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FedSubK Feature: Unsolicited Proposals -- Share New, Unique, or Innovative Services and Products with an Agency without an RFP!

Have a great idea or innovative product or service that you want to float to an agency but there isn’t an open contract opportunity or other avenue to the agency? You may want to consider an unsolicited proposal.

 

What is an Unsolicited Proposal?

An unsolicited proposal is used for unique and innovative ideas, approaches, or products that a business or organization wants to make available to the Government for use in accomplishing their missions and are not presently available on or through current Government contracts or advertised contract opportunities (e.g., Broad Agency Announcements, Small Business Innovation Research (SIBR), Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR), Program and Research Development Announcements, or other open solicitation or program).  These proposals must be in writing and are initiated by the offeror and submitted to a Federal agency, rather than the offeror responding to an agency's informal or formal request (e.g., Sources Sought Synopsis, Request for Information (RFI), or a Request for Proposal (RFP)).

 

To be a valid unsolicited proposal, it must-

  • Be innovative and unique.

  • Be independently originated and developed by the offeror.

  • Be prepared without Government supervision, endorsement, direction, or direct Government involvement.

  • Include sufficient detail to permit a determination that Government support could be worthwhile, and the proposed work could benefit the agency’s research and development or other mission responsibilities.

  • Not be an advance proposal for a known agency requirement that can be acquired by competitive methods.

  • Not address a previously published agency requirement.

 

Also, unsolicited proposals are offered with the intent that the Government will enter into a contract with the offeror for research and development or other efforts supporting the Government mission, representing a substantial investment of time and effort by the offeror. Reaching out to agency points of contact (see later in the article) is the best way to avoid wasted time and effort in the preparation of an unsolicited proposal. The most important things to ask when making contact is the procedures for submission and evaluation of an unsolicited proposal and the instructions for identifying and marking proprietary information so it is protected and any restrictive legends are addressed (FAR Subpart 15.609).


Unsolicited proposals are NOT a way to propose after the fact on an existing solicitation, submit an offer for commercial products or commercial services already being purchased by the Government under existing contracts, or a method by which to seek a meeting with the Government or contract award for the same. (HINT: Try this and I promise you will be remembered by the agency – and not in a good way.) 

 

Pros and Cons of Using an Unsolicited Proposal

There are definite pros and cons to the use of an unsolicited proposal.

 

Pros:

  • Innovation: Encourages the introduction of innovative ideas, technologies, and solutions that may not be solicited through traditional procurement methods.

  • Unique Solutions: Allows offerors to present unique solutions that address specific government needs or challenges.

  • Market Differentiation: Helps companies differentiate themselves from competitors by showcasing their specialized expertise or capabilities.

 

Cons:

  • Limited Acceptance: The Government may only accept unsolicited proposals that demonstrate a unique and innovative concept and fulfill a specific need.

  • Uncertain Outcome: There is no guarantee of acceptance or contract award, which can result in the expenditure of time and resources without a return.

  • Rigorous Review Process: The proposal must undergo a thorough review process to ensure it meets regulatory and technical standards, which can be time-consuming.


You’ve weighed the pros and cons and you’ve decided the “pros” win. How do you prepare an unsolicited proposal?


Contents of an Unsolicited Proposal

FAR Subpart 15.605 covers unsolicited proposals and the information that should be submitted to the Government for it to be considered valid.


  • Basic Information: Submission date, offeror's name and address, the type of organization (e.g., profit, nonprofit, educational, small business), and the names and telephone numbers of technical and business points of contact for evaluation and negotiation.

  • Proprietary Data Markings: Identification of proprietary data to be used only for evaluation purposes.

  • Disclosures: List of other Federal, State, or local agencies or parties also receiving the proposal or funding the proposed effort and the names of telephone numbers of agency technical or other agency points of contact already contacted regarding the proposal.

  • Title and Abstract: A title and an abstract (about 200-300 words) of the proposed effort.

  • Objectives: A clear and concise description of the proposed work's objectives, including an explanation of its uniqueness and the way the work benefits the Government.

  • Technical Information: A detailed description of the technical approach, nature and extent of anticipated results, the period of performance, the type of support needed from the government (e.g., facilities, equipment, personnel), and any special requirements.

  • Supporting Information: The offeror's qualifications, including relevant experience, patents or licenses, a list of other organizations or government agencies that are currently using the proposed technology or service, names and biographical information on key personnel involved (and any alternates), organizational conflicts of interest, security clearances, environmental impacts,

  • Price Information: An estimate of the total cost or price for the proposed work, including a breakdown of the costs by major elements (e.g., labor, materials, equipment) such that a meaningful evaluation of price can occur, period the proposed price is valid (minimum of 6 months is suggested), and type of contact preferred.

  • Signatures of the person(s) authorized to represent and contractually obligate the offeror.

 

Only the cognizant Contracting Officer (CO or KO) has authority to bind the Government regarding acceptance of any unsolicited proposal.


Limited Use of Data

In accordance with FAR Subpart 15.609, an unsolicited proposal must be marked with a legend that reads,--

 

“Use and Disclosure of Data

 

This proposal includes data that shall not be disclosed outside the Government and shall not be duplicated, used, or disclosed-in whole or in part-for any purpose other than to evaluate this proposal. However, if a contract is awarded to this offeror as a result of-or in connection with-the submission of these data, the Government shall have the right to duplicate, use, or disclose the data to the extent provided in the resulting contract. This restriction does not limit the Government's right to use information contained in these data if they are obtained from another source without restriction. The data subject to this restriction are contained in Sheets [insert numbers or other identification of sheets].”

