Introduction to Government RFPs
A government Request for Proposal (RFP) is a document used that provides prospective contractors the instructions for bidding on government projects. After an RFP is issued, companies interested in bidding can submit a proposal and, if selected are awarded the contract.
The Government RFP must be followed to the letter as any deviation from the requirements will usually result in the proposal being thrown out as non-compliant even when it is a minor technicality like not having the right size borders on the pages. Since these are public documents, these measures are intended to ensure that everyone bidding is on equal footing.
These types of solicitations are usually quite lengthy and can be somewhat confusing to those new to the process. There are many sections that provide details as to what is expected when working under a federal contract. The intent is to create a formal bidding process where any qualified firm can submit a response to the government RFP that describes how they are the best-qualified bidder to perform the requested services. So, submitting an effective proposal that meets or exceeds the requirements is crucial to winning the bid.
For federal contract opportunities, check out the government’s System for Award Management website at SAM.gov.
Components of a Government RFP
There are usually 13 main sections of a federal government RFP. Each one is guided by the Federal Acquisition Regulations or FAR. When an agency is putting together a solicitation, they are supposed to follow these FAR regulations. This is also why some RFPs will contain information that doesn’t apply to the particular services being requested. The writer of the RFP needs to customize their descriptions within these FAR sections to the project at hand. When they don’t, there can be confusion and conflicting information.
Unless you have a photographic memory, when going through these sections, make notes to ensure that you are both in compliance with every request or direction and create an outline of the actual information that is required in every section of your proposal.
I recommend that you don’t just read through these sections A – M, but rather get a good grasp of the project and the proposal requirements by first going over Section A and then Sections L & M which tell you what you are going to have to put together in the content of your proposal. Then go back and read Section C so that you have a good understanding of the services required to be performed and are confident that you can provide evidence of your ability to perform all services. Finally, go through the contract requirements, which can have hidden instructions requesting additional information be included in the proposal that wasn’t in Section L.
Section A: Information to Offerors
This section is usually quite short and provides the due date, project title, solicitation number, RFP point-of-contact for submitting questions, and specifics on various issues like acknowledging amendments, which must be followed. When solicitations are specifically sent to a select group of companies, they often ask for a “No Response” reply if you are not interested in bidding.
Section B: Supplies or Services and Price/Costs
Based on CLINs (Contract Line Item Number), this section includes how they want the pricing presented. It typically describes the type of contract and how items or tasks will be billed, the period of performance (base period and option periods), and instructions on preparing your price proposal.
Section C: Statement of Work (SOW)
The SOW includes the scope of work and describes exactly what the contractor is expected to perform during the contract period. This section provides the background for your technical approach, management and staffing plans, and the basis for your pricing.
Section D: Packages and Marking
Here they describe the deliverables that are required during the contract period (reporting, and packaging and shipping, if applicable).
Section E: Inspection and Acceptance
Information is presented that covers the government’s process for accepting the deliverables and any damages if not met. Complex procedures can also affect your price proposal.
Section F: Deliveries or Performance
This section describes how the government’s CO/COR will monitor the work performed and how the contractor is to deliver services or perform tasks.
Section G: Contract Administration Data
This section is focused on how the government’s Contracting Officer or COR will interact and provide details to amend, modify or deviate from the contract terms, conditions, requirements, specifications, details and/or delivery schedules; issue task orders against the contract; make decisions regarding payments; and other contract issues.
Section H: Special Contract Requirements
These are conditions that are more contract related as opposed to proposal related, but also speaks to government-furnished equipment (GFE) and government-furnished property (GFP).
Section I: Contract Clauses/General Provisions
Again, these are procedures for managing changes to the original contract, GFE requirements, and GFP requirements.
Section J: Attachments & Exhibits
Descriptions of the additional requirements to the SOW, i.e., attachments, add-ons, and appendices.
Section K: Representations/Certifications and Statements of Offerors
Contractors should be sure that they are registered and current in the government’s System for Award Management (SAM) at SAM.gov. SAM registration will demonstrate certification of much of the required information and just requires acknowledgment while other information requires responses to be included in your proposal. This includes any small business certifications, unique entity identifiers, and other company-related information.
Section L: Instructions to Offerors and Other Notices
One of the most important sections for preparing the proposal content. It provides details on the exact content required, the organization of information, if multiple documents are required, formatting requirements, and how the proposal is to be submitted as well as other important instructions. Critical here is to follow the format instructions very closely (font type and size, margin depth, file format, and size, page limits, etc.).
Section M: Evaluation Factors for Award
This section is also critical in understanding the components of the proposal that are most critical to the government when evaluating your response. It defines the factor, subfactors, and other information that will be scored/graded during the evaluation. Often, other information is also identified that isn’t made clear in Section L, which can help you provide a comprehensive response. They will usually identify which sections of your proposal are more important than other sections and assign a percentage of the points available to each section. This way, you’ll have a good idea of where to put the majority of your energy. For example, if pricing is only 20% and your technical section is 50%, provide reasonable pricing, but kick ass with your technical approach.
One last thing when responding to a Government Request for Proposal, often different sections of the RFP are written by different people, and the boilerplate text is often inserted without an overall review, creating contradictions and ambiguities. This is why there is a question period during which you can submit questions to get clarification to resolve those issues.