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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What steps are involved in the contract process?

2. What documentation do I need to initiate an acquisition?

3. How long will it take to process my requirement?

4. What can I do to accelerate the acquisition process?

5. What are the responsibilities of the requiring activity?

6. What information should I include in a statement of work?

7. What information do I need to include in a Justification for Other than Full and Open Competition?

8. How do I submit a Request for Contract?

9. Who should I contact to discuss potential conflicts of interest or violations of procurement integrity requirements?

ANSWER --- Contact Your Division Ethics Officer.

10. What is the difference between contracts, purchase orders, grants and cooperative agreements?

The Contract Process

I. Presolicitation

  • Procurement Planning
  • Describe Requirement Work Statement or Specs
  • Develop Source Lists and Evaluation Criteria or JOFOC
  • Develop Request for Contract

II. Solicitation and Award

  • Issue Commerce Business Daily Notice
  • Prepare Solicitation - RFP
  • Issue RFP
  • Pre-proposal Conference
  • Receive Proposals
  • Evaluate Proposals
  • Determine Sources in Competitive Range and Conduct Negotiations
  • Award

III. Post-Award Administration

  • Monitor Performance
  • Approve Invoices 
  • Provide Performance Acceptance

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Complete Procurement Package

List of Required Documents:

Document Contract Simplified Acquisition
Requisition for Equipment/Supplies and Services
  • NSF Form 31, Request for Furniture, Equipment, Supplies, or Services, OR
  • NSF Form 1036, Acting Processing Form (APF)




Request for Contract (Acquisition Strategy)
(Required for Action over $100,000)
Yes No
Justification for Other Than Full and Open Competition
(Formal JOFOC required for acquisitions > $25,000)
Yes (if non-competitive) Yes (if non-competitive)
Statement of Work (Services) OR
Specifications (Equipment)
Yes Yes
Recommended Source List


Name of Sole Source Vendor
Yes (if competitive)

Yes (if non-competitive)
Yes (if competitive)

Yes (if non-competitive)
List of Deliverables Yes (as applicable) Yes (as applicable)
Technical Evaluation Criteria Yes (as applicable) Yes (as applicable)

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Contract Leadtimes*

The standard procurement lead times for contract actions reflect the amount of time generally required to process procurements in accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). The NSF Contracts Branch can generally meet or exceed these published leadtimes, if the requiring program office submits a complete procurement request package which includes a thorough specification or statement of work. Early involvement with the Contracts Branch in the planning stages of your requirement can greatly expedite procurement leadtimes. Leadtimes, for selected contract actions, are in the table below.

Action Type Dollar Amount Standard Calendar Days
Simplified Acquisitions $25K to $100K 20-120
Sealed Bids (NSF rarely conducts this type of Acquisition) $100K and up 120-150
Negotiated Competitive Proposals $100K to NSB Threshold

Over NSB Threshold

Non-competitive Negotiated Proposals $100K to NSB Threshold

Over NSB Threshold

Contract Modifications:
  • Exercise of Options
  • Other Funded Mods
  • Administrative Mods

Any Amount
Any Amount
Any Amount

Task Order Under Indefinite Delivery Contract or GWAC Orders Any Amount 45-150
Commercial Items $25K to $5M 30-90

* Leadtimes assume the requisition is complete in all respects with regard to specifications and all necessary internal clearances, that both Program and Contract personnel meet all agreed upon schedules, and that there are no protests.

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Tips to Accelerate the Acquisition Process

  • Prepare an adequate Statement of Work or Specification

  • Prepare a complete Requisition or Request for Contract package
    • Have authorized official sign
    • Use correct fund citation
    • Cite "subject to availability of funds" if contract is for the next fiscal year
    • Prepare an Independent Government Cost Estimate, if applicable
  • Obtain necessary clearances (i.e. NSB)

  • Prepare a complete JOFOC for noncompetitive procurements

  • Prepare adequate Technical Evaluation Criteria, including weights of each

  • State required delivery date for urgent requirements

  • Prepare a complete technical evaluation report for competitive negotiated procurements, clearly detailing strengths and weaknesses of each proposal

  • Call Contracts Branch Staff at any time for assistance

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Responsibilities of the Requiring Activity

The requiring activity is responsible for providing information as may be required by the Contracting Officer to place and administer a contract. This includes information such as:

  • Keeping the Contracting Officer apprised in advance of planned procurements to ensure the contracting process is coordinated.

  • Timely processing of complete procurement packages to the Contracts Branch for action. This is VERY important. Late receipt of a complete procurement package delays processing of your request at least day for day. See the Contract Leadtimes chart for the amount of time it takes to complete a procurement after Contracts Branch receives a complete package. Also, annual cutoff dates for procurement actions are identified by memorandum to ensure awards can be completed during the current fiscal year.

