The Anatomy of a Solicitation: How to Read the Standard Sections of a Federal Solicitation

Being familiar with the structure of a solicitation is imperative if you hope to be a successful federal government contractor. However, the solicitations that accompany competitive procurements, in the form of a “request for quote,” “invitation for bid,” or “request for proposal,” are often lengthy, making it easy for contractors that are new to federal government contracting to get lost in the legalese, and unable to pinpoint the vital information. Does that mean that parts of the solicitation are not important? Not at all. Contractors should be familiar with all parts of the solicitation. But knowing what to expect, and how to quickly find information that may make or break your decision to submit an offer will increase your efficiency and effectiveness when drafting proposals, saving you precious time for other important things.

A federal government solicitation is generally divided into 13 sections, labeled A through M. These are as follows:

A. Information to Offerors or Quoters;

B. Supplies or Services and Price/Costs;

C. Statement of Work;

D. Packages and Marketing;

E. Inspection and Acceptance;

F. Deliveries or Performance;

G. Contract Administrative Data;

H. Special Contract Requirements;

I. Contract Clauses/General Provisions;

J. Attachments and Exhibits;

K. Representations, Certifications, and Statements of Offerors;

L. Proposal Preparation Instructions; and

M. Evaluation Criteria.

Phew! That’s a lot of information in one place! Let’s break them down one by one.

Section A: Information to Offerors or Quoters includes the basics of the solicitation. Information such as procurement information, whether the solicitation is set aside for participants of a specific SBA program, and the agency contact information are all found here. This is almost always only one page, the very front page of the solicitation, though we occasionally see multiple pages when there have been numerous amendments to the solicitation. Not only does Section A include the very important basic information, it is also the page that is signed by the contractor and the contracting officer, which makes the contract a binding agreement.

Section B: Supplies or Services and Price/Costs is where pricing information is found. This section identifies contract line items, often referred to as CLINs, and other billable information. It also lets you know what type of contract is being solicited (firm-fixed price, anyone?). If there are possibilities of options, that will be included here as well. Essentially, if it has to do with finances, there is a good chance you will find it here.

Section C: Statement of Work (sometimes called performance work statement or something similar) is the meat and potatoes of the contract. This is where the agency is telling you what they want you to do. You will refer back to it frequently when drafting your proposal to respond to the various services or supplies needed for successful contract performance.

Section D: Packages and Marking tells you how you will be expected to deliver, mark, label, store, and handle the products and services. Classified? Storing equipment on a construction site? Want products packaged with purple packing peanuts? Find that, and more, in Section D. Usually. In certain circumstances, you may not know this information until you receive a specific task order.

Section E: Inspection and Acceptance discusses how deliverables are to be presented, as well as the inspection process. It also lets the contractor know what repercussions the contractor will face if deliverables are not accepted or if they are delivered late—something no contractor wants to do.

Section F: Deliveries or Performance also discusses deliverables, but this time the focus is on timing. Provisions in Section F often incorporate many provisions of the FAR by reference. If you are looking for the period of performance on any particular phase of a contract (hello, transition in and out periods), you will find that here.

Section G: Contract Administrative Data informs the contractor of the agency personnel the contractor will be working and communicating with. While the Statement of Work tells the contractor what they will be doing, Section G tells the contractor how it will be compensated. Vital information including invoicing and payments, including the information that an invoice must contain, how it should be submitted, and the method by which you will be paid, are found within this section.

Section H: Special Contract Requirements includes a wide variety of contract-specific terms. Information relating to key personnel, employee compensation and benefits, steps contractors must take to protect sensitive information, workforce transition (including hiring preferences), whether background investigations shall be performed, and more show up in this section.  

Section I: Contract Clauses/General Provisions incorporates all relevant parts of the FAR and any clauses that are expected to be in the resulting contract. You will also find reporting requirements and the types of various audits that the government has the right to do.   

Section J: Attachments and Exhibits simply contains the title, date, and number of pages for each document, exhibit, or attachment. Also, if there is a specific term you are looking for, you can often find an appendix with all mentions of that term.

Section K: Representations, Certifications, and Statements of Offerors includes the elements that the contractor must certify to bid on the contract. Taxpayer identification, firm ownership, whether you qualify as a small business, woman-owned business, etc. Any information an offeror gives in response to Section K of the solicitation is legally binding, so it is important to make sure that what is stated here, is correct.  

Section L: Proposal Preparation Instructions gives information that details how your proposal must be presented. This includes page limits, various volumes of the proposal, formatting documents, and the way in which the proposal will be submitted. Currently, most proposals are submitted via online submission, often through email. Another important tidbit of information found here is the deadline for submitting questions.

Section M: Evaluation Criteria lays out exactly how the selection process should occur. Generally, evaluations look at key personnel qualifications, organizational structure and management approaches, technical management approach, relevant experience, past performance, transition plans, and cost and fees. This section will also let you know the method by which proposals will be evaluated. The most common in negotiated procurements being best value—meaning generally that the government will compare offers on various factors such as technical, management, and past performance, as well as price —and lowest price technically acceptable—meaning price is the most important factor.

While the list of required information seems long, it is important to know your way around a solicitation. As mentioned, some agencies may not organize their solicitations in accordance with the uniform contract format. But, even if an agency you regularly contract with does not, there is likely another method to the madness that is solicitation drafting, and knowing how they are organized will help you to efficiently evaluate a solicitation to determine whether it is something that would be a good fit for your business.

To see the Uniform Contract Format in its entirety, look no further than FAR 15.204-1, et seq.

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