|Guide to the NSF Contracting Process
Every year the NSF spends a large proportion of its budget acquiring goods and services from the private sector. The acquisition system established to manage expenditures of taxpayer monies is very different in some respects from commercial transactions between private parties.
This guide provides information to understand NSF's acquisition system, to use the system effectively, and to avoid legal, ethical, and conflict of interest problems.
The guide covers the following subjects:
The principal purposes of NSF's acquisition system are to:
Organizations for Acquisitions
The following are among the organizations that play critical roles in defining NSF's acquisition system and accomplishing its objectives.
The Congress votes authority to obligate funds through enactment of an appropriation or other statutory authority and writes laws that govern the Federal acquisition system. Obligations are legally binding commitments to spend appropriated funds, in such instruments as contracts and grants.
The General Accounting Office is a part of the legislative branch that, among other duties, investigates agency contract management and hears protests of agency contract award decisions.
The President establishes Government-wide acquisition policies and procedures through such vehicles as executive orders.
The Office of Federal Procurement Policy, in the Office of Management and Budget, provides Government-wide direction for the Federal acquisition system, directs the Federal Acquisition Institute in training opportunities, and advises the president and Congress on acquisition matters. The Administrator, along with the heads of the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, comprise the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Council, which issues and maintains the Federal Acquisition Regulation. The council is supported by the Civilian Agency Acquisition Council, of which the Department of Commerce is a member, and the Defense Acquisition Regulation Council.
Regulatory agencies, such as the Department of Labor, Small Business Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency interpret and implement statutory socioeconomic requirements related to small and small disadvantaged business, labor relations, and other matters assigned to them.
The Director of the National Science Foundation has delegated acquisition authority to the Procurement Executive (Director, Contracts, Policy, and Oversight), the Department's senior acquisition official, who further delegates acquisition authority to the Contracting Officers.
The National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General reviews various Foundation programs and acquisition management, investigates potential fraud and other criminal activities, and audits the Foundation's contracts.
In 1831 (U.S. vs. Tingey), the Supreme Court declared that the Federal Government, based on sovereignty, has inherent power to contract. However, the Government's broad constitutional authority to contract is limited by statutes, common law, and administrative law.
Numerous statutes govern Federal acquisition. Among the basic statutes:
Common law comes from decisions of courts of law.
Administrative law includes:
The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) (48 CFR Ch. 1) is a single, uniform regulation that applies to most executive agencies, including the Foundation.
A contract is a legally enforceable agreement between two or more competent parties, is mutually binding, and obligates one party to furnish something of value and the other party to provide consideration.
In contracts with the private sector:
As the Government's agent, only contracting officers may execute, modify, or terminate a contract. Moreover, contracting officers may bind the Government only to the extent of the authority delegated in writing to them.
Responsibilities. Contracting officers are responsible for ensuring that:
Independence. Contracting officers often request advice from specialists in audit, law, engineering, and other fields. However, the contracting officer is solely responsible for the final pricing and other decisions related to a contract. The recommendations and counsel of contributing subject matter experts are advisory.
Other Acquisition Officials
Contracting officers receive advice and assistance from the following officials:
Contract specialists may serve as contracting officers or support them. Contract specialists are trained in acquisition and in related business skills such as market research, source selection, cost and price analysis, negotiation, and contract administration.
Program and project managers are tasked with planning and controlling assigned programs/projects to achieve mandated goals. They identify the deliverables required for their missions and perform functions related to acquiring those deliverables such as:
Contracting Officer Technical Representatives are designated by contracting officers to perform contract administration activities regarding technical issues. They are delegated limited authority for such responsibilities as monitoring contractor progress and alerting contracting officers to problems, recommending contract changes, and inspecting and accepting deliverables.
Attorneys review proposed solicitations and awards for legal sufficiency, advise contracting officers on protests and disputes, and interpret acquisition law.
Competition Advocates are responsible for identifying and removing barriers to competition. For this purpose, they review draft acquisition plans, statements of work, and justifications for other than full and open competition.
The Foundation's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization ensures that a fair portion of awards are to small, small disadvantaged, and women-owned business. The office also provides assistance and counseling to business firms.
Auditors and accountants perform such functions as:
Selection Techniques and Award Types
These are some of NSF's more commonly used selection techniques and award types:
Micro-purchases. Purchases below the current threshold of $2,500 ($2,000 for construction) may be awarded without soliciting competitive quotations if it is determined that the price is reasonable.
Purchase Cards. Contracting officers may delegate the authority to buy products and services through purchase cards to program managers and others. The authority may be for purchases up to $25,000. Awards to required sources (for example, workshops for the handicapped and blind) at all dollar levels and consideration of small businesses for purchases over $2,500 must be made.
Simplified Acquisitions. Purchases greater than $2,500 but less than $100,000 may be made under simplified procedures with reduced contract clause requirements.
Large Acquisitions. For acquisitions above the simplified acquisition threshold, contracting officers use one of three methods:
Most of NSF's contracts are negotiated.
The acquisition process for contracts is typically divided into four phases:
Presolicitation; solicitation and evaluation; award and contract administration.
The presolicitation phase lays the groundwork for soliciting offers and awarding a contract. In this phase, the Foundation performs such tasks as:
In the solicitation and evaluation phase, the NSF performs such tasks as:
In the award phase, the NSF performs such tasks as:
In the contract administration phase, the Foundation performs such tasks as:
Standards of Conduct
Standard of conduct are the rules which apply to Government employees and individuals dealing with the Government. Government business must be conducted with complete impartiality and, except as authorized by statute or regulation, preferential treatment provided to none. This includes:
Prohibited conduct for all personnel involved with a procurement:
Disclosing procurement information. Contractor bid or proposal information or source selection information may not be obtained or disclosed before contract award, except as authorized by law. Source selection information includes:
Sanctions. Employees who engage in prohibited conduct may be subject to administrative sanctions, civil penalties, or criminal penalties such as fines, and/or incarceration. In addition, such conduct may result in the cancellation of the procurement or recission of a contract, causing delays and interrupted procurements for goods and services.
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|Last Modified On: 7/14/04