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FedSubK Feature: Navigating Federal Contract Opportunities Notices

Updated: May 4

Federal agencies use various types of contract opportunities notices throughout the acquisition cycle. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 5, Publicizing Contract Actions, provides the guidelines and methods for these announcements. Each has a distinct purpose and place to maintain transparency, ensure a level playing field for potential contractors, and standardize and streamline the procurement process.

There are two types of notices the Government uses to collect information for the purposes of market research.

Request for Information (RFI). This notice is one of the first steps in the federal acquisition cycle for larger or more complex acquisitions, or when the Government has no purchase history that compares its current need. RFIs are a form of market research (as required in FAR Part 10). They are used to gather market intelligence, obtain information from industry experts, and refine the Government’s requirements before issuing a formal solicitation. RFIs are also used to inform the Government’s acquisition strategy decision-making process.

Responses to RFIs are usually in the form of an email or questionnaire in which the entity provides basic information about their business and other market or industry information on a specific question or set of questions the Government has about a product or service. RFIs do not commit the Government to any future contract and responses should not contain proprietary or confidential information such as trade secrets or pricing.

RFIs are publicized in the System for Award Management (SAM) but are not expressly titled as such under the types of notices for which businesses can search in SAM Contract Opportunities. The most effective way to find RFIs in SAM is to use the Contract Opportunities advanced search function for an exact keyword search on “Request for Information”. This search may also pull in Sources Sought Notices.

Sources Sought Notice. A Sources Sought Notice is an early-stage market research tool in the federal acquisition cycle. It summarizes the Government’s requirements enough that businesses can determine interest and eligibility. It is used on a wide variety of acquisitions in terms of dollar value and complexity. The purpose is typically to test the interest and availability of qualified businesses in the market, but are used primarily to determine the number and types of interested small businesses, small disadvantaged businesses (SDBs), or businesses in specific socioeconomic categories (i.e. 8(a) Program participants, Historically Underutilized Business Zone small businesses (HUBZone SBs), Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSBs), Economically- Disadvantaged WOSBs (EDWOSBs), and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs)) in the market. Sources sought notices help agencies gauge the potential level of competition in each socioeconomic category and identify possible full or partial set-aside opportunities and their viability to avoid one-offer/ no-offer situations.

The Government typically requires a specific format for response to a sources sought notice and will limit the response to only the information requested within a specified page-length. Think of a response to a sources sought notice as a quiz on how well you follow instructions for a proposal submission later; because the Government also looks at them that way. Do not submit marketing materials or capabilities statements as your response to a sources sought synopsis unless the Government expressly requests that information. Follow the instructions in the notice to the letter.

Neither RFIs nor Sources Sought Notices commit the Government to solicit or award the requirements summarized. They also do not constitute an offer or proposal to the Government for performance of the work under which the Government is required to act.

Are RFIs and Sources Sought Notices a Mandatory Notice for Each Contract Action?

No. They are not required notices. The extent of market research completed using each will vary, depending on such factors as urgency, estimated dollar value, complexity, and the Government's history of same/similar purchases. Solicitations may be issued without an RFI or Sources Sought Notice being published.

Once the acquisition strategy has been determined and approved, there is a mandatory notice that signals the public that a proposed Federal contract opportunity is forthcoming.

Pre-Solicitation Notice. A Pre-Solicitation Notice is the first notice used in the solicitation phase of the acquisition lifecycle. A pre-solicitation notice is required before a Contracting Officer can issue any resulting solicitation. It is published in at least 15 calendar days prior to the release of the formal solicitation. This notice provides a high-level overview of the upcoming procurement, including key requirements, deadlines, and contact information. Interested businesses can use this notice to determine their structure to perform the work (prime, prime/sub, joint venture, or teaming arrangement) and begin preparing for release of the formal solicitation. There is no action required from potential contractors in response to a pre-solicitation notice.

After the Pre-Solicitation Notice is issued, the solicitation will be announced by one of the following methods:

Request for Quote (RFQ). A Request for Quote (RFQ) is used to announce a contract opportunity when the Government’s needs are relatively straightforward and well-defined. RFQs are used for actions valued over the micropurchase threshold (see FAR 2.101) and less than or equal to the Simplified Acquisition Threshold (SAT), presently $250,000 (with some exceptions). RFQs solicit price quotes from interested eligible sources for the delivery of products or services. RFQs streamline the acquisition process and typically require less time for entities to prepare a response (i.e., quote) back to the Government.

An RFQ response time is determined by the Contracting Officer as a length of time that will afford potential offerors a reasonable opportunity to respond. Entities interested in providing a quote must follow the Government’s instructions to submit their quote before the date and time set for receipt.

