Understanding How Agencies Quickly Find Contractors

Published: April 03, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisCoronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicProcurement

Unusual times means a shift in procurement activities and regulations. Now, more than ever, federal agencies need quick access to contracted goods and services to help deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

Key Takeaways

  • The federal government is upending traditional procurement methods, such as increasing minimum buying thresholds, for faster, efficient delivery of goods and services from industry to respond to the coronavirus epidemic.
  • Agencies are turning to specific resources and databases, those on a government-wide, agency and service-oriented basis, for quick access to contractors.
  • Contractors should become familiar with the pathways government is using to accelerate acquisitions connected to the pandemic, and answer the call with urgency.

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues in the U.S., federal agencies are quickly trying to meet demands to seamlessly keep up with government functions, and provide the supplies and services needed to manage, respond, and help resolve the crisis. In order to do so, the federal government is turning to contractors for help, pursuing key acquisition vehicles with urgency, setting up contractor “hubs,” and changing acquisition regulations to quickly attain industry assistance.

For example, DOD recently announced the modification of an existing contract to acquire thousands of much-needed ventilators from four vendors, with the first delivery slated for next month.

The GovWin team is hard at work pulling together procurements such as these, and others, at the Federal and SLED levels, to provide insight to the opportunities available to contractors to help respond to the COVID-19 outbreak

However, it is also critical for contractors to understand additional ways the government is reaching out to the vendor community to deal with the pandemic. The federal space has overturned several procurement regulations and methods to accelerate vendor help in the response and prevention of coronavirus. This writing will explore the changes to traditional lanes of contracting to quicken the acquisition process, as well as vendor resource centers created to quickly find contractors in relation to COVID-19 efforts.  

Upending Traditional Procurement Lanes

Within the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), particular thresholds for acquisition methods have been increased to grant flexibilities in response to national emergencies, per FAR Part 18.2:

  • The micropurchase threshold increased from $10K to $20K on CONUS contracts and to $30K on OCONUS contracts, including real property acquisitions.
  • The simplified acquisition threshold increased from $250K to $750K on CONUS contracts and to $1.5M on OCONUS contracts, including real property acquisitions.
  • The threshold for simplified procedures for certain commercial items increased from $7M to $13M, to include items, “that, as determined by the head of the agency, are to be used in support of a contingency operation; to facilitate the defense against or recovery from cyber, nuclear, biological, chemical, or radiological attack…to facilitate provision of international disaster assistance; or to support response to an emergency or major disaster,” according to FAR 13.500(c).

According to GSA, the threshold increases are in effect until July 1, 2020, unless otherwise modified, and designated areas applicable for threshold increases may expand as the disease progresses.

Additionally, certain emergency contracting provisions are in place to accelerate the acquisition of coronavirus-related products and services:

  • Agencies may grant contractors flexibilities in the requirement for an active System for Award Management (SAM) registration at the time of application, however, the registration must be done by the time of award. Furthermore, current vendors in SAM with active registrations expiring before mid-May 2020 receive a 60-day extension.
  • Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) grants contracts related to providing relief efforts for COVID-19 a waiver from all affirmative action obligations, including employment requirements for veterans and those with disabilities. The exemption period is from March 17, 2020 to June 17, 2020, subject to further changes.
  • The CARES Act stimulus package also includes altered contracting provisions due to COVID-19 to speed up the process in attaining vendor help, including exemptions for undefinitized contracts actions (also known as Letter Contracts) and other transaction authorities.

Select Agency Resources to Find Contractors

In terms of outreach, the federal government is utilizing different, seemingly segregated, approaches to find contractors to help fulfill coronavirus-related needs. Those avenues include government-wide, agency-wide and service-specific databases. The following is an overview of those resources (note: this list is not all-inclusive and it is likely more of these will pop up as the pandemic progresses).

GSA's Disaster Relief and Emergency Preparedness Schedules

GSA Advantage, the agency’s site for its Multiple Award Schedules (MAS) program, provides a platform for fast access to the full range of disaster and emergency related equipment and services available under the schedules program.

Priorities and Allocation Systems (PAS)

FEMA offers an overview of the PAS and the five agencies administering the systems, (USDA, DOE, HHS, DOT and DOC) according to that agency’s resource jurisdiction. The PAS maintain the priority rated orders codes used in times of national security and emergency.  

Disaster Response Registry

The Disaster Response Registry provides a listing of vendors, based on SAM registration, available to provide “debris removal, distribution of supplies, reconstruction, and other disaster or emergency relief supplies and/ or services.”

COVID-19 Cleaning and Disinfection

Recently, GSA assembled a pool of contract vendors capable of providing cleaning and disinfection services. The list provides the vendors organized by region.

Agency-Specific Outreach

Agencies are also reaching out to the vendor community in their own ways to gauge capabilities related to the COVID-19 outbreak. For instance, the Air Force released a survey to contractors looking to help the agency in their coronavirus efforts. Likewise, DHS provided a public facing mailbox for contractors to submit capabilities and support the response to COVID-19.