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FedSubK Feature: Finding Your Way Around a Federal Solicitation

Updated: May 4

You get a notice that a Federal opportunity that is perfect for your business has been posted to SAM.gov. After downloading the documents, where do you begin your review? What are all these sections and is there any rhyme or reason as to what is contained in each? Solicitations for new contract awards, particularly voluminous documents with hundreds of pages and attachments, can be confusing. How do you prioritize what to read? Let’s delve into how Federal solicitations are organized, how the contents in each section are interrelated, and why it’s necessary to understand it all to craft your best response back to the Government. 


What is a Request for Proposal (RFP)? 

An RFP document (a type of solicitation) is used in negotiated acquisitions (those over the Simplified Acquisition Threshold (SAT), presently $250,000) to communicate the Government’s requirements to prospective contractors and to solicit proposals. RFPs for competitive acquisitions, at a minimum, describe the–


  • Government’s requirement(s);

  • Anticipated terms and conditions that will apply to the contract. Terms may change depending on the status of the awardee (i.e., small business versus large business, for example);

  • Information required to be in the offeror’s proposal; and

  • Factors and significant subfactors that will be used to evaluate the proposal, the criteria that will be applied to rate offerors against each factor/subfactor, and their relative importance.


RFPs may also be issued in the form of a letter or fax, electronic commerce, and orally. Sometimes the Government will issue the RFP in draft format for industry comment. We will not cover those processes in this article as the use of these types of RFPs varies from agency to agency and in emergency or contingency situations. 


How are Solicitations Organized? 

The Uniform Contract Format (UCF) is used for most negotiated service contracts. However, there are exceptions:


  • Architect-engineer contracts (those falling under FAR Part 36).

  • Subsistence contracts.

  • Supplies or services contracts requiring special contract formats prescribed elsewhere in FAR that are inconsistent with the UCF.

  • Letter RFPs.

  • Contracts otherwise exempted by the agency head or designee.


For this article, we will discuss UCF only. Under the UCF, solicitations have four parts:  

  • Part I - The Schedule

  • Part II - Contract Clauses

  • Part III - List of Documents, Exhibits, and Other Attachments

  • Part IV - Representations and Instructions


Now let’s look at each part and what information it includes. 


Several sections comprise Part I - The Schedule.  


Section A, Solicitation/Contract Form. This is the specific form that the offeror signs when submitting their offer, and the Contracting Officer signs upon acceptance of the offer on behalf of the Government at the time of award. It is the Optional Form (OF) 308, Solicitation and Offer-Negotiated Acquisition, or Standard Form (SF) 33, Solicitation, Offer and Award. Other formats can be used and FAR 15.204-2(a)(2) outlines the minimum information that must be included on the first page of the solicitation. 


Section B, Supplies or Services and Prices/Costs. Includes the list of contract line item numbers (CLINs) with a brief description of each to include the quantity and unit to be purchased. The offeror completes the unit price (if applicable) and extended CLIN price. The Government will use national stock numbers, part numbers, item numbers, and other nomenclature to describe each CLiN, as needed. Section B, at the time of award, is also typically populated with appropriation/funding data, by CLIN. Government contract writing systems often include the period of performance or delivery date for each CLIN in this section, as well.


Section C, Description/Specifications/Statement of Work. This section is the heart of the solicitation. It includes the description of the agency’s needs or specifications. How are descriptions of requirements developed? Per FAR Part 11, Describing Agency Needs, “Agencies may select from existing requirements documents, modify or combine existing requirements documents, or create new requirements documents to meet agency needs, consistent with the following order of precedence:

(1) Documents mandated for use by law.

(2) Performance-oriented documents (e.g., a Performance Work Statement (PWS) or Statement of Objectives (SOO)). 

(3) Detailed design-oriented documents.

(4) Standards, specifications, and related publications issued by the Government outside the Defense or Federal series for the non-repetitive acquisition of items.”


Section D, Packaging and Marking. Provides packaging, packing, preservation, and marking requirements, if any, specific to the agency or end user’s needs.