 

Along with this marking, each page which data will be restricted from use include on it the following statement:

 

 “Use or disclosure of data contained on this sheet is subject to the restriction on the title page of this proposal.”

 

The agency’s point of contact may return any unsolicited proposal marked with a legend different from that discussed above. The return letter will state the reason why; most likely that it is impracticable for the Government to comply with an altered legend. The agency will consider the proposal if it is resubmitted with the proper legend.


Once accepted, the Government will also mark the unsolicited proposal so that all Government personnel know to exercise extreme care to insure that the information in the proposal is not disclosed to any individual not authorized access in accordance with FAR Subpart 3.104 (i.e. Procurement Integrity), and it will not be duplicated, used, or disclosed in whole or in part for any purpose other than evaluation of the proposal, without written consent of the offeror.  An example of such a marking can be found below.


 

Government Evaluation of Unsolicited Proposals

 

The review process for unsolicited proposals involves several steps and agencies establish their own procedures for controlling the receipt, evaluation, and timely disposition of unsolicited proposals.  Those include:


  • Initial Screening: The agency receiving the proposal conducts an initial review to determine if the proposal meets the criteria for consideration. This includes ensuring the proposal contains the necessary information, does not duplicate existing or planned work, is related to the agency mission, has scientific, technical, or socioeconomic merit, and complies with the marking requirements outlined above. It will also be reviewed to ensure it contains sufficient technical and price information for evaluation.

  • Evaluation: If the proposal passes the initial screening, it is then evaluated by technical experts within the agency. They assess the proposal's technical merit, the offeror's capability, and the potential benefits to the government.

  • Decision: Based on the evaluation, the agency decides whether to pursue further discussions, request additional information, or reject the proposal. If the proposal is accepted, negotiations may commence, potentially leading to a contract award.

 

The FAR ensures that unsolicited proposals receive fair and objective consideration while protecting the government's interests.

 

The Contracting Officer may negotiate on a sole source basis after evaluation of an unsolicited proposal only after a justification and approval has been obtained, funds are available, and requirements for public synopsis have been completed. However, even after a favorable evaluation of an unsolicited proposal, award of a contract may not be justified without providing for full and open competition. An agency will return the unsolicited proposal when the substance of the proposal—

 

  • Is available to the Government without restriction from another source.

  • Closely resembles a pending competitive acquisition requirement.

  • Does not relate to the activity’s mission.

  • Does not demonstrate an innovative and unique method, approach, or concept, or is otherwise not deemed a meritorious proposal.

 

And lastly….what Federal agencies accept unsolicited proposals?

Per FAR, they all do. But here is a list (not exhaustive) of several agencies that accept unsolicited proposals and have clear instructions on their websites for content, submission, and evaluation. 

Defense Health Agency (DHA)

Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs & Border Protection (CBP)

Follow FAR 15.6 guidelines, by email to procurement-ipop@cbp.dhs.gov.

 

Department of State

Refers businesses to FAR 15.6 and directs submission to its Unsolicited Proposal Coordinator at unsolicitedproposals@state.gov.

Department of Transportation Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)

Department of the Treasury

Has a list of unsolicited proposal FAQs at https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/small-business-programs/small-and-disadvantaged-business-utilization/how-to-do-business-with-treasury/part-ii-unsolicited-proposals/faqs and asks unsolicited proposals to be sent to the Departmental Office or Operating Bureau the proposal supports as each have their own procedures for handling submissions. The IRS's guide is found at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p5351.pdf.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

The unsolicited proposals reference page refers businesses to FAR, DOJ, and Bureau policy before submission. Detailed info on its process can be found at https://biz.fbi.gov/fits/unsolicited-proposals.

General Services Administration (GSA)

Refers businesses to FAR 15.6 and GSAM 515.6 asking that unsolicited proposals be sent to spe.request@gsa.gov. They also provide a checklist at https://www.gsa.gov/policy-regulations/policy/acquisition-policy/unsolicited-proposals

Indian Health Service (HIS)

Accepts unsolicited proposals via email at IHSUnsolicitedProposals@ihs.gov following instructions found at https://www.ihs.gov/DAP/unsolicitedproposals/.

 

National Security Agency (NSA)

Has a document outlining procedures for preparing and submitting unsolicited proposals, found at

https://www.nsa.gov/Portals/75/documents/business/programs/unsolicited-proposals-guide-october2020.pdf?ver=Hql93ktLYrvvAXDWuQlKkg%3D%3D

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

Online submission of unsolicited grants applications and unsolicited proposals to the agency.  https://www.usaid.gov/partner-with-us/unsolicited-submissions

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Unsolicited proposal instructions can be found at https://www.fns.usda.gov/contracts/unsolicited-proposals.  ISFA accepts theses proposal for new and innovative ideas AND existing USDA requirements typically procured competitively. Unsolicited proposals should be sent to SM.FN.Director-CMD@usda.gov.


Reference:

FAR Subpart 15.6 Unsolicited Proposals

 

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