Is government contracting difficult?

The U.S. government is the largest single purchaser of goods and services in the world, buying everything from paper clips to armored tanks.  Every year the federal government awards more than $500 billion in contracts with a significant share of those contracts allotted to small businesses.

Although the needs are similar, the methods of selling to government agencies can be quite different from the private marketplace.  There are multiple – and sometimes – overlapping regulations, laws, and rules that are applied.  How involved your business becomes in using or understanding the processes really depends on how well you understand and use the established systems.

To receive funding from the government either through a grant or contract, there are two basic steps: obtaining a DUNS Number and enrolling in the System for Award Management (SAM).  It is required for a business or nonprofit to first obtain a DUNS Number and then register in the System for Award Management because the systems are linked and SAM will use the DUNS information.

What are the differences between government contracting and commercial contracting?

Government Contracting Commercial Contracting
Federal policy establishes a rigid, formal competition criteria Company initiating contract determines competition criteria
Congress appropriates all contract funds Funds come from a variety of private & commercial sources (banks, investors, etc.)
Laws, directives, policies, executive orders, & regulations define procurement actions Company determines procurement actions within established legal boundaries
Federal contracts are heavily regulated & contain extensive number of detailed clauses, many of which are “take-it-or-leave-it” Standard commercial code & those clauses agreed to by the parties regulate performance
Government may terminate a contract for a variety of reasons, including default or its own convenience Commercial regulations and established contract law from court decisions ensure adequate performance, & convenience not an option
Federal contract procedures incorporate numerous social & economic policies of the government Social pressures typically dictate company policies; however, some policies are required by law
The government regularly uses social & economic incentives to “level the playing field” and insure participation by various social groups Commercial contractors rarely use incentive contracts & base their contracting decisions on profit rather than social policy.
Federal law prohibits gratuities Company policy determines gratuities
The government may assess liquidated damages, costs of recompeting, & assess other penalties on contractors for non-compliance or default Courts generally look down on penalties in contracts, & even if there’s a liquidated damages provision the court will not enforce it against the breaching party if it’s deemed unreasonable

At what stage of business development would be best to begin government contracting?

  • It is important to have an operational, stable business established before you begin government contracting. Government contractors will want a business to be a minimum of a year old with an ability to sustain the longer times it takes the government to pay for services and goods.

DUNS Numbers

What is a DUNS Number?

  • Created in 1962, the Data Universal Numbering System or D-U-N-S® Number is Dun & Bradstreet’s means of identifying business entities location.  It is assigned and maintained solely by D&B and contains nine unique numbers.

How do I get a DUNS Number?

  • To get a DUNS number, apply through Dun & Bradstreet’s system.  The questions are straight forward and will ask for basic business information.  You’ll need your business name, contact information, tax identification, and business license.  Since this information is linked to the company, it should have contact information most closely associated with the business.  DUNS Registration

What if my information is not being accepted or the system won’t show my updates?

  • To maintain accuracy of significant business information, D&B data update policies require certain change requests to be verified by a third party prior to entry.  If verification cannot be confirmed, the change request will be denied.  This policy is to assist in protecting you and your company from possible identity theft.

Rural Area Verification

  • If a business address is atypical and not in a verification system, such as the 9-1-1 system, the address may not be accepted.  Calling DUN & Bradstreet and speaking with a representative will resolve this issue.

Is there a charge for U.S. Government contractors?

  • Obtaining a DUNS number is absolutely free for all entities doing business with the Federal government.  This includes current and prospective Contractors, Grantees, and Loan recipients.  Under normal circumstances the DUNS is issued within 1-2 business days when using the D&B online process.
  • Be very cautious about potential business who try to sell you services through DUN & Bradstreet.
    There is no charge to obtain or renew a DUNS number.


What is SAM?

  • SAM is the acronym for System for Award Management and is the basic database used for doing business with the United States government.

How do I register in SAM?

  • PART I:  Registration in SAM is accomplished by first creating a user name and pass word online at login.gov.  On login.gov, click Sign-In to get started and to Create an Account.
  • PART II:  Login to SAM and begin your representations and certifications process.

Is there a fee for using SAM?

  • No.  There is no fee.  If a business tells you there is a charge for registering in SAM or updating it, the business is not providing accurate information.
  • Because information in SAM is usually publicly visible, businesses need to be very careful of any entity offering services either through email or over the phone.  Any correspondence from SAM will have a “.gov” in the email address and there are no fees for obtaining or renewing a SAM registration.

What kind of information will I need to provide?

  • It is a good idea to have your basic business information handy including your business address, business license, banking information, tax identification, and NAICS code or codes.

