Unsolicited Proposals: What You Need to Know
If you have a groundbreaking idea for a government project, you may not have to wait for an RFP that matches your dream contract before you start writing your proposal. The federal government and its associated agencies will not necessarily rule out an unsolicited proposal. In fact, they have a stated interest in receiving proposals that contain new ideas and innovative concepts pertaining to their program areas.
What Constitutes an Unsolicited Proposal?
An "unsolicited proposal," as defined in FAR 2.101, is a written proposal for a new or innovative idea that is submitted to an agency on the initiative of the offering company (i.e. your company) for the purpose of obtaining a contract with the government, and that is not in response to an RFP, broad agency announcement, or any other government-initiated solicitation or program. For an unsolicited proposal to comply with FAR 15.603(c), it must be:
- Innovative and unique
- Independently originated and developed by the offering company
- Prepared without government supervision, endorsement, direction or direct government involvement
- Detailed enough to show that government support could be worthwhile, and that the proposed work could benefit the agency's research and development (or other mission responsibilities)
- Not an advance government proposal for a contract that you know the agency will need and that could be acquired by competitive methods
For a complete list of the FAR 15.6 regulations regarding unsolicited proposals, see this webpage
Preparing to Submit an Unsolicited Proposal
In order to allow the government agency enough time to evaluate your proposal and negotiate a contract, an unsolicited proposal should be submitted well in advance of your company's desired starting date for the government contract. Before preparing a detailed unsolicited proposal, make some initial inquiries as to whether there's a need for the contract you're proposing. This will help you better understand the agency's mission and responsibilities as they relate to your project.
Keep spending to a minimum during this preparatory stage, as there's no guarantee of funding for the unsolicited proposal. During your inquiry, which could be made by mail or in person, be on the lookout for any specific technical objections that may arise, including a lack of military application for Department of Defense (DoD) contracts.
Preliminary discussions often reveal information that may help you change your proposal to more closely match the agency's needs or to include to a military application. Based on the preliminary survey, go forward with the unsolicited proposal if you determine that it's of merit and has relevance to an agency's needs and that, if sponsored, such merit can be demonstrated.
Submitting an Unsolicited Proposal
An unsolicited proposal must include the following:
- In order to protect data, unsolicited proposals should to be marked with the restrictive legend and notice from FAR 15.609(a).
- Your name, address and type of organization (profit, nonprofit, small business, etc.).
- Names and telephone numbers of personnel to be contacted for evaluation or negotiation purposes.
- Identification of any proprietary data to be used only for evaluation purposes.
- Names of other federal, state, local agencies or parties receiving the unsolicited proposal or funding the proposed effort.
- Date of submission and your signature, or the signature of another person authorized to represent and contractually obligate.
- A short title and abstract (approximately 200 words) of the proposed service or product.
- A complete discussion stating the objectives of the service or product, the method of approach and extent of effort to be employed, the anticipated results, and how the work will help to accomplish the agency's mission.
- Names and biographies of key personnel who would be involved, including alternates.
- Type of support needed from agency or procurement office (e.g., facilities, equipment, materials, personnel, etc., including estimates for associated logistics support costs).
- Proposed price or total estimated cost, in sufficient detail for meaningful evaluation.
- Period of time for which the proposal is valid.
- Type of contract preferred.
- Proposed duration of the service.
- Concise description of the organization, previous experience, relevant past performance, and facilities to be used in the proposed activity.
- Other statements, if applicable, about organizational conflicts or interest, security clearances, and environmental impacts.
- The names and telephone numbers of contact persons already spoken to regarding the unsolicited proposal.
What Happens Once You Submit an Unsolicited Proposal
The government will acknowledge receipt of unsolicited proposals as soon as is practical. If the proposal cannot be properly evaluated within 45 working days, you will be forwarded an interim reply including the evaluation's estimated completion date. Upon completion of the evaluation, your company will be notified of the results.
Unsolicited proposals will be evaluated by appropriate personnel who work in the same area as the unsolicited proposal in question. If the evaluators request further information, providing it will be at your company's own expense and risk, and a request for more information does not necessarily mean you've won the contract. Read up on the criteria for evaluation in FAR 15.606-1, FAR 15.606-2 and FAR 15.607 (see above for link). Your unsolicited proposal could be disqualified if it is any of the following:
- Merely a normal development or extension of an existing program, or for a specific agency requirement which would normally be decided by standard competition.
- Based on information provided by the government agency to your company, which should have been made available to other companies as well.
- Designated an "unsolicited proposal" for the apparent purpose of avoiding competition.
- Based on information already in the public domain, or on information to which your company has no exclusive right, either as a matter of law or of ethical business practice.
- Under circumstances that create a question as to your company's exclusive right to consideration for the project.
- Submitted in response to a request from higher-level agency personnel (at the program management level or higher) for proposals from contractors on a given topic.
- An alternate proposal submitted because of any solicitation issued by an agency.
In the event the unsolicited proposal is not accepted, the government is not obligated in any way to reimburse the offering company (that's you) for any costs.
Unsolicited Proposals and the Federal Government
Federal agencies advise any potential contractors offering unsolicited proposals that only "duly constituted Contracting Officers" can enter the government into a binding contract. The personnel who receive, handle, or evaluate unsolicited government proposals are not authorized to make any commitments on the government's behalf. The Contracting Officer may commence negotiation only when the following apply:
- An unsolicited proposal has received a favorable comprehensive evaluation
- The unsolicited proposal is not of the character described in FAR 15.607(a) or in the above list
- The technical office sponsoring the contract supports its recommendations with facts and circumstances that rule out competition, and furnishes the necessary funds
- The Contracting Officer has complied with synopsis requirements of FAR Subpart 5.2; and
- The Contracting Officer has executed any justification and obtained any approval or determination and findings that are required by FAR Subpart 6.3.