Federal RFP Solicitation Definition
A solicitation is any request to submit offers or quotations to the Government. Solicitations under sealed bid procedures are called "invitations for bids." Solicitations under negotiated procedures are called "requests for proposals." Solicitations under simplified acquisition procedures may require submission of either a quotation or an offer.
There are three primary methods by which the Government informs prospective contractors of the Government's requirements and to solicit offers:
Simplified Acquisition Procedures (FAR Part 13)
The simplified acquisition methods include use of the Government Purchase Card, Purchase Orders, and Blanket Purchase Agreements. The Contracting Officer solicits offers from prospective contractors on these purchase items by issuing a "Request for Quotation" (RFQ). Any responses provided by the potential offerors do not in themselves constitute a legally binding contract. FAR 13.004(a) states:
"A quotation is not an offer and, consequently, cannot be accepted by the Government to form a binding contract. Therefore, issuance by the Government of an order in response to a supplier's quotation does not establish a contract. The order is an offer by the Government to the supplier to buy certain supplies or services upon specified terms and conditions. A contract is established when the supplier accepts the offer."
Contracting by Negotiation (FAR Part 15)
A Request for Proposals (RFP) is used in negotiated acquisitions, generally for requirements that are above the Simplified Acquisition Threshold and those that do not meet the sealed bidding requirements of FAR 6.401(a). Unlike an RFQ, where the contractual agreement is entered into when the supplier accepts the Government's offer (or order) to procure supplies or services, an RFP results in a binding contract when both parties come to an agreement on the terms and conditions of the contract. This agreement could occur upon initial receipt of the offeror's proposal in response to the RFP or after further discussion or negotiations by the parties. Whereas in a Sealed Bidding environment a contract award is based strictly on price or price-related factors, the use of an RFP allows the Government to make an award based on "trading off" other areas that may be deemed more important than simply the lowest price. Other elements that could be considered include technical performance factors and past performance considerations.
At a minimum, the RFP shall describe (i) the Government's requirement; (ii) the anticipated terms and conditions that will be contained in the contract, (iii) the required information that the prospective offerors must include in their proposal, and (iv) the factors and significant sub-factors (to include their relative importance) that will be used by the Government to evaluate the proposals. The RFP may, at the discretion of the Government, allow offerors to propose alternative terms and conditions including the contract line item number (CLIN) structure.
RFPs are frequently issued via electronic commerce, e.g., FedBizOpps.gov. Interested offerors may post their proposals in this manner as well, as long as they are complying with the conditions set forth in the RFP. The electronic commerce method(s) that offerors may use will be stated in the RFP.
The contracting officer may issue a "letter RFP" in sole-source acquisitions and in certain other appropriate circumstances (see FAR 15-203(e)). When using a letter RFP, it should include as much information as normally required; it does not relieve the contracting officer from complying with other FAR requirements.The contracting officer may issue an "oral" RFP if he/she determines that processing a written solicitation would delay the acquisition of supplies or services to the detriment of the Government, and that a synopsis notice is not required. Examples include the procurement of perishable items and procurements in support of contingency operations or other emergency situations. As with the use of a letter RFP, the issuance of an oral RFP does not relieve the contracting officer from complying with other FAR requirements. As explained in FAR 15.204-1, the contracting officer shall prepare solicitations under FAR Part 15 procedures by using the Uniform Contract Format (UCF), unless otherwise exempt by the FAR. Common exemptions to the use of the UCF include contracts for commercial items, construction and architect-engineer contracts, contracts for supplies or services requiring special contract formats, the issuance of a letter RFP, and contracts exempted by the agency head or designee.
Commercial Items (FAR Part 12)
Most acquisitions that utilize procedures from FAR Parts 13, 14, and 15 are for the acquisition of commercial items. Because of this, the electronic combined synopsis/solicitation for commercial items is typically used. It is prepared in accordance with the format prescribed in FAR Subpart 12.6. The use of the UCF in the acquisition of commercial items under FAR Part 12 is neither required nor prohibited (FAR 12.207.)