Discover more in the Government Contracting series

Why Knowing Acronyms In Government Contracting Is Critical

What's the key to success with government contracting? Knowing how to navigate the alphabet soup.
CEO, Small Business Trends LLC
August 26, 2011

Lisa Dolan, the Chief Executive Officer of Securit, a New York-based security firm, understands the value of knowing government acronyms. Her firm has doubled its business and increased the number of employees ever since getting into government contracting. And key to success in government contracting, she says, is a thorough understanding of how the government system works, especially the alphabet soup of acronyms. Most importantly, she says “Know your NAICS codes!”

Dolan started the business back in 1997 with a trademarked accident reconstruction kit that was sold to large trucking companies, insurance companies and others. In 2001 she transitioned the business model away from product sales, over to services. Today, Securit mainly provides security armed and unarmed guards and private investigations. Their customers include the U.S. Federal government as well as Fortune 1,000 companies.

As a female head of a security firm, she thrives despite being in a male dominated field. In the private sector, being CEO of a woman-owned firm is sometimes a disadvantage, where she says, "the good old boys club still reigns.” However, Dolan continues, “There are more women coming into the field. Recently, ASIS (a security association) started a Women In Security group around the country and actually internationally, and it has been great to have the opportunity to meet other women in the same industry and network with them.”

In government contracting, on the other hand, she points out that a woman-owned firm can actually be an advantage. This is where knowing your NAICS codes makes a difference.

NAICS, or the North American Industry Classification System, is a standard used by Federal agencies in classifying businesses according to the industries they are in. Federal contracting systems rely heavily on NAICS codes. Most Federal agencies list their procurement needs according to NAICS codes. Without knowing your NAICS you may miss opportunities. (Go here to identify your NAICS codes.)

Set asides are another reason it’s so important to know all the NAICS codes that your business can fit into. If you can claim a NAICS code that qualifies your business for woman-owned small business or other set-asides, it opens up additional government contracting opportunities. Dolan points out that the SBA recently implemented the WOSB —woman-owned small business—certification program. (Visit OPEN Forum’s women business owners section for more information.) Several NAICS codes were included in the industries that are still male-dominated. Security, which is NAICS code 561612, was one the codes included, allowing firms in the security field to take advantage of WOSB set aside in government opportunities.

Another key point about NAICS codes: this is often how government contracting officers search the government databases. “Every Federal profile you fill out will ask for your NAICS codes. Agency officers often will start a search by plugging in a NAICS code into the system,” Dolan says. If you haven’t done a thorough job claiming all the NAICS codes that can apply to your business, your chances of being found by that contracting officer are lessened. Other companies looking for subcontractors or teaming partners for government contracts also search by NAICS codes.

Another key acronym to understand is the GSA schedule. GSA stands for General Services Administration. Says Dolan, “Being ‘on the schedule’ doesn’t guarantee you business. But it’s a real advantage to be on the GSA schedule because it can cut down the agency’s due diligence period. To get on the GSA schedule, the government vets your business by requiring you show a certain amount of sales and other qualifiers.”  This means that contracting officers will not have to do as much due diligence about your business—it’s already been done just to get on the GSA schedule. It’s a form of pre-qualification for government business. For a small business, being on the GSA schedule can be a marketing tool.

Demonstrating that you are on the GSA schedule is also important for attracting prime contractors looking for subcontractors, or teaming partners. Having a subcontractor or teaming partner that is on the GSA schedule makes getting a Federal contract easier for all parties.  That’s why Securit has a page prominently listed on their website with details about their GSA contract status. According to Dolan, Securit makes it easy to find this information, not so much for the government officers (who probably won’t be looking on the Securit website) but so that other companies looking for partners and subs can instantly see one of the advantages Securit brings.

NAICS and GSA are just the tip of the iceberg of the acronyms you need to know. Dolan says, “If you’re new to the government contracting arena, all the acronyms that the government uses can sometimes sound like Chinese. Understand the acronyms that the Government is famous for when referencing anything from Agencies to bids, i.e. GSA, COTR, DOL, GWAC etc. Make sure you register on CCR (oops another acronym) and, of course, know your NAICS codes!”

For more information about government contracting, including helpful Guides, visit the OPEN Forum Government Contracting section.

CEO, Small Business Trends LLC