Doing Govt. Solicitations
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  1. #1
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    Default Doing Govt. Solicitations

    Hey everyone,

    Been on this page for years and love it. Last year I opened a Machine and Fab shop, business has been decent for being open just at 1 year now but still not where we need to be to make it. We have went through all the paper work and are just waiting on security clearances but I am just wondering if it is really worth it? Its just me and a Business partner here and we are all manual machines with larger lathes which we specialize in large shafts (Hydraulics, Gear boxes, etc.). We are really just steeping into the dark on the Government side even with all the research Ive done its still a little confusing. Thanks for any insight on this issue.

    Thank You,

    Richard

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    If your partner is a US Military Veteran, female, Eskimo, with a disability you will have it made and have just won the lottery. Otherwise you are better off making parts for carnival rides.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pathogen View Post
    If your partner is a US Military Veteran, female, Eskimo, with a disability you will have it made and have just won the lottery. Otherwise you are better off making parts for carnival rides.
    No you don't.. The set asides, HUB zone, 8A, minority, veteran, woman, disabled crap.. That stuff
    is more competitive than the open solicitations. I know some people do it correctly, but I believe
    that a large portion of them are just fronts for larger companies.


    As for the OP, it can be.. I won't do it.. Too much BS.. From my experiences, to make money
    doing government crap, you need to have a lot of money, yeah you can get progress payments, but
    the good stuff takes time and money... On the flip side, the simple stuff, the stuff that is
    just a machined part, maybe a heat treat and a coating, can be massively undervalued.

    Again, in MY experience, the stuff that *looks* easy goes for absolute peanuts.. If there is
    only 4 dimensions on the print, the guy in the office goes "That looks easy" and puts a pittance
    of a bid in, doesn't matter that it .375±.0001 5 inches long in Inconel, it only has 4 dimensions,
    it has to be easy..

    The stuff that *looks* hard, tends to have more value, by *looks* hard, I mean a complicated print,
    a bunch of dimensions, weird radiuses, off angle surfaces, and god forbid some GD&T callouts.. The
    whole thing could be fractional tolerances and made out of 12L14, but it looks confusing to the
    non-machinist sitting in an office, so the value tends to be higher..

    If its simple, round and aluminum, just burn a $100 bill and don't bid, you'll probably be money ahead.

    I wouldn't want to go into it cold, I have some experience in it, and I wouldn't want to touch it..
    I have customers that a entire building full of people doing nothing but government work, and they
    don't make a single thing themselves, the only thing they "Do", physically is packaging(and that's a
    bit pile of bullshit***) and shipping..

    *** quicky story about "packaging".. Had a F'n genius where I used to work.. 10,000 o-rings.
    He could buy them for 90cents each, so he bid 95 cents.. Quick $500 in the kitty...

    The packaging alone for those F'n o-rings was $3700 if I recall... They were BIG o-rings so they
    had to be taped in a certain pattern with a certain tape on a certain sized piece of cardboard
    before you could even begin to package them.. 2 to 3 people working on that CONSTANTLY for what
    seemed like a few months.. One of the ladies in packaging was a bar tender at my local watering hole
    (she had worked for me in the shop also), and every Saturday, during the day when it was slow, she
    would be sitting there at the bar, taping o-rings onto cardboard.. Other people were taking them home
    too.. At the time we figured after the packaging and labor hours it was a $20k+ loss..

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    No insight but good for you.. I wish you the best of luck and good fortune.

    Buck

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pathogen View Post
    If your partner is a US Military Veteran, female, Eskimo, with a disability you will have it made and have just won the lottery. Otherwise you are better off making parts for carnival rides.
    You forgot gay.... :-(

    Dennis

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    I would highly recommend talking with people that have done this type of work before bidding on a major contract to avoid surprises. Packaging and testing requirements are often far more stringent than for most commercial industries.

    The best of these projects are ones which require a special process that no one else is certified in which removes most of the competition in the market. The downside is you have to certify yourself in a very obscure process with a picky customer.

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    The paperwork sometimes weighs as much as, or more than, the parts. And the government doesn't care if you don't make money and go out of business; there's plenty more companies out there just like you.

    I talked to a guy once who worked for a company that would bid smaller government contracts. I believe he said the contracts required at least three bidders and when the government couldn't get three bidders they called him.

    They would figure out what it took to fulfill the contract and bid several times over that amount to cover the inevitable surprises. He said he was always amazed when they got one of the contracts.

