Using Unsolicited Proposals for Innovative Federal Solutions

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unsolicited_proposals

Every business developer needs a toolkit. Within that toolkit should be skills and collateral to further your company’s federal business development goals. For example, one asset should be an updated one-pager capability statement. While not standard in your toolkit, you should also be prepared to draft unsolicited proposals. We’ve come across some confusion among our clients on how to use unsolicited proposals to win a contract with the government.

With technology developments moving at the speed of light, unsolicited proposals have grown in importance. This article will show you some of the steps you need to take to determine whether you can submit an unsolicited proposal.

What is an Unsolicited Proposal?

‘“Unsolicited proposal” means a written proposal for a new or innovative idea that is submitted to an agency on the initiative of the offeror for the purpose of obtaining a contract with the Government, and that is not in response to a request for proposals, Broad Agency Announcement, Small Business Innovation Research topic, Small Business Technology Transfer Research topic, Program Research and Development Announcement, or any other Government-initiated solicitation or program.” – Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 2.101

What does this mean for your business? If you have an innovative service or product, you could submit a proposal on your own initiative. The government won’t request it from you as they may not even know it’s available.  

You have to submit your proposal and hope the government will find the money to accept it.

When Can You Submit an Unsolicited Proposal?

In FAR 15.603, you can find some requirements for unsolicited proposals.

Your proposal must be:

  • Innovative and unique
  • Independently originated and developed by the offeror (your company)
  • Prepared without any government supervision, direction, or direct involvement
  • Include enough information to help the government customer determine whether or not your proposal would benefit their mission

Do You Have to Submit an Unsolicited Proposal Blind?

Does this mean you have to go through all of the work preparing this proposal and then cross your fingers that your federal customer will bite? You could, but it’s not the best way to go about it.

Experienced companies usually find a way to work within the provisions while talking to someone to confirm that they are interested and check if they have available funds. Your customer may love your proposal, but not have enough room in their budget to offer you a contract, so you may end up wasting your efforts. You want to make sure that your proposal falls on a fertile ground by establishing a relationship and ensuring it’s worthwhile to submit the bid first.

Even in the FAR, the regulation acknowledges that contact with the right people within the agency may save both you and the government time. There is a difference between the government directing you and telling you what to do, and being receptive and ready to receive your unsolicited proposal. You may just want to walk that fine line.

When Can’t You Submit One?

You can’t submit an unsolicited proposal as a way to get around a government-sponsored competition, like an RFP. If you submit an unsolicited proposal in advance of an RFP issuance, the government will consider it invalid. You also can’t submit an unsolicited proposal if the government has issued a requirement for your proposed work in the past.  

Determining an Unsolicited Proposal is Possible

You must do extensive research before starting your proposal. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you’ll miss something that disqualifies your proposal on arrival. You need to find out if a sole source award is an appropriate response to your proposal. Otherwise, your unsolicited proposal isn’t worth writing.

Start your research by conducting a NAICS and/or PSC code search for your target agency at USASpending.gov or a paid source. Then combine that code search with a keyword search. Find out everything you can about the customer. You should understand your agency’s mission and figure out how your work could support it.  

You have to explain that to the customer when crafting a compelling proposal. Not to mention, your government customer won’t want to do the research and connect the dots themselves. Remember, doing your due diligence helps remove potential barriers.

Thankfully, the FAR requires government agencies to supply the following to help with the development of unsolicited proposals:

  • Requirements concerning responsible prospective contractors and information on organizational conflicts of interest
  • Guidance on the agency’s preferred method for idea or concept submission
  • Agency points of contact to obtain information regarding advertising
  • Information on agency objectives and potential areas of interest

That last bullet is key to meaningful conversations with your prospective government customers about your offer.

Who Would Be Interested in Your Proposal?

At this stage, you have to do a bit of market analysis. You must determine who within a particular agency would be interested in your offering. You should find out which entity within the organization benefits from your proposal. You can’t rely on someone forwarding your proposal to the relevant division of an agency. By doing this research yourself, you increase the odds of your proposal being read by the right people.

Another resource you should investigate is the President’s Budget. It’s fairly detailed and describes the President’s priorities. The budget will allow you to determine which agency entities and programs stand a chance of having ample funding, and what’s already being procured. The President’s Budget and other agency documents are public information.

Be sure to confirm that the agency you’re targeting not only has a need for your offering, but also doesn’t have an existing or contemplated contract vehicle to purchase it from.

Getting Started on Your Unsolicited Proposal

First, go into a search engine and check to see what your target agency’s requirements are for submitting unsolicited proposals. Every government agency has its own process and format. As we noted above, each agency has to make this information available to government contractors if you cannot find anything on the web.

Here are a few real-life proposal guideline examples:

Make sure you submit your proposal well before your planned work start date. You’re likely way too late if you’d like to start the proposed work in a couple of months as the process of reviewing your proposal and making the procurement decision may last longer.

Unsolicited Proposal Recommendations

Since every agency has its own format for submission, we can’t go into every possible scenario. However, in our experience, there are certain elements most unsolicited proposals have in common:

  • 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.
  • A 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 of interest, security clearances, and environmental impacts.
  • The names and telephone numbers of contact persons already spoken to regarding the unsolicited proposal.

You’ve Submitted an Unsolicited Proposal. What Next?

The government will inform you that they’ve received your proposal. If they assess that they can’t evaluate the proposal in 45 working days, they will send an interim reply. This reply will include their expected completion date. They will notify you when they’re done evaluating your proposal.

The evaluators may ask you clarifying questions. You can find the evaluation criteria in FAR subparts 15.606-1, 15.606-2, and 15.607.

Next, the technical office sponsoring the contract will provide support to the evaluators’ recommendations. This office will also supply the circumstances that rule out open competition.

Finally, the Contracting Officer will comply with synopsis requirements noted in FAR subpart 5.2, and execute justification and obtain any necessary approval or determination, as required by FAR subpart 6.3.

Why Did Your Unsolicited Proposal Get Rejected?

Federal proposals have many rules, and unsolicited proposals are not outside this process. Your proposal will be rejected if you break any of the stated rules.

If you submit a proposal that builds off a current program, or is for an agency requirement that is typically decided by open competition, the government will reject your proposal.

If you base your proposal on information provided by a government contract that allowed you to circumvent fair competition, your proposal is considered invalid. It’s like insider trading in the stock exchange.

However, if your proposal illustrates a need, even if it’s rejected, you’ve shaped the battlefield so to speak. You’ll likely be one of the best-positioned competitors if the government releases an RFP and you can have another chance at the contract.

You can also be disqualified if you submit an unsolicited proposal because a high-level agency official requested proposals on a certain topic bypassing the proper procurement mechanisms and getting you in “the creative way.” Although it happens, you don’t want to get caught and get your government contact in trouble.

If you submit an unsolicited proposal as an alternative to any government solicitation, you’re also out.

Know When Unsolicited Proposals Are Appropriate

Unsolicited proposals are no walk in the park. They aren’t a “get out of jail free” card for open competition. If you fail to do your due diligence,  you will waste valuable company time and money.

OST Global Solutions offers consulting that can help you determine whether or not to submit an unsolicited proposal. Our experts have the experience and resources necessary to do the required market research to support bold proposals. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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