Advance contracts and GSA contracts for state and local governments, are a couple of the avenues by which the federal government and its acquisition system will get aid to fire-ravaged Maui. For more on that, Federal Drive with Tom Temin talked with Federal Sales and Marketing Consultant Larry Allen.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin And so far it seems to be Hawaiians helping themselves until the federal aid actually starts flowing so far as we can tell. Tell us more about how contracting can play a part here.

Larry Allen Tom, the government has set up several acquisition programs specifically tailored to issues like this for disaster prevention, relief and recovery. Two of the most notable ones are FEMA’s advanced contract program and the cooperative purchasing capability through GSA’s multiple award schedule contracts. Together, these are pre-awarded contracts that have the ability not just for federal agencies to use them, but in the case of GSA multiple award schedules, Tom, state and local governments can have access to these contracts for their disaster relief needs. We’re talking here about a wide array of solutions and products, everything from basic stuff that you’d expect, like food, shelter, water, but also things like phone service, security, logistics assistance. So there’s a pretty wide array of things that are available here where acquisition can really come in and assist a local or state government in meeting their basic needs on the road to recovery.

Tom Temin Now, the GSA schedules were generally open to state and municipal government, county government during COVID, but that general access was turned off, I think, when the emergency was declared over. But in another emergency like this one that’s localized, then the GSA becomes available again. Is that how it works?

Larry Allen It really kind of depends on the schedule contract, but almost every scheduled contract has a built in capability to serve customers at the state and local level during times of disaster preparedness or relief. So anytime you’ve got a disaster that’s been declared and certainly this series in Maui, unfortunately qualifies, you can use the GSA schedule, whether you’re a federal agency or a state or local agency trying to recover. And again, it’s pretty broad spread. You have almost everything under the sun that you can get from the schedules program shelter, all kinds of assistance with I.T., telecommunications, things of that nature. And you can get it quickly.

Tom Temin And then there are the FEMA advance contracts, which means that FEMA can buy quickly on behalf of a stricken area where FEMA people arrive.

Larry Allen That’s right, Tom. Not everybody knows about these. These are the FEMA advance contracts. FEMA has put in place over 100 outstanding contracts, some of which are for FEMA people to be able to use quickly so that they can do their job. But many of them are so-called end user focused, where things like even durable medical equipment can be provided to stricken areas quickly and easily with minimal red tape so that people get the help that they need in a short period of time. These contracts that FEMA put together kind of grew up over a series of national and natural disasters. And FEMA really has turned to and put this program together. The only thing I would say that could hold up some of this, Tom, is to the extent that state and local governments need help from federal contracting officers. Here we are in the middle of the busiest season for federal government buying, so we could find some of the acquisition resources stretched thin. But even then, what traditionally happens in an area of disaster like that is that contracting and other officials are taken off of what they’re doing on a daily basis and put into where they’re needed the most. So I would imagine that Hawaii would get the resources it needs from the federal government pretty quickly.

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners. And I wanted to switch gears right now and ask you about the order to return to the office or the urging of agencies by the White House to get their people back into their offices, at least some semblance of regular period during their two week pay periods. My question is, does this benefit contractors who have also been absent where as many of them were on site with a different colored badge, so to speak, for all these years.

Larry Allen I think that the administration’s order to return more federal employees to work does benefit contractors. It benefits contractors in several different ways. One, if you’re a product contractor, somebody that’s been selling print management solutions or furniture or consumables, things of that nature, not having federal agencies full of people has really hurt your business since COVID hit. And returning federal workers to their offices on a more consistent basis is going to provide additional opportunities for these contractors. As officers need to be re-equiped. They need to be brought up to speed, they need to be modernized. There’ll be a whole bunch of physical upgrade opportunities and physical support opportunities for those types of contractors. But it goes even beyond that, Tom, If you’re a company of any type selling to the government, what I’ve talked about before, the fact that as a government contractor, you really want to be in front of your customer physically and your government customers should want to be in front of you, even though virtual meetings can get us to a certain point, Tom, there’s really no substitute for getting together in person. And now that agencies are going to be going back to work a little bit more, contractors are going to have increased opportunities to go meet people who may have been working at far flung, decentralized, home based offices. And now, even if you’re not going to be able to get into a federal building, they have entry restrictions or things of that nature. They’re still going to be the coffee shop downstairs or around the corner. People are going to be there. I think that that’s a real benefit for government, too, because they’re going to be able to have a better sense of what their contractor partners can provide and therefore they can write better statements of work and do more efficient acquisitions.

Tom Temin I guess it’s hard to have an industry day in your dining room with people operating that, but it sounds like then that this will aid both sales of goods and products and so forth, but also for those body shops that have people on location with the federal government day by day doing services, type of work, support, type of work, whatever it is, the collaboration, there will also be a much greater potential.

Larry Allen Well, I think that’s right, Tom, and there is really a benefit to collaboration. And this is kind of a larger issue that transcends government business. This is something that we’ve seen commercial sector come back into an office for a certain number of days, comes with maybe commuting into that location, collaborate to reestablish those contacts, especially for younger people. And that’s very true in government, too. If you’ve got a younger, newer, hire in government that’s been working remotely two years of their federal service they may not have a real idea of what their agency mission is or how they fit into it. Being inside the physical building can really help give that context.