Anatomy of a Federal RFP and What It Means for Proposal Development

By Global Services on June 22, 2018

For those new to the world of federal proposals, approaching a Federal Request for Proposal (RFP) can be daunting. These documents are often 100+ pages in length, chopped up into seemingly arbitrary sections, and may include dense lists of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) clause references. Below, we provide an introductory overview of the typical RFP organizational system, and what it means for developing your proposal responses.

Please note that while not all federal RFPs follow these organizational and naming conventions, this is the most common format, and even proposals that deviate from this system will almost always contain these sections (just with different names).

The Most Important Sections for Building Your Proposal Response

The RFP sections outline below are the most important ones from a proposal development perspective. While all of the RFP sections are important, these are the ones which will most impact your proposal and on which you should concentrate.

Section L (Proposal Instructions)

When approaching a new RFP, this is where you’ll want to begin. Section L contains instructions for the proposal—everything from required organization and content (e.g., you must divide your proposal into three volumes titled X, Y and Z) to format and submission guidelines (e.g., you must use Times New Roman or Arial font, no less than 10 point, and proposals must be submitted by email in PDF format with no one file larger than 5MB). When building your outline, you must ensure strict compliance with Section L. Organize your proposal exactly as Section L instructs—while you may be able to come up with a better organizational scheme on your own, it wouldn’t be what the Government has asked for. Failure to comply with Section L will, at best, confuse evaluators and send the message that you can’t or won’t follow directions; at worst, it will result in your proposal being rejected outright.

Section M (Evaluation Criteria)

Once you’ve developed an outline that strictly follows Section L requirements, you’ll want to begin incorporating the evaluation criteria outlined in Section M. This is the section of the proposal in which the Government tells you exactly how they will evaluate your proposal. The Government must follow their stated criteria; failure to do so is grounds for protest. By understanding Section M, then, you’ll understand exactly what evaluators will be looking for, and you will be able to tailor your response to emphasize those key points. Section M will typically first explain the overall evaluation system (e.g., will the Government award the proposal to the Least Price Technically Acceptable proposal, or will they make Best Value tradeoff judgements), then will explain the relative importance of each evaluation factor (e.g., the technical factor is more important than the past performance factor), and finally will explain in detail how each factor/subfactor will be evaluated.

Section C (Statement of Work/Performance Work Statement)

Having built your outline in accordance with Sections L and M, it’s time to turn to Section C. This section explains exactly what you will be required to do if you win the contract. In order to justify why you should win the contract, then, you need to provide a compelling explanation of how you’ll perform this work and why you’re the right choice to do it. Often, Section L will tell you exactly where to discuss Section C. Sometimes, however, Section L will be less clear, and it will be up to you to determine the best location to discuss the requirements of Section C. Either way, it’s essential that you respond to Section C—otherwise, the Government will have no idea whether you’re qualified to perform the work.

Section J: List of Attachments

Having incorporated Sections L, M, and C, your proposal outline is nearly complete. However, some RFPs may require you to make use of additional attachments as part of your proposal (for example, a required resume template). Section J lists the attachments provided with the RFP.

Section B: Pricing

This section includes pricing information (e.g., Contract Line Item Number (CLIN) tables) that is required for your price proposal response.

Other Proposal Sections

The proposal sections described below are best reviewed by other members of the company (e.g., the legal team). While it’s important for the proposal manager to understand them, they do not have as direct an impact on the proposal response.

Section I (Contract Clauses)

This is a list of FAR Clauses that apply to the proposal. This section should be reviewed by the legal team for any problems, but typically does not directly affect the proposal documents.

Section K: Reps and Certs

This section is usually required to be filled out and submitted with your proposal. It is a list of representations and certifications about your company (such as socioeconomic status or size standard). As long as your online reps and certs via the System for Award Management (SAM) website are complete and up to date, this section often requires simply checking a box.

Section G: Contract Administration Data

This section contains contract administration data that should be reviewed for any areas of concern, but typically does not directly affect the proposal documents.

Section H: Special Contract Requirements

This section contains special contract requirements that should be reviewed for any areas of concern, but typically do not directly affect the proposal documents.


By understanding how federal RFPs are organized, you will make your proposal development process simpler and more efficient. Contact Global Services today for further assistance with understanding RFP requirements and developing compliant, compelling proposals!