Government Markets For Writers

The government, with its hundreds of agencies and thousands of
offices, is a multibillion- dollar market for every kind of
writing conceivable, and most of it is done under contract by
private organizations and often by individuals.


The 34,000 U.S. Government offices and other facilities scattered
throughout the United States and our possessions are spending
about $14 billion per year, at current budget rates, for what
might be described as editorial services. And there is a good
reason for so describing them, although the bulk of the effort
required is, in fact, writing effort. That the government creates
a great deal of "paper" is well known. What is not so well known
is that most of this generation of "paper" does not take place in
government offices; the government contracts out most of this
work to private industry.

For writers, the constant growth of new technological
developments and the ever-swelling government bureaucracy add up
to constantly growing markets. Virtually every government agency
of significant size and importance has both publications and
training responsibilities. In many cases, where the size of the
agency and its publications/ training requirements are large
enough, the agency may even have special departments or offices
dedicated to these activities; in others the responsibilities are
vested within some other office or department, often along with
personnel and other administrative duties.


The publications fall into broad classes, those for internal
consumption and those for public information. Consequently they
may include reports, manuals, proposals, training programs,
audiovisual scripts, motion picture scripts, lecture notes,
speeches, brochures, articles, newsletters, and even books.

The military organizations who buy the weapons systems and all
the related equipment and systems require a great many technical
manuals and other documentation to be used to support the
training of military personnel and the day to day operations and
maintenance of the systems, so they are normally by far the
largest developers of publications.. However, they are not the
only purchaser of such publications, for the National Aviation
and Space Administration (NASA), and the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), and many other agencies, such as the Postal
Service, also require such documentation.

Training responsibilities may include the development of
materials to be used for training, or training materials may
developed by a publications group. There is no set standard in
government organization; each agency has a large degree of
freedom in organizing itself internally and allocation necessary
functions. Each agency does so according to the needs of its own
missions, size, and problem. In fact, several agencies - the
Internal Revenue Services, the Postal Service, and the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration to name three, have
entire training institutes - residential institutions - of their


In addition to that, the Office of Personal Management (formerly
the Civil Service Commission) operates a training division with
six branches of training, offering training courses to the rest
of the federal government. The military agencies have by far the
largest training establishments: That is one of their prime
functions. But training is a concern throughout the government,
and a large portion of the writing and publications work carried
on in-house and via contracting out is intended to enable and
support training programs directly and indirectly.


All of this call for a great deal of writing, of course, many
billions of dollars worth each year, and with the size of our
government and our annual budget we should expect the bulk of
that writing to be done internally, by government employees.
Surprisingly enough, that is not the case. Rather, by far the
bulk of such work is done externally, much as a requirement under
larger contrasts for engineering and manufacturing, but much also
performed by individuals and organizations hire - under contract
- for such tasks specifically. (In fact, for a few years I kept
myself quite busy writing for government agencies exclusively, as
an independent contractor). It is a market open to all, from
freelancers to large corporations.


Contracts let by government agencies for writing can range
widely,, from hundreds of dollars to hundred of thousands - and
even millions. Obviously, the large contracts are not for the
freelance writer or small editorial business. On the other hand,,
the large organizations often find that they cannot handle the
smaller contracts profitably or efficiently, and thus often
cannot compete effectively for small jobs and do not wish to do
so. Finally, in many cases the smaller jobs are set aside for
small businesses, and the large organizations are thus barred
legally from competing for them.. However, to give you an idea of
both the kinds of writing tasks and their sizes, here are some of
those I was entrusted with as a small, independent contractor and
freelance writer:

* For the Federal Aviation Administration: A $23,000 job to
develop an "annual report", explaining the year's work in safety

* For the Energy Research and Development Administration, $6,000
to answer mail and develop a system to enable them to handle the

* For the Public Buildings Service, $3,5000 for an audiovisual
storyboard and script.

* For the Postal Service Training and Development Training
Institute, $600 to upgrade their rate manual.

* For the Public Buildings Service, $750 for a brochure about new
procurement forms.

* For the Forest Service, $9,000 to develop an audiovisual
training program in American Indian history and culture.

* For the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA),
$2,400 for the development of curriculum plan for training health
and safety specialties.


Some of these contracts I won in competitive procurements through
submitting the winning proposals: others were awarded to me under
authority of the Small Purchase Act. This permits agencies to use
purchase orders, rather than formal contract, in an accelerated
and simplified procedure, with limited competition - even without
competition, in many cases - for purchases under $25,000. (the
limit was $10,00 at that time).