    A complete package will consist of:
    • Request for Contract or Requisition
    • SOW
    • Recommended Source List
    • Justification for Other than Full and Open Competition - as applicable
    • Evaluation Criteria - if competitive
    • List of Deliverables

  • Advising the Contracting Officer of any unusual requirements.

  • Performing technical evaluations on proposals or bids.

  • Monitoring and keeping the Contracting Officer apprised of the contractor's progress. The Contracting Officer should be definitely be consulted if any of the following occur:

    • Apparent deviations from terms or conditions of the contract
    • Indications of delays, non-performance, or unsatisfactory performance
    • Indications of substantial variations from cost estimates
    • Indications that termination may be required for any reason
    • Evidence of fraud, waste or mismanagement by the contractor or his employees

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General Guidelines for Preparing a Statement of Work (SOW)

When writing work descriptions, the objectives are to provide:

  • Work descriptions that are clear and accurate. Clarity means explicitness and accuracy means completeness. Your requirement must be described fully enough to enable the contractor to perform satisfactorily without further informal direction. Deciding how much information is "enough" can be difficult. Remember, no one is as familiar with your project as you are; it is easy to overlook or imply important details. At the same time, you should avoid incorporating provisions that do not contribute directly to the overall requirement. You may wish to ask these questions:
    • Does the language tell the contractor what he or she is required to do?
    • Does it contribute to his or her understanding of the requirement?
    • Can you measure the contractor's progress?
    • Does the contractor have to infer what is expected? Performance standards should be clearly detailed in the SOW. Ironing out such details after an award is not only legally problematic, it is certain to increase the cost to the Government. Remember that conflicts arising over ambiguous or contradictory requirements are likely to be resolved in favor of the contractor's interpretation.
    • Your work description will provide the basis of preparation of offers by prospective contractors, and the subsequent evaluation of these offers by the Government. Requirements which are not understood in the same way by offerors and the Government, may contribute to unreasonable prices. Statements such as "as required," "to be agreed to at a future date," and "shall include but not limited to," give rise to contingent pricing. Contingencies occur when a prospective contractor cannot accurately estimate the resources necessary to accomplish a requirement. To develop a price estimate, the contractor will assume the worst and add a cushion.

  • Work descriptions that describe the Government's actual requirements. In the case of supplies, "minimum requirements" include only the characteristics which are essential for the intended use of the end item. In the case of services, "minimum requirements" include only the skills; talents and expertise needed to accomplish the required tasks. Minimum requirements may be examined in light of the objectives of the procurement to determine:
    • If the value of its contribution is commensurate with its probable cost.
    • The impact if it were eliminated.

  • Work descriptions must not limit competition unnecessarily. Obviously, competition is precluded when a characteristic or capability that is known to be available from only one source is specified. However, competition is not "limited unnecessarily" when supplies or services lacking the particular characteristics or capability will not meet the actual needs of the Government and sole source procurement is otherwise justified. Work descriptions "written around" the supplies or services of a particular company often limit competition unnecessarily. Another company may have a valid basis for protest.

  • Checklist for work descriptions.
    • Is it sufficiently specific to permit a prospective contractor to identify the personnel and resources necessary to accomplish the job?
    • Are any references applicable? Are they properly cited, and do they conform to the requirements of the work description?
    • Are sentences written so that there is no question of whether the contractor is to be obligated? That is, "the contractor shall do this work," not "this work may be required."
    • Is general information separated from direction so that background information, suggested procedures, etc. are clearly distinguishable from the contractor's responsibilities?
    • Are the specific duties of the contractor stated in such a way that what is required and his compliance/progress with the requirements can be measured?

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Information Included In A Justification For Other Than Full And Open Competition (JOFOC)

The Justification for Other Than Full & Open Competition (JOFOC) Outline sample is available to you in two different types of format, as a Word Document (Word) or as an Adobe PDF Document (PDF).

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Submitting a Request for Contract

The Submitting a Request for Contract sample is available to you in two different types of format, as a Word Document (Word) or as an Adobe PDF Document (PDF).

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What is the Difference Between Contracts, Purchase Orders, Grants and Cooperative Agreements?

CONTRACTS or PURCHASE ORDERS are used to acquire goods and services whenever the principal purpose of the transaction is to obtain property or services for the direct benefit or use of the Federal Government.

  • A Purchase Order is a simplified procedure for obtaining goods or services which do not exceed $100,000, except for General Services Administration (GSA) Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) buys for which different thresholds apply.
  • A Contract is used to obtain goods or services for requirements exceeding $100,000, which are not available through GSA.

GRANTS or COOPERATIVE AGREEMENTS are used to transfer money, property, or services to the recipient to accomplish a public purpose of support or stimulation as authorized by Federal Statute.

  • A Grant is to be used when no substantial involvement is anticipated between the Government and the recipient during performance of the contemplated activity.
  • A Cooperative Agreement is to be used when substantial involvement is anticipated between the Government and the recipient during performance of the contemplated activity.

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