Mark Pestronk
Mark Pestronk

Q: I am interested in getting into federal government contracts. I have heard that it is very hard to break into that business. I have also heard that, at the federal level, the online booking vendors have taken over the business and that travel agencies have been relegated to the status of the vendors' subcontractors. Are there still opportunities for travel agencies at the federal level? How do we go about proving that we are a woman-owned business? Can you give us any tips or point us in the right direction?

A: Federal government business has mostly been taken over by the two online booking vendors under contract with the government: CWTSatoTravel and SAP Concur. So it is true that travel agencies have largely been relegated to the status of subcontractors for government agencies that want the option of using a full-service travel agency.

However, there are some exceptions to the general rule, and you can usually find federal government requests for proposal (RFPs) for travel agencies here. Click on Search Contract Opportunities, and then enter 561510, which is the Small Business Administration code for travel agencies.

As of early December, there were 26 RFPs, and while most were for hotel stays and foreign offices of U.S. government agencies, at least a few of them would definitely be of interest to you. You can subscribe to receive email notices of RFPs that mention the 561510 code.

Before you can be awarded a federal contract, you must register at another website, System for Award Management. Registration is a very detailed process, and you may even need the advice of a government-contracts attorney or consultant to understand the questions you must answer.

During the registration process, you can certify your business as a small, woman-owned business, and your self-certification will be sufficient proof for getting a contract. Keep in mind that you must not only be majority-owned by one or more women, but you also must be women-controlled in practice; otherwise, you do not qualify.

Sometimes, government agencies directly solicit proposals from travel agencies on a list maintained by the General Services Administration (GSA) here. There are only 22 companies on the list at present, and only seven of them are woman-owned. Over 30 have dropped out over the years, reflecting the difficulty of trying to get government business.

To get on the GSA list, you have to submit a proposal in response to a standing RFP called the Consolidated GSA MAS Contract Solicitation, which was issued Oct. 1 and is explained here. There is no deadline for submission.

In your proposal, you will need to list your corporate and any governmental account references, provide financials and discuss your technical approach and management. Newcomers to the process probably need a consultant to guide them through the legalese and jargon.

It would probably help to watch GSA's webinars for small business and to attend the National Defense Transportation Association's GovTravels conference in February.

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