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    They would figure out what it took to fulfill the contract and bid several times over that amount to cover the inevitable surprises. He said he was always amazed when they got one of the contracts.
    That's the thing with govt stuff... the potential surprises and bs. Have to factor it in.

    Done a few jobs for local govt. So far not much hassle, even with payment. Mind you my stuff wasn't major works. Find if I can do it faster than the other local guys, have a very good shot at getting it.

    So far have left being a subbie to large firms who win govt contracts to someone else. Even if what you are quoting on is minor, the amount of crap they want....

    Then there is trying to get paid by em in reasonable time.

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    One of my past sharpening customers.. the Grandfather made fire wagons for the Civil War.
    A wagon full of buckets (or other fire gear)so the wagon would be stood up on end and make a cabinet/closet for fire gear.
    Shop is big time now doing all kinds of gov jobs.

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    I did small DOD contracts for a 3 year period 2008-2011, I probably did a couple dozen jobs. I thought about getting back in it but my satellite internet did not jive with the government website, my secondary password would never work no matter how many times it was reset. You have to find a good niche or you will have to work for peanuts. It will take a while to learn the system and what codes to search. It will be important to read all the fine print in the solicitations especially the packing requirements. When I exited most shipments started requiring RFID tags, you either have to buy a printer or pay someone to make them. At the time I was doing it someone charged $65 a tag and the printers cost $2500. Packaging requirements varied wildly sometimes you had to individually bag a small screw other times you could put 500 in a bag, all requiring individual labeling. Smaller parts in quantity went for peanuts, fortunately it looks like you are doing large low quantities, that used to be better money.

    The few things I learned, don't bother bidding any part that has more than slight cost for an outside process as a percentage of the bid. Many parts have a procurement history to show what they went for. Take for example you have one 416 stainless shaft that requires heat treat quantity of one. An hour machine time, $5 material but your heat treater has a $100 minimum. Forget that job someone will heat treat that in house and not even charge for it. That part will go for $100 all day which won't even break you even on heat treating. Other things to not bother to out source, laser marking, passivating, sand blasting, painting. Only bid on what you can do all yourself, you will be wasting your time. Plating is usually something you can add for especially the exotic stuff.

    You will have to keep plenty of notes and make your own judgement calls, if you have questions about something on a print most procurement officers wouldn't know the difference between a gun barrel for an M1 tank and a firing pin for a 9mm pistol. If you are making replacement parts a lot of prints call out for materials and processing that are long since obsolete, you will have to research the modern equivalent and go with that.

    Good, luck I hope you have a lot of patience, you will need it.

    P.S. Don't fall for all the jackasses that claim to have the inside track into government contracting for a fee. They can't do anything for you that you cannot do yourself free of charge. They will be e-mailing and calling.
    A company called Parts Plus used to call me weekly, even after I answered and told him off he kept calling back.

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    Take for example you have one 416 stainless shaft
    A lot of times with those really low qty's, your bidding against somebody that has
    that sitting on the shelf. They had a contract for 100 of 'em 15 years ago and
    there has been 10 sitting on the shelf since then.

    Place I used to work, they had an entire warehouse full of parts.. Stuff
    we had made, stuff they had over bought, they had bought out several companies
    inventories that were going out of business. They sold a metric buttload of
    stuff from stock..

    Also, watch the material specs.. Some of that crap is outdated.. Some of the
    engineers are idiots and put material on there that is damn near impossible to get.

    I had one a few weeks ago.. 7075-T76511... I thought I had it in stock, nope,
    I should have looked, I had T73511, I wasted about 8 hours trying to find that stuff,
    then I had my customer go dig through the contract and past contracts, "you can use
    7075-t651".. Gee thanks, and I had that in stock, and its easy to get.

    Another one. "commercial quality mild steel per ASTM A319" I think it was, hey
    that sounds familiar, no big deal... It was a BIG deal, it was # off of the one
    I thought I remembered.. $400 for a 12x24 sheet 3/16 thick.. OUCH!!!

    And watch the SPEC.. It may say 6061-t651, thats not a big deal to get, they sell
    it down at the Dairy Mart its so common... BUT!! per BLAH BLAH BLAH, some totally
    F'd up obscure spec, and you end up wasting a TON of time trying to chase down
    material that has that spec on the cert. Or sometimes it'll be a proprietary
    spec, and you have to chase that down to figure out what you have to use, or do,
    I've run into a bunch of 'em that need an ultrasonic, but its buried in the oddball
    spec.