How the government buys and how to sell to the government are
different subjects, but you should understand the basic system.
By law all public purchasing for federal, state, and local
government agencies is open competition. Therefore, although
there are certain exceptions, contracts are aware as a result of
sealed bids (awards to the low bidders) and competitive proposals
(awards to those submitting the best proposals).

The federal government announces its needs and calls for bids and
proposals in a daily publication called the Commerce Business
Daily, published by the U.S. Department of Commerce and printed
by the Government Printing Office. (Subscriptions may be ordered
from either agency). State and local government announce their
invitations in the classified advertising columns of daily
newspapers under the head Bids & Proposals. The announcement
tells you how to send for or pick up the solicitation package
that will furnish all the forms and details necessary to prepare
and submit your bid or proposal. However, all procurement offices
want you to register with them by completing their bidder's
application forms, which will put your name on bidder lists so
that you will receive many solicitations without specific request
for them.

The federal government has thousands of contracting offices
(130,000 federal employees work in purchasing and procurement
functions) all over the country. (There are more federal
employees in California, for example, than in Washington, DC!)
State governments do most of their purchasing via a central
purchasing and supply organization in the state capital, while
local government have purchasing officials in county seats, town
halls, and city halls.

You should register - file the bidders application form - with
every federal, state, and local government agency with whom you
expect to do business. Getting on a maximum number of bidders
lists helps in this case; it enables you to survey and choose
from the maximum number of bidding opportunities.


Writing is a custom service, and normally you would compete for a
writing contract by submitting a proposal. However, because so
many writing jobs are relatively small - qualify under the law as
small purchases - many can be awarded without competition and/or
a simple letter proposal. Direct, personal contact with
government officials is by far the best approach for this work.
Seek out the various government agencies and inquire who is in
charge of publications, public information, and training. Make
personal calls on these people and leave business cards,
brochures, and capability statements, describing your background,
qualifications, experience, and available resources (e.g.,
equipment, help, other factors that reflect the kind and volume
of work you can handle,, how fast you can respond and turn a job
around, and other relevant factors). Continue to make these calls
and become a familiar figure in those offices. People in
government have problems, as everyone does, and they often need
help... For example, they too discover on Thursday, that they are
shorthanded for a job due on Monday, or they have been handed a
hot potato of a job by a superior, and they are eager to find a
freelance writer who can help. That is opportunity for those
prepared to handle it.


In many cases the agency will ask you to simply do an "editing"
job because they do not wish to acknowledge or even recognize and
admit to themselves that they cannot do the job or have tried and
botched it.. (Or, sometimes, that another contractor did the job
and botches it, as they learned after they accepted the job and
paid for it!) In such cases, writing and / or rewriting is
required, often starting all over from the beginning.

Be prepared to recognize such situations, but do not embarrass
the client by pointing this obvious truth out.. Instead, solemnly
agree that what has been done is an excellent start and that, yes
a goodly bit of editing is required; it was wise of the client to
perceive this. Price the job for what is really required -
writing/rewriting - but do agree that it is editing and bill for
"editorial services." Everyone is then happy!

Of course, there are cases where they do, in fact,need editorial
services literally - editing, proofreading, typemarking and
advice-consulting services, actually. Unless you object to doing
such work, you can and should take advantage of this to cement
your position with the agency and the individual client in the
agency. It's good business to do so,,, and will usually pay off
in future assignments and recommendations to others. (Repeat
business and recommendations from a Department Labor office for
whom I did some needed editorial "repair" work resulted in over
$65,000 in additional business).

You may at times find your self entrusted with "the whole ball of
wax" - an assignment to handle the entire job, from initial
research to having the final camera-ready to go to the printer.
That happens quite often, and in the route to the larger and more
profitable - contracts. (There are even occasions on which the
government agency wants you, as the contractor, to have the
publication printed and bound).

For this reason it is advisable to have "associates" -
illustrators, editors , and others on whom you can call for
support when you are responsible for an entire program or
publication.. It is mutually beneficial to have agreements with
others, representing yourselves as associates, for any that you
may want to call on others for support, which means, actually,
sharing in a contract. That is, of course, to everyone's benefit
in marketing, for it makes marketing your services at least
partially a shared function and - also an important consideration
- it enables all of you to bid for the larger jobs.

Some freelancers in writing and other professional-services
fields actually share office space and expenses and advertise as
a firm of associates, although each has his or her own clients
and projects, as well as cooperating on large projects. You may
want to consider this after you have gotten established, if you
wish to "graduate" to an office outside your home and pursue more
ambitious projects than solo writing tasks.


Government is not a single market. It is a whole population of
markets. Not only are there hundreds of agencies - departments,
commissions, administrations, and other organizations - but in
many of these entities there are multiple markets. Momolithic
although the government may appear to be, it is remarkably
unstandardized and diverse in many ways, as already noted.
Therefore, although you should male all efforts to learn the
official procurement regulations in general, it is also necessary
to understand that each agency has its own policies. For example,
although the law permits the agency to spend up to $25,000 via
government purchase order, the agency's contracting officer or
other top official may restrict that to some lesser amount as the
maximum that can be spent without a formal contract.

In general, the best government markets are the organizations
that have their own, in-house departments or special offices for
training and/or publications and other writing tasks.. That
sounds like a strange idea to those not familiar with how large
organizations do things, but the explanation is quite simple. The
existence of a separate organization for such functions, as
distinct from burying such functions in another office (usually
Personnel), demonstrates that the agency has regular or at least
frequent need for such work. Such organizations are almost
characteristically overloaded and need help.. You will therefore
usually find many more sales opportunities in such organizations.

Sometimes an organization does not by its nature furnish any
clues to the probable opportunities for writers. I once found the
Value Management offices of the General Services Administration,
an engineering office, a rich lode of contracts for several
years. And the Wind Energy Office of the Energy Research and
Development Administration was another totally unexpected and
unsuspected opportunity. You must be alert for such windfalls


Although I am based in the Washington, DC area my government
contracts were often in such distant places as Missouri, Montana
and Orlando, Florida. It is not necessary, in most cases, to be
near the agency. The government has offices and contracts
everywhere. In fact, you can use the mail and telephone for most
contacts; in many cases you never meet face-to-face with the
customer, even in a long-term contractual relationship.

The most basic tool of marketing to the federal government is the
government's own daily publication, the Commerce Business Daily
(CBD). It can be ordered from the Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402, and both 6-month trail subscriptions and
regular annual subscriptions are available. This publication
lists hundreds and hundreds of government needs - bid and
proposal opportunities - every day.

Write also to the Contracting Officer or Public Information
Office of each major agency and request information about their
procurement policies and practices. Many will then send you thick
envelopes of literature - pamphlets, brochures, and even thick
manuals explaining the systems in detail. A starter list - not a
complete one because that would be too large for the space
available here- appears at the end pf this report. But you can
get a great deal more information from any nearby office of the
Small Business Administration (SBA), Department of Commerce
(DOC), or General Services Administration (GSA). Be sure to visit
any GSA Business Service Center near you or write the GSA in
Denver, Colorado, a major federal center. For Government offices
near you, check the telephone directory under "U.S., Government

State and local government advertise their requirements in the
daily newspaper classified columns under Bids and Proposals. Be
sure to keep an eye on those, and visit procurement offices in
your state capital, county seat, and city or town hall.

The Government Printing Office operates a number of bookstores in
which it sells a great many government publications, including
most of the procurement manuals published by the various
agencies. However, many of the agencies will furnish copies of
those manuals free of charge, on request, as already noted above.
That is one of the key reasons for writing them at the addresses
listed below. (You may also request similar information from the
purchasing and supply offices of your own state and local
government offices. Many of them also publish thick manuals of


GSA Business Service Centers are located in the following cities:

Boston New York
Philadelphia Chicago
Washington Atlanta
Fort Worth Denver
Seattle San Francisco
Kansas City, MO Los Angeles

Some key agencies/offices to write (Contracting Officer or Public
Information Officer) for information on procurement:

Small Business Administration
1441 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20416

General Services Administration
18th & F Streets, NW
Washington, DC 20405

Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20585

Department of the Interior
18th & C Streets, NW
Washington, DC 20240

NASA HQ Contracts Division
200 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC

Department of Defense
The Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301

Department of Commerce
14th & Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230

General Services Administration
Denver Federal Center
Denver, CO 80225

Environmental Protection Agency
401 M Street, SW
Washington, DC 20460

Department of Transportation
400 7th St.,SW
Washington, DC 20591

Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC

Directorate for Small Business
and Economic Utilization Policy
The pentagon, Room 2A340
Washington, DC

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