I can’t get into SAM at all.  The person who created the account is gone.

  • This will be a longer, more in-depth problem to solve.  You’ll need to contact the helpdesk

What is a NAICS Code?

  • The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is an industry classification system used by the statistical agencies of the United States for classifying business establishments.  For more information about NAICS Codes visit: NAICS CODES


  • When a small business registers for a DUNS Number or in SAM, there are a number of places to self-designate what type of business it is based on the questions asked.  Some examples include whether a business is veteran owned, minority owned, or woman owned.  It is a simple process of marking a box to self-certify as one of these types of businesses.

How are Small Business Administration and Veterans Business Administration Certifications different?

  • There are a number of programs designed to assist small businesses owned by designated socially and economically disadvantaged groups compete in the federal marketplace. The 8(a)Woman Owned Small BusinessVeteran Owned BusinessService Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, and HUBZone certification programs assist businesses by setting aside a percentage of federal contracts specifically for enrolled businesses.
  • These programs require formal enrollment and processing and can be beneficial to the groups for which they are designed.


What is a GSA Schedule?

  • A General Services Administration Schedule allows the government to buy ongoing supplies and services from qualified companies without having to put a contract out for a bid.

How do I become a GSA supplier?

  • There are a series of steps and guidelines to qualify as a GSA supplier.  To find out more go to the
    GSA Vendor Support Center


Why is it called both WAWF and iRAPT?

  • Wide Area Work Flow (WAWF) is transitioning into Invoicing, Receipt, Acceptance, and Property Transfer (iRAPT), a secure Web-based system for electronic invoicing, receipt and acceptance.  It creates a virtual folder to combine the three documents required to pay a Vendor – the Contract, the Invoice, and the Receiving Report.  Both WAWF and iRAPT terms are used during this transition period.

Who processes invoices in WAWF/iRAPT?

  • Invoices in WAWF/iRAPT are processed by DFAS – the Defense Financial Accounting Service.

I am a small business who has limited experience with government processes.  How do I learn to use the WAWF/iRAPT system?

I can’t seem to get to the right login page.  I’m being told going to the web address isn’t secure.

  • The Federal Government is constantly reviewing and upgrading the security of federal websites.  If you can’t get to the WAWF/iRAPT site, it is because sometimes internet search engines don’t always reflect the most recent updates. Internet Explorer tends to work best and even then, you may have to click on the link to proceed to the site even though there is a caution message.

When I login to WAWF/iRAPT, there is a lot of specific contract information I need to fill in.  Where do I find what is being requested?

  • It is important to read your contract carefully.  All of the requested information is within this document.  In fact, some of the most important details may be toward the end.

What is the Department of Defense Activity Address Code (DoDAAC) and why is it important?

  • The DoDAAC is a six position code that uniquely identifies a Department of Defense unit, activity, or organization that has the authority to requisition, contract for, receive, have custody of, issue, or ship DoD assets, or fund/pay bills for materials and/or services.

I’ve spent most of the day trying to submit this invoice.  It is incredibly frustrating and I don’t think it should take hours to input the required information or work through problems.

  • You are right.  If you are spending multiple hours trying to use the system, you should contact your Contracting Officer.  Email them about the issue and provide a screenshot of where you are having problems.  Typically, this information can assist the contracting officer in troubleshooting the issue.

My Contracting Officer isn’t returning my calls. I can’t seem to get in touch with them.

  • Emails are the best way to contact Government Point of Contacts (POC’s).  They have multiple contracts and other responsibilities and aren’t always available by phone.  Reaching Contracting Officers may also be difficult because of internal phone systems.  Ultimately, unless it is an emergency, it is best to communicate through email.

My contracting officer doesn’t seem to be able to see what the problem is.  Why?

  • The Contracting Officers and Contract Specialists have very little to do in the processing of the invoice.  The invoices are paid through DFAS and the invoice flows through their system.  Both the Contracting Officer and vendors see the same information in WAWF/iRAPT and Contracting Officers call the same numbers the vendors do when the invoices do not process properly.

I’ve waited for payment for weeks and now I’ve been told my contracting officer didn’t even know I submitted an invoice.

  • Because of the way the system is operated, contracting officers don’t know when an invoice has been successfully submitted in WAWF/ iRAPT.

Tip 1
: After submitting the invoice, email the Contracting Officer / Specialist and the Customer (the government contact who requested the service or product. This information is found on the delivery schedule or CC’d in award distribution.

Tip 2
: It will take about 72 hours until DFAS has time to look at the invoice. Wait three days and log back in to make sure DFAS has rejected the invoice.

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