Words from the Wise

The integration of content and marketing

Dissecting a Government RFP

Are you new to the world of government contracting? Did someone just drop a 200 page RFP (request for proposal) on your desk?

RFPs can be daunting. But fear not! I have a quick guide to help you jump in without drowning in FAR clauses, bureaucratic babble, and acronyms.

Is it an RFP, RFI, or RFQ?

To start, you need to know the difference between an RFP, (request for proposal), an RFI (request for information), and RFQ (request for quote).

A government agency or program office might send out an RFI early on in the acquisition process when its requirements are still developing. It may have an idea of what services or products it needs, but doesn’t know if anyone can satisfy those needs. Or, it may just be aware of a problem and have no idea how to solve it.  If you have an RFI on your desk, then you still have time to shape the requirements that will come out in the official RFP or RFQ. Your response, if crafted well, could eliminate any future competition.

An RFQ is released when the government knows exactly what it wants (specs and standards), and just needs the price information from prospective  vendors.  The RFQ is not an order, but your response should reflect your competitive price, because it may result in an order.

An RFP is a solicitation for a specific product or service. The government is required to issue these bids publicly to ensure fair and open competition. An RFP is issued when the selection of a supplier cannot be made solely on the basis of price, but price does play a significant part in the evaluation.  The RFP will outline in detail, the services that are expected (in the form of an SOW or PWS), the requirements for response, and the criteria all responses will be evaluated against.

Is it a SOW,  PWS, or SOO?

The difference is in how prescriptive  the government is for the services or products are to be provided. A statement of work, or SOW, describes not only what is to be done, but how it is to be done. Most SOWs will include a bit of background on the need to be fulfilled and the over-arching objectives for the work to be performed. They will also include a section on scope, which is non-technical and explains the boundaries of the work to be done. The task requirements are the specifics, and can be very technical and detailed. Your response should be a one-for-one to these tasks. The SOW will also list specific deliverables or delivery milestones.

A performance work statement, or PWS, is more about  performance and requirements, than in the specifics of what, when, and how. A solicitation with a PWS gives the offeror an opportunity to respond with how they would fulfill requirements. The PWS outlines the specific requirements that must be fultilled, not the steps that need to be taken. A PWS deviates from a SOW in another way.  A PWS must outline  standards of performance and acceptable quality levels, or measures for determining if the contractor meets the standards (quality control and assurance).

A quick note on statement of objectives, because it is sometimes a precursor to the PWS. But with a SOO, the contractor, not the government, comes up with the performance work statement. The government then measures performance against their metrics and standards.

RFP Sections

A typical RFP has sections lettered A–M. You need to key in on C, L, and M. But don’t forget to review the other sections for gotchas.

  • Section C—You’ll find your statement of work, or  SOW, in Section C, which is often called the Description Specification/SOW.
  • Section L—This is where you’ll find your instructions for response. How and where to submit, specific formatting, and how to divide your proposal to facilitate evaluation. Follow these instruction to the letter. You don’t want to be disqualified on a technicality, like font size.
  • Section M—This is your rubric. Section M is what evaluators follow for judging the adequacy of your response. Make it easy on them and match your content to each factor and sub-factor. Section M is also where you find the ranking of different elements of a response. For example, is technical approach more important than cost/price? Is your proof of experience (past performance) more important than the innovation in your approach?

For your cost volume, look to sections Section B (Supplies and Services and Prices/Costs) and Section K (Representations, Certifications, and Other Statements of Offeror’s).

To help guide you through compliance checks, set up a compliance matrix. A good matrix can save your sanity. You’ll know for certain that you addressed all requirements. Of course, a bad compliance matrix—one that is too detailed or includes the entire text of the RFP—can make more work than it is worth.  I’ll offer up a sample compliance matrix soon.


Well, best of luck tackling that 200-page RFP. You you have any questions, feel free to ask.

1 Comment

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