Some of the most important things to know about when it comes to government contracting are the Federal Acquisition Regulations, commonly referred to as the FAR. Why, you may ask? It’s simple: because the FAR are the rules that all federal agencies have to follow when they purchase supplies or services. All solicitations follow various outlines of the FAR and incorporate, usually ‘by reference’ rather than spelling out, FAR clauses within the solicitation documents. It is expected of the company bidding to understand most of the guidelines or to do some extra research themselves by asking the Contracting officer for additional documents or an informational website. All FAR clauses included must be followed or the contractor risks termination for cause.
The acquisition process that the FAR creates and maintains consists of three phrases: 1) acknowledgment of need 2) contract creation and 3) contract administration. It regulates the activities of government personnel and how they handle these contracts, not the actual purchasing activities of the bidders, unless mentioned in the contract guidelines. The full book containing the FAR is over 1,000 pages long and is updated regularly, so it is important to stay abreast of the changes. There are 53 different parts of the FAR, divided into 8 different subchapters labeled A through H. From there, it breaks down into subparts, sections, and subsections. When referenced in a contract, only the section and subsection are shown though. For example, FAR 52.222-19 refers to FAR Part 52, Section 222, subsection 19 – “Child Labor—Cooperation with Authorities and Remedies.”
The FAR is the most important single document there is when it comes to government contracting. Though it has dozens of elements, the largest and most commonly seen part of the FAR is Part 52. It contains the most-used contract clauses, certifications, notices, and other instructions for firms interested in performing a bid to abide by. However, the most heavily regulated part of the FAR isn’t about labor or production—it’s about price. The entirety of Subchapter D focuses on socioeconomic programs and their relations to federal contracts.
Even though there are regulation standards set for the entire federal government, some branches, such as the Department of Defense and the Army, have their own supplemental regulations. Also, some agencies aren’t required to follow the FAR, such as the US Postal Service or the Tennessee Valley Authority. It is interesting to note that there are agencies that are exempt or can tack on additional regulations because the original intent of the FAR was to create a government-wide set of rules in order to keep things simple. With that in mind, it is important to keep up with both the FAR and the individual agencies’ regulations to ensure that the bidding process goes in your favor. Federal regulations can be found here: http://www.acquisition.gov/far/.
In addition, while the contracting officer may answer your questions, it might be easier to keep a copy of the updated FAR in your office, or at least be able to reference it when needed. If you go to the website, you can download a PDF file which has all the current regulation standards, an explanation, and their number. Another useful tool is that they list the current bills and discussions about potential changes to the FAR which might affect your business. When dealing with the government, it is best to keep up to date on bills and other legislation that might change how contracting operates. It is important to know how these regulations change because during the bidding process, the bidder must do one of the three things: 1) comply with the stated regulations 2) demonstrate that they will comply when the contract is awarded to them, 3) claim exemption from them. One of these three things must be done or the bid will not be awarded.