Request for Proposals (RFP). A Request for Proposal (RFP) is a comprehensive solicitation document used for complex acquisitions. It outlines detailed requirements, evaluation criteria, and allows entities to submit proposals that may include technical qualifications, experience, key personnel, past performance, and price/cost elements, among others. RFPs are used over the SAT and can be lengthy in terms of the description of the scope and/or instructions to offerors in the preparation of proposals.

The minimum RFP response time is 30 calendar days or more, as determined by the Contracting Officer. The more complex the proposal, the longer the response time. Entities interested in providing an offer must follow the Government’s instructions to submit their proposal before the date and time set for receipt. The receipt, handling, and evaluation of offers is governed by FAR Part 15, Contract by Negotiation.

NOTE: Draft RFPs may be issued as a form of market research for the purposes of getting industry comment on the Governments requirements, planned acquisition strategy, pricing structure, terms and conditions, and/or compliance requirements. Agencies are not required to issue draft RFPs. They are most often used on highly-visible and highly-complex services contracts either at the agency level or Governmentwide where new or innovative methods for the solicitation, evaluation of offers, or performance of the work are proposed. Responses to draft RFPs are considered by the Government and may be used to finalize the RFP for formal solicitation.

Invitation for Bid (IFB). An Invitation for Bid (IFB) is a notice that requests a sealed bid from interested entities and is used typically for straightforward, low-complexity procurements, most often for supplies, materials, and general construction activities where the Government is most interested in obtaining the lowest price. IFBs are not used when the Government may need to negotiate terms and conditions, scope, level of effort, or price with contractors prior to award; RFPs are used in that case.

The minimum IFB response time is 30 calendar days. Entities interested in providing a bid must follow the Government’s instructions to submit their bid documents before the date and time set for receipt. FAR Subpart 6.4 and FAR Part 14, Sealed Bidding, governs the handling, public opening, and announcement of winning bids.

IFBs are publicized in the System for Award Management (SAM) but are not expressly titled as such under the types of notices for which businesses can search in SAM Contract Opportunities. The most effective way to find IFBs in SAM is to use the Contract Opportunities advanced search function for an exact keyword search on “Invitation for Bid”.

FAR Subpart 12.603 also outlines a streamlined notice and solicitation process for commercial products and commercial services.

Combined Synopsis/Solicitation (CSS). The Combined Synopsis/Solicitation (CSS) involves combining in a single notice the solicitation notice (RFQ, RFP, IFB) and the solicitation itself. A CSS must identify itself as a CSS in the language of the announcement to ensure clarity to interested parties so it is understood no further written solicitation will be issued. The CSS includes information about the contract requirements, evaluation criteria, and submission instructions in a single notice. Again, it is important to remember that no other written solicitation documents will be issued after issuance of a CSS.

CSS notices are typically announced for 30 days but that timeframe can be significantly shorter at the discretion of the Contracting Officer. The CCS will provide any notice of a set-aside and the associated NAICS code and small business size standard applicable to the action. CSS instructions will indicate if the entity response is classified as a bid, quote, or offer. Failure to follow instructions may render a response ineligible for further consideration, depending on that classification.

Federal buyers must formally announce the contract awards to the public when the total value is over the micropurchase threshold.

Award Notice. An Award Notice is issued after the contract has been awarded to the selected vendor. It provides information about the successful bidder, contract terms, and other pertinent details. These notices inform unsuccessful bidders and the public of the contract award, promoting transparency in the federal procurement process. They can be used by entities looking for subcontracting opportunities within a specific industry or with a specific agency.

There are other types of notices that may be of interest to entities, depending on their industry. These notices also serve specific purposes and can be searched in SAM Contract Opportunities.

Justification and Approval (J&A) Notice (aka “Justification” in SAM Notice Types). A Justification and Approval (J&A) document is not a solicitation but a required notice that must be made to the public when an agency intends to award a contract without full and open competition. This document explains the reasons for the non-competitive procurement, such as sole-source awards or emergencies. The use of these notices ensure transparency and accountability when contracts are awarded without competition.

Special Notices. Special Notices are used by the Government to–

● Transmit Government interest in potential Research & Development (R&D) programs whenever market research does not produce enough concerns to obtain adequate competition.

● Establish a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) or before changing an FFRDC’s basic purpose and mission (see FAR Part 35).

● Advertise business fairs, prebid or preproposal conferences, and meetings.

● Provide long-range procurement estimates.

● Notify industry of the availability of draft solicitations or draft specifications for review.

Federal contract opportunities notices play a crucial role in the acquisition lifecycle, ensuring transparency, competition, and efficiency in the procurement process. By understanding the various types of notices and their purposes, Government agencies and businesses can navigate the complex world of Federal contracting more effectively. Whether it's an early-stage Request for Information (RFI) or a comprehensive Request for Proposals (RFP), each notice serves a unique function, contributing to the successful acquisition of products and services by the Federal government.

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