How to Decipher a Government Request for Proposal

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On a weekly basis, Segue receives several requests for proposal (RFP) through one of our contract vehicles such as GSA IT 70 or NETCENTS-2. Each opportunity goes through an internal evaluation process to reach a bid or no-bid decision. When we elect to respond to an RFP, it’s important to our success that we quickly and efficiently understand what we need to provide in our proposal. Each RFP is unique and has unique response requirements, but there are certainly some common, standard pieces. A typical RFP usually consists of a cover letter, instructions to offerors, and important attachments – particularly a Performance Work Statement (PWS). All of these things are critical in preparing a response that will be viewed as technically acceptable by the Government. In this blog, I’ll review some of the most common and most useful parts of an RFP for a proposal coordinator. When receiving an RFP, I take each of the parts described below and dissect them to discover important information necessary to create my response templates and support the proposal team.


Cover Letters

The cover letter, often only a page in length, can contain some of the most important information as far as an RFP is concerned. A good cover letter will establish your expectations for the response from the contracting officer’s own pen. The cover letter should provide a due date for questions and instructions on how to submit them to the Contracting Officer, a critical deadline to include in your proposal schedule. These questions are intended to clear up any confusion regarding the RFP and support a fair playing field so there isn’t varied interpretation of the scope of work or the response criteria amongst bidders. The most important element on the cover letter is the due date and time of submission of the proposal itself. Submitting past this time is unacceptable and will result in an automatic loss and no consideration of the award. Knowing these important due dates allows for the proposal team to plan the overall proposal timeline, ensuring that writing assignments, partner inputs, and review cycles are scheduled for a manageable response effort.

Instruction for Offerors

The instruction to offerors (ITO) section of the RFP specifies exactly what needs to be included in the proposal response. It also dictates any specific requirements for format, including font size, font type, and page count. It will outline how many volumes you need to submit, how those volumes should be broken up and if you need to submit electronic and/or hard copies to the customer. A hard copy submission requirement often has a real impact on proposal schedule, as it requires time to print and deliver the final versions, possibly several days if mailing is required.  A good ITO should reiterate the submission date and time and point of contact. The ITO should tell you what to include and NOT include in each section of these volumes, laying out response factors and subfactors. For example, the technical volume will provide insight on what to include in your solution, technologies, services, management approach or personnel. The pricing volume information will tell you what to include in your proposed cost and what information is required to evaluate the realism of your bid. As an example of instructions on what not to include, price information is typically only included in the pricing volume unless otherwise stated. If this is the case, pricing information outside this volume will not be evaluated. The ITO is really exactly that: your instructions. Digest this information, then digest it again. If the contracting office has done their job, it will clearly guide you on what to propose, how to propose it, and who to send it to.

Additional Attachment Possibilities

A range of attachments can be included with RFPs. The most common attachment is the Performance Work Statement (PWS). This attachment is extremely important because it lays out all the technical/managerial requirements of the work to be performed and that need to be addressed in your response. If all requirements are not addressed, your proposal will be deemed technically unacceptable and result in a loss. This is why I do several compliance checks from start to finish when responding to RFPs for Segue. I want to make sure we are hitting on every single topic in our response. Another common attachment is a pricing sheet, which just allows the Government to dictate the format of how they receive the proposed price. Having the same format makes it easier to compare to other companies during evaluation. There are a variety of other attachments, but they vary from proposal to proposal and are only submitted if provided and asked for. Regardless of the number of RFP attachments, you should be sure to review them all to ensure that you are giving your proposal team all the information they need to build your response and to ensure that you are compliant and compelling to the customer. If they provide the attachments, you must assume they contain important information.

Preparing an RFP response can be simple as long as you know what to look for. Utilizing the important information in the cover letter, instructions to offerors and the attachments can help you quickly and efficiently plan your response and give you the best possible chance of winning.