5 Tips To Compete For Government Subcontract

economic impact chamber blog 1

When you think of federal contracts, you think of big names, like Bechtel, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman. What you probably don’t know is that small businesses alone generated more than $83 billion in revenue through federal contracts in FY13. But many small business owners aren’t sure how to navigate the complicated world of federal contracting and subcontracting. This post summarizes tips on how to enter into that mysterious world known as federal subcontracting.

Just a few miles away, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) spent $444 million on goods and services in FY14.Even though LLNL subcontracted for goods and services that many Tracy businesses provide, procurements from Tracy business accounted for only $976,821, or about 0.25 percent of LLNL’s total procurement spend. There is no reason why this percentage should not increase.

economic impact chamber blog 2

Tracy businesses can, in fact, position themselves to be competitive, but it requires an understanding about how subcontracting with a federal contractor works. Here are tips from the LLNL Small Business Program Manager on how to position your business when trying to compete for work at LLNL or other federally funded organizations.

1.Get in the databases

Organizations like LLNL aren’t always required to post all subcontracting opportunities online. But when those opportunities arise, government organizations search supplier databases.

  • Federal database: Register your business in theSystem for Award Management (SAM) database, the primary vendor database for the federal government. In SAM, you may self-certify yourself as a small business, if you meet the federal government’s definition of a small business.
  • Organizational databases: Individual government organizations also may maintain their own database of suppliers that they tap for future procurements. In the case of LLNL, suppliers should submit their information through the electronic Supplier Information Form.
  • Get certified: Federally funded organizations like LLNL go out of their way to buy from certified small businesses. The Small Business Administration (SBA) will certify businesses in Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone). The HUBZone program helps small businesses in urban and rural communities gain preferential access to federal procurement opportunities. Business also can apply to be part of the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program, which is designed to help small, disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace.

There are many other databases that list business profiles and subcontracting opportunities:

2. Contact the Lab

Many government organizations have specialists in place who focus on smoothing the procurement process for suppliers. For instance, LLNL encourages small businesses to reach out to Small Business Program Manager Michelle Quick: 925-422-0105, quick1@llnl.gov

Quick helps advise small business owners on how to prepare for future opportunities. This preparation often includes the creation of a one-page capability statement – a resume for your business – that she uses to communicate with LLNL programs making purchases. While Quick may not be in a position to buy from your business immediately, connecting with embedded resources like her is akin to empowering an advocate for your business within the organization.

3. Understand Your Customer

Doing your homework in advance can make the difference between winning a bid and wasting your time. In the case of LLNL, suppliers should start by visiting www.llnl.gov , as well as the supply chain website to get an idea of the LLNL’s culture and expectations with suppliers.

Know what the Lab looks for: LLNL looks to do business with organizations that are competitively priced, high performance in quality and safety, financially secure, and able to meet contract requirements on schedule. Experience doing business with the government is also a big plus. Depending on the procurement, Quick may recommend small businesses partner with another company to better position themselves for subcontract opportunities and gain experience.

Know what the Lab buys: Government organizations often list the types of goods and services they purchase, and in some cases they publish procurement forecasts to allow suppliers to prepare in advance. LLNL lists the following products and services as common procurement categories:

  • Audio/visual equipment and supplies
  • Chemicals
  • Construction goods and services
  • Environmental services
  • Equipment maintenance, repair and calibration services
  • Fabrication and machining services
  • Facilities maintenance
  • Fuel
  • Hazardous waste treatment and disposal
  • Industrial and specialty gases
  • ISO transportainers
  • Legal services
  • Pagers and paging services
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Propane
  • Software engineering services
  • Software maintenance and licensing
  • Training services
  • Translation and interpretation services

In addition, LLNL often establishes multi-year contracts for common goods and services: staff augmentation, computers & computer peripherals, electrical components, fittings, industrial supplies, janitorial supplies, laboratory supplies, office supplies, paper products and plumbing supplies.

4. Understand Federal Requirements

Before venturing into government-funded contracts, a business should familiarize itself with the unique federal contracting/subcontracting requirements. LLNL is managed and operated under a Department of Energy Prime Contract, and thus subcontracts under its Prime Contract. The Federal Acquisition Regulation governs the acquisition of goods and services by the government and its prime contractors. Key requirements include E-Verify, Buy American and various labor laws (Service Contract and Davis Bacon Act, Equal Employment, etc.). Understanding these requirements will put your business one step ahead in the federal contracting/subcontracting space.

5. Stay in contact

Many government organizations participate in regular outreach events and industry conferences. These events offer opportunities to connect and get a pulse of what future needs may exist. Here are some of LLNL’s outreach events for 2015. Additionally, keep in touch with the embedded point of contact, like Quick at LLNL, by calling or email.

Nolan O’Brien manages social media and external web communication in the LLNL Public Affairs Office, he represents LLNL on the Tracy Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and he is one of 573 LLNL employees who call Tracy their home. He can be reached by phone at 925-422-3399 or by email at obrien32@llnl.gov.

Michelle Quick is the Small Business Program manager at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Business interested in working with LLNL should contact Quick by phone at 925-422-0105 or by email at quick1@llnl.gov.


  1. Ralph Pombo on February 25, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    I am retired from LLNL after 26 years of employment. One more thing that you must realize is that a huge percentage of the employees live in Tracy and other Central Valley locations. These include the buyers and other people in the positions of influence when making purchases. They would much rather buy from people they know and trust if given the option. This is definitely worth looking into.

  2. Nolan O'Brien on February 26, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    Great point, Ralph. In FY14, LLNL’s payroll base for Tracy residents totaled $55.5 million (that means more than $4.6 million in salaries went to Tracy-resident employees EACH MONTH). That FY14 number jumps to $105.9 million when you include all San Joaquin County residents employed at LLNL. And as one of these Tracy-resident employees, I can absolutely vouch for the idea that we prefer to buy local.