What is a CAGE Code and Why Do Government Contractors Need One?

marketing May 27, 2020

A CAGE code is a five-character alpha-numeric, unique identifier assigned by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). CAGE codes are assigned to businesses, organizations, etc. that wish to pursue contracts or grants from the United States federal government.

In my 20 years as a government contractor, I knew enough to have my CAGE code, but never understood its purpose, especially when you consider the other unique IDs businesses use.

In researching this article, I’ve realized the value and purpose of a CAGE code, where it is helpful to the government (the buyer) and how it ties together with the other unique identifiers used in federal government contracting.

CAGE Code | The Full Story

A CAGE code is one of four key numbers related to your business.

  1. Social Security Number (SSN) | This is assigned to you by the Social Security Administration (SSA), primarily for social security benefits. But the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses it as your individual Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN). This is the unique identifier of the business owner… you.

  2. Company’s EIN | The Employer Identification Number (EIN) is assigned to companies by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), primarily for tax purposes. Think of the EIN as the social security number for your company; it is the unique identifier of the business.

  3. Company’s DUNS number | The Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number is assigned by Dun & Bradstreet, a commercial company that the federal government contracted with to provide unique identifiers. While your social security number and EIN are sensitive, private information and shouldn’t be broadly shared, the DUNS number was designed to be publicly shared as a unique identifier.

  4. Company’s CAGE code | The Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) code is the full name of this unique identifier, but in government contracting we just use “CAGE code” when referring to it. CAGE codes, created in a nonproprietary system created by the Department of Defense (DoD), are assigned and managed by the Defense Logistics Agency’s (DLA) CAGE Program Office. Unlike your social security number and company’s EIN, CAGE codes are designed to be publicly visible, unique identifiers.

CAGE codes have been required for federal government contractors since 2014, making them a relatively new unique identifier. They are a replacement to the Federal Supply Code for Manufacturers (FSCM) and the National Supply Code for Manufacturer (NSCM).

According to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), Part 4.1800, CAGE codes may be used to

  • “Exchange data with another contracting activity, including contract administration activities and contract payment activities” – systems that manage your contract and pay you;
  • “Exchange data with another system the requires the unique identification of a contractor entity”;
  • “Identify when offerors are owned or controlled by another entity” – understanding true ownership.

When selling to the federal government, “offerors shall provide the contracting officer” your CAGE code prior to a contract award. “The contracting officer shall include the contractor’s CAGE code in the contract and in any electronic transmissions of the contract data to other systems” which ensures continuity of data.

You can avoid all the deep details around CAGE codes, but the reality is… if you want to sell to the federal government, you must have a CAGE code. The government uses CAGE codes to identify your company.

When Do CAGE Codes Expire?

CAGE codes expire every five (5) years based on the last time you updated your entity registration in the System for Award Management (SAM) tool.

If you update your SAM profile annually, you’ll automatically be renewing your CAGE code information.

Your CAGE code does not have an expiration date if your company received its CAGE code before August 26, 2016.

Do I Have to Pay to Get a CAGE Code?

DLA does not charge for CAGE codes. To apply for and receive a CAGE code is FREE.

Companies wishing to sell products and services to the federal government can obtain a CAGE code when they register their company in the System for Award Management (SAM); it happens automatically if you do not already have a CAGE code.

Beware of Companies Selling SAM Registration

Each year, hundreds of small businesses are convinced to spend money with a vendor promising online SAM registration and will help you get a CAGE code.

Some vendors even use scare tactics such as telling you the task is “highly detailed”, or a “cumbersome registration process”, or that you just don’t have the time to learn the procedures.

The fact is, only you should fill out the SAM registration and along the way get your CAGE code. If you cannot complete the SAM registration process, then you really need to rethink selling to the federal government.

Selling to and supporting federal government agencies is detailed and regulation driven. It’s no harder than anything else you had to learn but will take some time.

By completing the SAM registration process yourself and going through the steps to get your CAGE code, you’ll begin to learn the complexity and regulations that guide federal procurement.

Keep your $500-1,000 instead of paying to have someone to register you in SAM and help you get a CAGE code. Spend it on web design.

If you have questions, talk to one of the many free resources available to you, e.g., Small Business Development Center, Women’s Business Center, Procurement Technical Assistance Center, etc. They all offer their help with SAM registration at no additional cost.

I created a very detailed, free course on registering in SAM, getting your CAGE code, and getting started in federal contracting. It is a free course designed specifically to give you the start I wish I had when I started my small businesses years ago.

Getting a CAGE Code if You’re NOT a Government Contractor

In this blog, I’ve described getting a CAGE code from the perspective of a new government contractor. The process for them is straight-forward using the System for Award Management (SAM) as well as being automated.

If you are not a government contractor or seeking federal government grants, you can still get a CAGE code. Instead of using SAM.gov, you would apply directly to the Defense Logistics Agency’s Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) Program Office through their website located here.

According to DLA, in addition to receiving government contracting or grants, you would need a CAGE code for:

The process to register directly with DLA will take 5-10 minutes and requires minimal information about your company and the reason for applying.

Should I Put My CAGE Code on My Website?

Often, small businesses owners are concerned about sharing their CAGE code on their company website and other marketing material. Go ahead and put your CAGE code on your website – it was designed specifically to be a publicly available unique identifier.

Unlike your social security number (SSN) and your Employer Identification Number (EIN) which are sensitive information and should not be publicly shared, the CAGE code was designed to be used in the many publicly accessible systems used by the United States federal government.

For example, USA Spending and the Federal Procurement Database System (FPDS) provide data about contract awards made by federal government agencies. This information includes the terms of agreement, amount of the award, and details about the company that won each award. These tools use the CAGE code as a way of keeping the information in sync among the government’s systems.

Protect your social security number. Protect your employer identification number. But proudly and broadly share your CAGE code. That’s one way a federal buyer can research you to see if you are “procurement ready” and evaluate any of your past performance.

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