I couldn’t help but smile. “Big Jake” wasn’t as scary as I had thought. In fact, he just stood there, chewing cud, his tail barely lifting to flick at the flies engulfing him. Business could learn a lot from an example like that. Take the bull by the horns – try something new. Gateway aims to be that guiding light in the contracting arena – we’ve ridden the bull before and know how the beast works. We want to help your business achieve because it is simple and easy. The only thing that is preventing you from getting up on that animal is yourself. One thing I took away from Texas was that I needed to trust myself more and believe I can do it anything. With the right coaches, anything is achievable.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Construction Opportunities Will See Boom Due To DoD ARRA Allocation

Though we all know that many areas of the United States economy are suffering right now, the federal construction market is likely to soon see a huge boom. The Department of Defense presented a 191 page report to Congress which details how it plans to spend the money is has been allocated by the Stimulus Package, more properly known as the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.”

The Stimulus Package currently includes just under $7.5 billion allocated for the Department of Defense (less than 1% of the total). The DoD stated recently that it intends to spend its funding with “unprecedented full transparency and accountability.” has been created in order to help citizens monitor the progress of the spending of ARRA dollars, and the DoD will be making use of this. They have also set up a website at to further this initiative.

How does this apply to the construction market? The DoD has “identified specific investments in construction, facility improvements, and energy efficiency projects that will help improve the quality of life for our troops and their families.” Their report to Congress included an extremely detailed breakdown of how their share of ARRA dollars will be spent. The report includes anticipated costs, descriptions of work, and project locations for each expense they are proposing.

The Department of Defense intends to spend roughly $2.1 billion on military construction and family housing projects, including $1.3 billion to construct two new hospitals (to be located at Camp Pendleton, California and Fort Hood, Texas). DoD has also indicated that it will be “pursuing architectural and engineering services greater than $1 million for 5 projects, conducting repair projects greater than $7.5 million for 56 projects, and carrying out 45 Energy Conservation Investment Program projects, respectively.”

The DOD also provided a list of roughly 3,300 other Facilities Sustainment, Restoration, and Modernization (“FSRM”) projects costing an estimated total $3.4 billion. These FSRM projects account for over $3.83 billion of their entire Stimulus spending.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that is the most heavily involved in construction, has also provided Congress with “informed estimates” of existing capability to perform additional work. Of that, about $2.1 billion is appropriated for construction projects.

These and other projects will provide enormous opportunities for companies acting as federal construction contractors. Time will tell whether there are enough procurement officers currently active in the government to issue this many solicitations in such a short time and whether the specific agencies have the capability to properly administer all of this work, but there is certain to be a surge in construction projects over the upcoming months!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

SBA Budget Increase: What's The Impact?

If you've been paying attention to the news and popular media in the past few weeks, you are sure to have heard about the meeting between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer. Their debate is already going down as one of the most controversial in history. However, how many people are talking about the House decision on the SBA budget that came out at almost the same time?

Not many.

This is for the simple reason that, to most people, small business government contracting just isn't as 'sexy.' It is a dry, difficult topic which few people partake in and even fewer truly understand. However, it is just this topic with which you, the small businessperson, should be familiarizing yourself during these times.

As one of the benefits of the stimulus package, a House panel decided to approve a vastly larger budget for the SBA in 2010. This increase of over $700 million roughly triples the budget for next year, providing a wide array of advantages to the small business owners interested in doing work with the federal government.

The SBA is the small business owner’s best friend in the federal government. It is literally their job to make sure that you get contracts and money; adding to their powers is going to make it much more likely that a small business will be able to get a contract.

For one thing, the federal appropriation to subsidize SBA loans has been put back into place, which will make it easier to get funding and money from the Small Business Association. This will raise the overall amount of loans the SBA can back to over $28 billion. This is going to increase federal contracting opportunities over time.

By getting started now, your business can be perfectly positioned in time to get access to some of the stimulus billions. This decision to increase funding to the SBA is likely to add just that much more opportunity for your company!