The U.S. Department of Agriculture purchases a variety of domestically produced and processed commodity food products, through a competitive process among approved vendors. These purchase activities support American agriculture by providing an outlet for surplus products and encouraging domestic consumption of domestic foods. The wholesome, high quality products, collectively called USDA Foods, are delivered to schools, food banks, and households in communities across the country and are a vital component of our nation’s food safety net.
Successful USDA Foods purchasing is a coordinated effort. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) develops products and purchase program technical requirements, manages the Web-Based Supply Chain Management System (WBSCM), and conducts the procurements (solicitations, awards, and contract management) in accordance with federal regulations and USDA policy. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) manages the food and nutrition assistance programs, including the National School Lunch Program and The Emergency Food Assistance Program, generating demand (orders) from qualified recipient agencies for various USDA Foods and coordinating with AMS on the purchase planning and scheduling.
The procurement process begins when AMS publically announces its plans to buy particular USDA Foods. A Purchase Announcement is posted to the AMS website, on the Federal Business Opportunities website (www.FBO.gov
), and distributed through the AMS Commodity Procurement Staff’s email distribution service, AMS CP News
The Purchase Announcement is followed by one or more “solicitations” issued via WBSCM. Each solicitation describes USDA’s needs in terms of the product, volume, delivery destination (city/State) and delivery window, and invites approved vendors to submit offers to fill the demand. AMS uses two types of solicitation: the “Invitation for Bids” (IFB) and the “Request for Proposals” (RFP).
Only approved USDA vendors may respond to a solicitation. At a minimum, the response indicates the price and maximum volume limit/constraint the offeror has for a product or delivery window on the solicitation. (Note: minimum volume constraints are not allowed under AMS solicitations.) RFPs may also require technical proposal submission and/or product samples.
All offers must be entered into WBSCM before the bid closing deadline to be considered for award. AMS receives the offers, conducts evaluations based on offer prices and other factors (including past performance), and awards one or more contracts to achieve the best value to the government.
Awarded contractors must perform according to the contract terms. To further ensure the quality and integrity of USDA Foods, audits and inspections for contract compliance are performed by AMS agents at the cost of the contractor.
Waivers granted for deviations from contract requirements are uncommon, limited to minor infractions not affecting product safety, quality or shelf life. Any issues that arise during performance of a contract are addressed through communication and negotiation between the contractor and the AMS Contracting Officer.
Consistent product quality and reliable delivery are critical to federal food and nutrition assistance programs which depend on USDA Foods. Therefore penalties accrue to contractors for late delivery, and contract performance is monitored by AMS and taken into consideration for future awards.
Once the contractor has successfully performed on their contract (delivered the product), an invoice is submitted via WBSCM for AMS approval and payment. Payments are made in accordance with the Prompt Payment Act.
Following are six steps AMS suggests potential vendors take in exploring and pursuing participation AMS commodity purchase programs. The resources and documents mentioned below are all available on the AMS Commodity Procurement website (www.ams.usda.gov/commoditypurchasing
It is recommended that a prospective vendor explore these documents prior to submitting a Vendor Application Package to AMS. At any time, questions may be directed to the AMS Commodity Procurement New Vendor/Small Business Coordinator.
1) Subscribe to AMS CP News (link)
) to receive email notification of solicitations and awards (Note: receiving solicitations via AMS CP News does not make a vendor qualified to submit an offer.) Subscription is voluntary and you may unsubscribe at any time.
2) Review the AMS Master Solicitation for Commodity Procurements
to understand federal regulations, clauses, and provisions affecting USDA commodity contracts.
3) Review the current AMS Purchase Schedule posted to the AMS website for information about the agency’s plans to purchase specific USDA Foods. You can also review past solicitation and award information on the AMS website.
4) Review USDA commodity specifications and supplemental documents
pertaining to the technical requirements for various USDA Foods. Many AMS commodity purchase programs require that suppliers and subcontractors supplying USDA Foods undergo a technical approval process before they can participate. This process typically involves the submission of technical proposals and product samples for evaluation. Information regarding the supplier eligibility process is contained in Supplements to the AMS Master Solicitation.
5) Read the Qualification Requirements for Prospective Vendors (PDF)
, and submit a Vendor Application Package via email to AMS Commodity Procurement’s New Vendor/Small Business Coordinator.
According to the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, an agency may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required to respond to a collection of information unless it displays a valid OMB control number. The valid OMB control number for this information collection is 0581-0273. The time required to complete this information collection is estimated to average 15 minutes per response, including the time for reviewing instructions, searching existing data sources, gathering and maintaining the data needed, and completing and reviewing the collection of information.
The AMS Contracting Officer evaluates the Vendor Application Package and approves the applicant. If approved, the new vendor will be provided a WBSCM Corporate Vendor Administrator role and a Vendor Offer role. If denied, the reason(s) for denial shall be provided and the applicant must correct the issues if he/she wishes to re-apply.
Please Note: As described in 4) above, many purchase programs require that suppliers undergo a technical approval process before they can participate. The technical approval process is separate from—and in addition to—the Qualification Requirements process described in 5) above.
Questions may be directed to the following:
New Vendor/Small Business Coordinator
USDA, AMS Commodity Procurement Staff
AMS is committed to working with and providing contracting opportunities to America’s small businesses. Interested small business vendors should contact the AMS Commodity Procurement Staff and speak with the New Vendor/Small Business Coordinator for assistance.
USDA, AMS, Commodity Procurement Staff
SB Set-Asides: AMS may assist small businesses through solicitation “set-asides.” A set-aside is when AMS designates all or part of a solicitation for competition among approved small business vendors only. AMS currently has set-aside programs in the categories of Small Business and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business. AMS evaluates its purchase programs regularly to identify potential SB set- aside opportunities.
SBA 8(a) BD Program: AMS may offer noncompetitive awards to firms participating in the Small Business Administration (www.SBA.gov
) 8(a) Business Development Program.
The SBA regulation for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses detailed at 13 CFR 121.406 states:
“Non-manufacturers. (b) (ii) Is primarily engaged in the retail or wholesale trade and normally sells the type of item being supplied; (iii) Takes ownership of possession of the item(s) with its personnel, equipment or facilities in a manner consistent with industry practice.”
The SBA regulation for 8(a) BD firms detailed at 13 CFR 124.108 states:
“(d) Brokers. Brokers are ineligible to participate in the 8(a) BD program. A broker is a concern that adds no material value to an item being supplied to a procuring activity or which does not take ownership or possession of or handle the item being procured with its own equipment of facilities.”
To determine compliance with the above SBA regulations, AMS requires additional qualification documentation from Small Business concerns as part of the Vendor Application Package. For additional information, refer to the Vendor Qualifications Requirements (PDF).
Other Small Business Opportunities: Another small business opportunity is in subcontracting to large federal contractors. Federal regulations require that contractors classified as large businesses and awarded federal contracts exceeding $650,000 (aggregated over the calendar year) must implement a subcontracting plan to provide maximum practical utilization of small businesses, including disadvantaged, service-disabled veteran-owned, HUBZone, and women-owned small businesses. Subcontracting directories can be obtained from USDA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU).
USDA Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utiliziation: