FPDS: Federal Market Research
for Contractors

All government contractors should at least know FedBizOpps. However, if you're looking to find your buyers and get an edge on your competition, then it's time to get familiar with the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS).

So what's the big deal about FPDS?

Give or take, it's where you can find every product or service paid for by Uncle Sam. We'll get into the specifics later, but here you can access who bought what and for how much. The good news is that this information is publicly available and you can use this data to help leverage your efforts in the federal marketplace. The bad news is that this information is publicly available and it's being used by your competitors to get the edge over your business.

screenshot of fpds.gov home screen

This leaves you with two options:

Learn FPDS and federal market research, or just sit on the sidelines and watch your competitors sweep away opportunities that should have been yours.

What will you choose?

We thought you would pick the first option, so that's why we put together this guide on FPDS and federal market research. Here, we're going to cover:

What is FPDS?

Contracts are funded by the American taxpayer. With that in mind, a great deal of accountability needs to be in place. Government contracting is the most heavily regulated sector of the economy. So it should come as no surprise that every dollar spent has a paper trail, or in this case, a digital footprint.

Contract action is defined in FAR as, "an action resulting in a contract." On FPDS you at least find every contract action above $3,000 from the fiscal year 2004 to the present. Although this is the general guideline, there are some exceptions here and there. The oldest recorded contract action in FPDS dates as far back as 1977, but records like this are sparse.

Even with this taken in account, there is a vast amount of information in FPDS. This is both the biggest strength and weakness of using FPDS. You do have a lot of data available, but sifting through it and finding something useful is another story. When you pair that with how outdated the system is, you have something that's not-so-userfriendly.

Finding Contracts in Your Industry

When you go onto FPDS, you will find the "ezSearch" bar. The lettering looks a lot like Google's logo and it even says, "Google-like search to help you find federal contracts...". What you should note as you go through FPDS, is that searching with it is not really like using Google.

Image of the FPDS ezSearch

When you type something into Google, it will find results generally revolved around the words you type in the search bar. With FPDS, if you don't type the exact terminology that it wants you to put in...you'll get nothing.

So first, you're going to manually delete the text in the ezSearch bar. Next, you're going to want to put in your primary or whatever desired NAICS code in the field. That's it. Be sure to double check that the numbers are correct. Hit search and your results will pop-up.

The number of results that you will find seem great...but take a closer look. They're not in chronological order. Do you really need to know about contracts from 10 years ago?

On the righthand side of the screen, you're going to go to the box that says "Sort Order" and then click on "Date Signed."

Image of the FPDS sort order

As you will see, your results will be arranged by the order of the date in which they were signed. To view a contract action, simply click on "(View)" next to the Award ID number.

Image of the FPDS contract view

The Award ID is a massive piece of information that can seem hard to read. Here's a diagram that will give you a rundown of the parts that will be relevant to you as a contractor:

Image of the Anatomy of an FPDS Contract

Finding Your Customers and Competition

When you search by NAICS code alone, you will find lists called, "Top 10: Contracting Agency Name," and "Top 10: Vendor Full Name." This will give you the top government customers and top contractors in this industry. However, these aren't going to really be your top customers or competitors. If you're a small business, for example, you're not going to be competing with industry giants. You'll be going head-to-head with the businesses that are going after those set-aside or simplified acquisition contracts.

To get better results, you're going to narrow your search by your location and set-asides. You would start by searching for your NAICS code and then refreshing the list with "Date Signed" on the right-hand side of the screen.

Click on "Advanced Search" and leave it on "Search Within Results."

Next, click on "Add" and you will find a bar that says "Select One." Open it and scroll to "Socio Economic Indicators." To the right, there will be a bar titled "Like." Simply enter your set-aside category in this field.

If you are certified as a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, this field won't work for your set-aside. Instead, you will need to open the category of "Type of Set-Aside Description" instead of "Socio Economic Indicators." You will then enter "SDVOSB" in the "Like" field.

In the next step, you're going to want to narrow your search down your local competitors and buyers. To do this, you're going to add "Vendor State" with the same steps you used for Advanced Search. In this field though, you're going to put in the postal abbreviation for the state in which your business is located. You would enter "FL" instead of writing out "Florida" for example.

On the left-hand side of the screen, there will be refined lists of "Top 10: Contracting Agency Name" and "Top 10: Vendor Full Name."

Putting The Data To Use

FPDS is more of a compass than it is a radar. The information you get from it will push you in the right direction, but you're not going to really find out the specifics. The easiest application is for refining your searches on FedBizOpps. When you add  the specific contracting agency in your Advanced Search, you'll get better results and boost your chances of winning a government contract. When you view the contracts won by your competitors, you will be able to get a glimpse on what types of prices they're getting for their goods and services. Keep in mind, that with FPDS you get a pretty limited view of what's actually being paid for and in what capacity.

You can also get reports from FPDS as well. This requires you to simply register. Here's how you will do it.

Click "Register" on the lefthand side of the homepage.

Image of the FPDS register start

From that page, click on the link to create a Public Account.

Image of the FPDS register link

Agree to the terms.

Image of the FPDS terms

Fill out information for the User Identification. If you're having difficulty with the User ID and Password, click on the link that says, "User ID and Password Restrictions" for instructions.

Image of the FPDS register form

After you've submitted the information, you will then get a confirmation email.

To get a report, click on the "Standard Reports" button when you're logged in. Clicking on "What" and selecting "Total Actions by NAICS" will allow you to find out how much the government is spending in each NAICS category. You will also be able to filter through dates and by agencies. Again, this will help get you in the right direction as to where you should search or which agencies to contract for simplified acquisition contracts.

Image of the FPDS standard reports

Image of the FPDS naics report

Falling Behind Your Competitors

In government contracting, there are no silver medals. You either win or you don't. It's that simple. You need to "know thyself" so you don't make simple formatting mistakes or other errors when submitting a bid. You need to know your opponent so that you can place a more competitive bid.

Sure, it's possible to win a government contract without ever going on FPDS. However, when you think about it, you're not throwing your hat in the ring for just one opportunity. You're here to win and to keep winning to grow your business. One contract won or one contract missed isn't going to be the end of the world. As time goes on though, these opportunities start to add up. What you missed out on starts to add up too.

It can mean being in a very different place in five years or even a decade from now. This could mean that you don't have a line of recession-proof income during the next downturn. You might not have as valuable of an entity to sell when you get ready to retire. People might bail from your business since you're not really growing and their wages have been stagnant. Putting in the time and effort to conduct the market research can make all the difference.

The Most Efficient Tool for Federal Market Research

FPDS is outdated and it's a bit of a headache to use. Even with the information you can dig up with it, it's not going to provide you with that much of a competitive advantage. We realized that a while ago. That's one of the reasons why US Federal Contractor Registration made the Advanced Procurement Portal (APP). Pretty much, its as if you combined FedBizOpps with FPDS, but made it a lot more user-friendly.

With APP, there are fewer steps with a bigger payoff as far as information goes. You're pretty much just going to one easy-to-use source rather than juggling between two outdated government websites. When you find your potential vendors, you actually have names and contact information rather than just the name of a massive federal agency. With your competition, you can keep an active tab on their activity and get a list of their previous contracts that are easy to read.

Stand Above Your Competition

FPDS is free to use, but "free" comes at a price. In the federal marketplace, you need to make sure that you're knocking on the door of the right agency. You also need to have a better offer than your opponents. That's why it's crucial for you to have the best tools and resources at your disposal. When you work with USFCR, not only do you get your SAM registration taken care of and managed, but you will also have access to this valuable tool.

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