The entire federal procurement system encompasses hundreds of thousands of products and services various government agencies constantly need. To fulfill the need, contracting officers open federal government contract solicitations for bids. Here, we explain solicitation number meaning, and how to decipher each part of it.
The purpose of the government solicitation number
With an avalanche of ongoing and prospect government solicitations budgeting the weeping $30 billions, both businesses and contracting officers need some way to quickly find what they need. Solicitation number lookup is a convenient tool to understand the basics of contracting types and priorities as long as you can read them.
Solicitation number is actually a PIID
PIID stands for Procurement Instrument Identifier. And a government solicitation is just one of such instruments. So technically, solicitation number is a special case of PIID. The format of PIID is governed by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 4.1603.
Solicitation number meaning
According to FAR 4.1603, a solicitation number consists of 13 to 17 alphanumeric characters combined into several groups explained below.
Characters 1 through 6 identify the department, agency, unit or organization that has issued the solicitation. Effectively, these six digits are Activity Address Code (AAC) that is unique for every federal agency. Looking at these you know who is the potential buyer of your services or goods.
Characters 7 through 8 are the last two digits of the fiscal year in which the solicitation is issued or awarded.
Character at position 9 is a capital letter that identifies the solicitation type (see below). Some letters are restricted to certain departments, others are universal.
Characters 10 to 17 identify the agency-wide solicitation number to keep track of all solicitations issued so far. The issuing agency chooses the exact number of digits varying from four to eight depending on the approximate solicitations to issue within this solicitation type.
Types of solicitations
FAR 4.1603 defines multiple types of procurement instruments, literally from A to Z with the exclusion of I and O letters. For instance, A is for blanket purchase agreements, D is for indefinite delivery contracts, and P is for purchase orders.
However, there are four government solicitation types that are most interesting in terms of GSA Schedule awards:
RFQ – Request for Quotation (Q)
When a government agency submits a request for quotation, it is basically asks offerors to provide quotes for their services or products. Importantly, RFQ is not an offer (yet), and contractors are not bound by obligations unless they sign a contract document. Since the value of RFQ contracts is typically under $150k, RFQ solicitations usually utilize simplified acquisition procedures to reduce the administrative load.
The letter for this instrument type in the solicitation number is Q (or U if the numeric range for Q is already depleted in the current fiscal year). Also, the letter T is sometimes used depending on the agency.
RFP – Request for Proposal (R)
Under RFP solicitation the agency describes its explicit requirements, conditions and specifications and asks for proposals from vendors. Note that unlike RFQ, acceptation of the proposal by the agency immediately creates a contract. Technically, this is the only reason between RFQ and RFP solicitations – the point at which the acceptance of the offer occurs.
The letter for this type of solicitation in the solicitation number is R.
IFB – Invitation for Bids (B)
Also known as “sealed bid” solicitations, IFBs require the government to accept sealed bids published on acquisition platforms. Vendors place their bids for the opened solicitation, and the lowest bid typically wins. However, simply dropping the bid below the floor is not enough, because every lower-than-expected bid is scrutinized for labor laws violation, low quality materials used, specification misunderstanding or other ways that could result in lower costs. That said there’s nothing wrong with the lowest bid, as long as you are ready to prove it to the government.
The letter in the solicitation number for IFB is B.
RFI – Request for Information
A federal agency posts the Request for Information (RFI) to monitor capability of vendors to fulfill a certain task and their interest to do that, rather than just to request quotes. One purpose of RFI is to research the market and find out whether there are an adequate number of qualified contractors willing and able to do the work described in the Draft Performance Work Statement. The other purpose is to improve the Draft PWS based on comments the industry experts provide.
As you see, reading the government solicitation number can provide enough information about each specific solicitation. And knowing what type a solicitation is, is simply crucial.