Section E, Inspection and Acceptance. Includes inspection, acceptance, quality assurance, and reliability requirements as outlined in FAR Subpart 46.2 Contract Quality Requirements. This section will indicate if the Government will rely on the contractors' existing quality assurance systems as a substitute for Government inspection or if  Government in-process inspection is required. It will also include any standard inspection clauses that require the contractor to provide and maintain an inspection system that is acceptable to the Government, allow the Government the right to make inspections and tests while work is in process, and require the contractor to keep complete, and make available to the Government, records of its inspection work. Other higher-level standards applicable to the work, such as International Organization for Standardization (ISO), American Society for Quality (ASQ)/American National Standards Institute (ANSI), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and others, will also be indicated. It describes the criteria the Government will use to inspect and accept the goods or services.


Section F, Deliveries or performance. Specifies the requirements for time, place, and method of delivery or performance, taking into account urgency of need, industry practices, market conditions, transportation time, production time, capabilities of small business concerns, administrative time for obtaining and evaluating offers and for awarding contracts, time for contractors to comply with any conditions precedent to contract performance; and time for the Government to perform its obligations under the contract; e.g., furnishing Government property (see FAR Subpart 11.4 Delivery or Performance Schedules and FAR Subpart 47.301-1 Transportation in Supply Contracts).


Section G, Contract Administration Data. Includes accounting and appropriation data (if not elsewhere included) and contract administration information like reporting requirements and invoicing instructions. 


Section H, Special Contract Requirements. Includes special contract requirements that are not standard FAR clauses or those from a FAR supplement required to be included in other sections of the solicitation. Examples of special contract requirements are security, badging, facility access, task order award processes under multiple award contracts, key personnel requirements, and min/max order thresholds.


Part II - Contract Clauses has one section; Section I, Contract Clauses. It houses the standard FAR clauses and those required by agency FAR supplements as appropriate for the requirement as required by law. Clauses are typically indexed, listed in numerical order, including the date of the version of the clause, and are provided in full text but may be incorporated by reference, if allowable. 


Part III - List of Documents, Exhibits, and Other Attachments also has only one section; Section J - List of Attachments. Examples of attachments are Data Item Descriptions (DIDs) and Contract Data Requirements Lists (CDRLs) in Department of Defense (DoD) contracts, Department of Labor (DoL) Wage Determinations, and sample resume formats and past performance questionnaires for purposes of proposal preparation. Other sections of the solicitation will frequently cross-reference to documents in Section J for further technical information regarding work requirements.


Part IV - Representations and Instructions includes three sections that encompass information that offerors must provide the Government to receive a contract award and information the Government needs to relay to offerors about the preparation of their offer. 


Section K, Representations, Certifications, and Other Statements of Offerors. This section houses FAR solicitation provisions and those from agency FAR supplements that require the offeror to represent, certify, or attest to certain information. Instead of providing all required FAR and Defense FAR Supplement (DFARS) provisions (as applicable) in each solicitation, offerors complete most of these as part of their SAM.gov registration in sections labeled FAR Responses 1 - 4, found in their SAM entity record. Offerors’ SAM Representations and Certifications are downloaded by the Contracting Officer from SAM.gov, reviewed, and maintained in the official contract file. Agencies will include required agency provisions from their agency FAR supplement in Section K since they are not found in SAM.gov, and any other provisions that may be in effect based on a final FAR or DFARS rule but not yet incorporated in SAM.gov.


Section L, Instructions, Conditions, and Notices to Offerors or Respondents. Includes the solicitation provisions and instructions to offerors on how to prepare an offer. Specific proposal formats, volumes, or organization of the information submitted to the Government are provided. Section L also outlines the evaluation factors that will be used by the Government to determine the otherwise successful offeror for contract award. Information that should be provided in response to each faction that substantiates offerors' experience, personnel, management, past performance, compliance with subcontracting requirements, or other factors of interest to the Government are included.  


Section M, Evaluation Factors for Award. Identifies the evaluation criteria that will be used by the Government for each factor (and subfactor) to determine if an offeror has met the technical and price requirements for award, and to what extent. The relevant importance of factors (and subfactors) are stated and the rating method (i.e., points, adjective ratings, colors) may be disclosed, following agency policy. The basis for the Government’s source selection decision will be disclosed in this section (i.e., low-priced technically acceptable (LPTA) or best value continuum). 


The UCF does not apply to commercial contracts but is used by many agencies anyway to maintain a uniform contract formation process.


The use of standardized contract formats helps the Government prep the solicitation by being able to reference specific sections with specific meanings and communicate with offerors, awardees, Contracting Officer Representatives (CORs), and others that assist in contract administration. 


