Certifications required to sell to the federal government

Q. What are the certifications necessary to sell to the federal government?

In the government contracting world, the term “certification” has several meanings. A firm may get certified as a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) or Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) at the state or local level; or under the 8(a) Business Development Program with the federal government.

Such certifications as MBE, WBE or 8(a) may be an effective part of a marketing strategy for selling to government, but they are not mandatory.

However, any business seeking to do business with the federal government must “represent and certify” that it complies with various laws and regulations that apply to government contractors and to their subcontractors. This is called reps and certs.

For example, federal contractors and many subcontractors must register in the E-Verify system. This Internet-based system, maintained by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is used to verify the legal status of newly hired employees, as well as those already employed by the firm who are performing functions related to a federal contract. Missouri also requires E-Verify for contractors.

To register on E-Verify, you must complete a memorandum of understanding (MOU) online. Then you will be issued login information. If your contract with a federal agency or prime contractor includes a contract clause referencing E-Verify, you must register.

Federal contractors must verify the employment eligibility of all new hires no more than three days after the employee’s start date.

Existing employees’ eligibility also must be verified if they perform work directly related to the contract and if they were hired after Nov. 6, 1986 — the first date I-9 forms were required for all new hires by the predecessor to USCIS, the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Besides E-Verify, most representations and certifications for federal contracts are included within the bid document itself, or in a system called the System for Award Management (SAM).

SAM includes many obscure contract clauses and provisions found in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), often called the bible of federal contracting. Most bid documents or solicitation packages issued by federal agencies include dozens if not hundreds of references to FAR clauses. Some of the more common FAR clauses are included in SAM.

It is a good idea to set up a profile in SAM when you first begin bidding federal work. Reviewing the byzantine legalese will prepare you for the kinds of language you will see in any federal solicitation. Here is an example of a question you will find on SAM:

18. Does FRANK, JOSEPH G (Doing Business As: JOE FRANK) deliver any end products (from the corresponding country of origin) that are listed on the List of Products Requiring Federal Contractor Certification as to Forced or Indentured Child Labor under Executive Order No. 13126 (link provided to current list)? (FAR 52.222-18), (FAR 52.212-3)

___ Yes      ____ No

This question may be puzzling to you. If you are a service contractor, you may think: I don’t provide end products at all. I provide services.

However, nearly every federal contractor must answer this question. It is found on most solicitation packages issued by federal agencies. This is required by federal law.

This particular question is really limited to a handful of products, however. While the list may be revised in the future, the last change was made by the Department of Labor in 2013.

The List of Products Requiring Federal Contractor Certification as to Forced or Indentured Child Labor includes 35 commodities, many of them agricultural (beans, bamboo and teak from Burma, Brazil nuts and chestnuts from Bolivia, etc.); hand-made bricks from Afghanistan, Burma, China, India, Nepal or Pakistan; textiles from Ethiopia; diamonds from Sierra Leone; and gold from Burkina Faso or the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other commodities. Few firms are likely to be trading in these products. But all are asked.

Contracting with the federal government requires persistence and patience. Just registering with E-Verify and SAM may take several hours of your time, and by themselves neither system will guarantee you a federal contract.

But these certifications, among many others, may be required to be awarded a federal contract, assuming you are the vendor selected by an agency to provide the products or services it needs.

For more information on certification, consult your local Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Center.