Chapter 2-400: Types of Proposals

There are basically two types of proposals: solicited and unsolicited. Their formats differ according to the type of sponsor, the purpose of the award, and the type of award instrument.

A solicited proposal responds to a specific formal sponsor solicitation. A proposal is considered unsolicited when it is submitted in conformance with the sponsor's general guidelines or general invitation to submit unsolicited proposals, but not in response to a project-specific sponsor solicitation. This distinction is important for federal awards in the context of the Competition in Contracting Act as described below in Sections 2-420 and 2-F01.

The format and the content of a solicited proposal are influenced by the type of award instrument which the sponsor plans to use. The type of award instrument is, in turn, based on a number of factors including the benefit or service which the sponsor expects to receive and the relationship which the sponsor plans to have with the project. Described below in Section 2-410 are the federal definitions of the three basic types of award instruments: grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements.

Technically speaking, in the federal system, a Request for Applications (RFA) is issued for grant awards, and a Request for Proposals (RFP), an Invitation for Bid (IFB), a Request for Quotations (RFQ) or Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) generally result in contracts. However, this strict use of these terms is generally made only by federal agencies. It is not uncommon to find other sponsors using the term, “Request for Proposals,” when the award instrument is a grant.

Chapter 19 of this Manual, "Research Funding Systems," discusses in more detail types of award instruments and their relationship to the sponsor and the work to be done.

2-410 Using Procurement Contracts and Grant and Cooperative Agreements - Public Law 97-258 and 31 USC 6301

The section of Public Law 97-258 entitled “Using Procurement Contracts and Grant and Cooperative Agreements” describes the circumstances under which the federal government should use a contract, grant, or cooperative agreement. (See 2-F02.) This section is a revision of the Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act of 1978 which was repealed and recodified in Public Law 97-258 and 31 United States Code (USC) 6301. According to the Code, a contract should be used when:

  1. the principal purpose of the instrument is to acquire (by purchase, lease, or barter) property or services for the direct benefit or use of the United States Government; or
  2. the agency decides in a specific instance that the use of a procurement contract is appropriate.

Most contracts are issued on either a fixed price or a cost reimbursement basis. In a firm fixed price contract, the contractor agrees to supply the deliverables at specified times for a fixed price agreed upon at the time of the award. In cost reimbursement contracts with universities, the contractor generally receives the actual costs incurred in the performance of the contract up to a specified maximum amount.

31 USC 6304 states that a grant shall be used when:

  1. the principal purpose of the relationship is to transfer a thing of value to the State or local government or other recipient to carry out a public purpose of support or stimulation authorized by a law [...] and
  2. substantial involvement is not expected between the [agency and recipient].

The Code states that a cooperative agreement shall be used for the same purpose as a grant except that substantial involvement is anticipated between the sponsor and the recipient.

2-420 Competition in Contracting Act of 1984 and Amendments to the Small Business Act

The purpose of these two Acts is to "obtain full and open competition through use of competitive procedures..." Both Acts apply to the procurement of property or services by any federal agency. (See 2-F01.) The Competition in Contracting Act, Public Law 98-369, 41 USC 253, is implemented in the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) Part 6, Competition Requirements. The Amendments to the Small Business Act, Public Law 98-72, 15 USC 14A, are implemented in FAR Part 5, Publicizing Contract Actions These Acts apply only to federal agency procurements, that is, solicitations which will result in contracts.

Any exceptions to the requirement for full and open competition as described in the regulations for both Acts require an extensive procedural determination by specific federal agency personnel that a proposal or contract fulfills the exception criteria. The exceptions allowed in FAR 6.302 are:

  • 6.302-1 Only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy agency requirements;
  • 6.302-2 Unusual and compelling urgency;
  • 6.302-3 Industrial Mobilization; Engineering, Developmental, or Research Capability; or Expert Services;
  • 6.302-4 International agreement; and,
  • 6.302-5 Authorized or required by statute.

Federal agencies interpret and implement these regulations in various ways. Some agencies often use the exception under 6.302-3 to award universities sole source contracts based on unsolicited proposals which contain unique or innovative concepts. In addition, agencies publish Broad Agency Announcements (BAA) to solicit proposals. Any contract or grant awarded in response to a BAA is considered to have been competitively solicited. Additional guidance may also be provided via OP Research Policy Analysis and Coordination (RPAC) Memos (formerly Contract and Grant Memos) when necessary.

FAR Part 5 requires publication “for proposed contract actions expected to exceed $25,000, by synopsizing in the GPE [Government Point of Entry]." The “GPE” for such announcements is the Federal Business Opportunities webpage. The federal contracting officer is not required to publish a notice if a proposed contract would be awarded under one of the exception to competition reasons listed above. Federal agencies may apply these exceptions to unsolicited proposals from universities. However, each federal agency interprets and implements this exception in its own way. University policy concerning the protection of information in unsolicited proposals is provided in Chapter 17 of this Manual. Additional guidance may also be provided via OP RPAC Memos.

2-430 Multiple Submissions

Multiple proposal submissions, that is, the simultaneous submission of proposals for an essentially identical research, training, or public service project for extramural funding to two or more agencies, may be made. The multiple submissions should be disclosed in the proposals. This is necessary to avoid conflicts in patent rights and other commitments should two or more sponsors jointly offer support for the same project. Authority to approve multiple submissions does not include the authority to undertake fund-raising campaigns for either partial or total support of a research, training, or public service project. If the intention behind multiple submissions is to conduct a fund-raising campaign, such an activity is subject to the provisions of the Development Policy and Administration Manual. The policy on fund-raising campaigns and the authority to approve such campaigns are outlined in Chapter 9-300, of this Manual.