    And then the DFARS thing.. What a pain in the ass... Some stuff has to be
    DFARs compliant, some stuff doesn't.. I have one customer that insists
    everything is DFARS compliant to cover their ass.. They had a job come back
    a while ago, 3 years after it shipped... The material isn't DFARS compliant..
    It certainly was 3 years ago, not my fault you changed the list AGAIN..
    I keep "the list" on the wall.

    As far as specs go.. Some of it gets stupid.. Customers contract a bit ago..
    Material was in, I was already machining on it, standard anodize, then the yellow
    stuff and then gray paint per PROPRIETARY SPEC.. So my customer calls the company,
    they tell him its the standard gray shit that goes on everything, can you send me
    that spec? NOPE... Contacts the buyer to get a deviation to use the same paint
    that the print calls out, and the buyer just cancelled the whole thing.. We both
    got paid for what we had done, but what a pain in the ass.

    And you can get in trouble. a dozen years ago maybe, the new QC guy/kid got a scare..
    The brass comes knocking on the door and wanted to dig into a file.. Apparently an
    A10 I think it was, the nose wheel seized up, it seized because the bearing seal was
    too short, and all the grease came out or something... Turns out there was 2 part
    #'s on the print, one part # wasn't available anymore, so they bought the alternate..
    Turns out in however many years nobody had ever caught that the 2 part numbers weren't
    the same part, one was shorter than the other and didn't seal.. Scared the CRAP out
    of the QC kid, he made sure all his I's were dotted and T's crossed after that one.

    So in general, its a pain in the ass... Making the parts is really the easiest part
    of the whole damn thing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bobw View Post
    So in general, its a pain in the ass... Making the parts is really the easiest part
    of the whole damn thing.
    My easy rule of thumb dealing with the government from bidding to handing the package to the UPS driver on average doubled the time it took selling to the private sector on jobs that involved a few days or less machine time.

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    I've had good luck with Federal work, although as Dualkit pointed out, machined or welded parts often go really cheap.

    If you decide it's something you want to look at. I'd recommend talking with your local PTAC rep; each state has them. PTAC is funded by DoD and their job is to help you with government contracting. Our PTAC helped me get set up in the federal computer system, runs free training, and answers my stupid contracting questions. For example, today I had to resubmit an invoice to the Air Force. I forwarded the rejection e-mail to my PTAC rep and he told me how to fix it.

    The other great thing the have is a service called MyBidMatch. I gave them some keywords and every day I get an e-mail with matching solicitations to look at. Usually between 0 and 10. It cuts down the "searching for jobs to bid on" time significantly.

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    Thanks for the insight, We are still waiting on some paperwork and other little issues. I will try to find a local PTAC and speak with them. We have had all kinds of callers telling us they can weed through the solicitaions for a fee of course. We will keep digging into it and hopefully get some good out of it. We are not building a business around just this as we service many other companies is our area but would like the extra work if they come through on it.

    Richard

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    I sort of remember one of the stories the guy told me. Seems the government asked his company to bid something like an Egress Device, Emergency, Flexible, Aircraft. What the government wanted was a 15ft rope with knots in it.

    Between all the rope specs, knot specs, knot spacing specs, attachment specs, identification specs, testing specs, etc, etc, etc they bid $1500ea and won the contract.

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    Yeah can vouch for the weird packaging requirements for some mil components.

    Used to work for military in workshops, and lost count of how many times a basically in indestructible component, lets say a custom bolt, came in packaging wise. Some clown had specified this was how it was to be done, and thats what the mil got it.

    Can understand the more delicate stuff like electronic modules, cause I saw what the box went thru to get all the way to the tech at the sharp end.

    Then theres the cost thing. it was easy to forget the cost of some of this stuff when ordering it thru the system. Even the basic off the shelf stuff. Favourite saying, put an M in front of it (military, medical -- spent time doing both) just double the price.

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    In addition to all the BS being a direct government contractor, there can be trouble just doing work on somebody else's government contract. It happened to me.

    I had done maybe $20K for a long term customer on parts for their government contract. My invoices submitted monthly were basically "$xxx on your PO #nnnn for machine work". Customer was perfectly cool with this always paying promptly net 30.

    The issue came up when my customer's contract went way over budget due to design changes, etc, etc. The over budget was okay with the gov, but their auditors had to verify everything. My invoices were not acceptable to the gov's auditors. If my invoices could not be made to make sense to the auditors I would have to refund the monies to the gov!!. This was a couple years after the fact. I sat down with my customer for a couple days more or less randomly assigning part numbers to my invoices. The auditors bought it.....

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