Are All Sections Included in the Final Contract Document

While solicitations contain Parts I through IV, Part III is incorporated by reference in the final contract through the use of FAR clause 52.204-19, Incorporation by Reference of Representations and Certifications, or under the terms and conditions for commercial products and commercial services found in FAR clause 52.212-4. Part IV is removed from the document at the time of contract award and not included in the final contract document. 


Are Sections of a Solicitation Interrelated? 

The various sections of a solicitation are interrelated and provide offerors a complete picture of the project work and the compliance requirements for performance. Businesses must understand this concept because the Government will not always cross-reference between sections and connect the dots. if a business focuses solely on Sections L and M which contain proposal instructions, evaluation factors and subfactors, and criteria, but does not read Sections B through H, the offeror will likely provide only a partially complete technical and/or price response compared to what the Government expects to receive. 


Example: Section L evaluation factor asks an offeror to describe its schedule for delivery of supplies to be provided as part of services rendered. Section L does not cross-reference the offeror to Section F (Deliveries or Performance). Section M indicates this factor is the second most heavily weighted factor compared to the other factors. If the offeror fails to fully read Section F, it may propose a delivery schedule that is not compliant with the terms and conditions of the solicitation.


Generally, the Sections are interrelated in the following ways:

  • Section A - Solicitation/Contract Form often references Section B, which details the supplies or services and their associated prices/costs.

  • Section B - Supplies or Services and Prices/Costs information directly influences the evaluation criteria in Section M - Evaluation Factors for Award.

  • Section C - Descriptions/Specifications/Statement of Work details directly inform how pricing is structured in Section B and the evaluation criteria in Section M.

  • Section D - Packaging and Marking is driven by the nature of the supplies or services outlined in Section B.

  • Section E - Inspection and Acceptance criteria are influenced by the nature of the work outlined in Section C.

  • Section F - Deliveries or Performance is closely tied to the requirements outlined in Section C and the timelines set in Section B.

  • Section G - Contract Administration Data is influenced by the nature of the contract outlined in Section A.

  • Section H - Special Contract Requirements often references or builds upon information in other sections.

  • Section I - Contract Clauses are directly tied to the rights and obligations established in Sections A through H.

  • Section J - List of Attachments supplement the information in other sections, providing additional details or forms.

  • Section L - Instructions, Conditions, and Notices to Offerors or Respondents and its evaluation factors and subfactors are informed by Sections A through H and the attachments at Section J. 

  • Section M - Evaluation Factors for Award and associated evaluation criteria is informed by Section L. Many times Section M relevant importance follows the order in which factors and subfactors are listed in Section L (but not always) with the most heavily weighted factor listed first. 


Understanding these interconnections is vital for preparing a responsive proposal and ensuring compliance with the solicitation requirements. Cross-referencing information between sections is key to developing a cohesive and well-informed response.


What Happens When Sections Have Conflicting Information?

FAR clause 52.215-8 Order of Precedence - Uniform Contract Format is included in all solicitations that use UCF. It states, “Any inconsistency in this solicitation or contract shall be resolved by giving precedence in the following order:

(a) The Schedule (excluding the specifications) [Sections A - H, excluding Section C]

(b) Representations and other instructions [Section K]

(c) Contract clauses [Section I]

(d) Other documents, exhibits, and attachments [Section J]

(e) The specifications [Section C]


Sections that contain requirements that are based on law, policy, or other Federal or agency regulations that have the force and effect of law when included in the solicitation are listed higher in the order of precedence. Conversely, documents that are drafted based on operational needs fall lower in the order of precedence because they are drafted at the operational level and should not set higher-level precedence. 


NOTE: The Government encourages offerors to raise any conflicts and discrepancies found in the solicitation during the proposal period to its attention so it may consider issuing an amendment.


Being able to find information in a solicitation, particularly one that uses the UCF, saves time in the proposal review and preparation process, and allows businesses to cross-check between sections for various aspects of the work requirements to ensure an offer submitted to the Government takes into account a 360° view of the requirement. You'll be more confident in the proposals you submit, the information they include, your understanding of the Government's requirements, and your ability to successfully perform when you win.


Reference:

FAR Part 11

FAR Part 15

FAR Part 16

FAR Part 42.6



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