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That is The Question

Contractors, bids, proposals, RFP’s, procurements, contract amendments, contract extensions, closing dates, bidder’s conferences, contract value... what does it all mean?

FACT: The U.S. Government is the largest company in the world. Approximately $1 billion in new contracting opportunities in the service sector of government are available for bid by private business each day.

The federal government signs more than 11 million contracts during a year with 95 percent of these contracts awarded to small and medium-sized business vendors, yet less than five percent of businesses in the United States do business with the U.S. Government, according to

When I began work as a Career Consultant with Curtis and Associates, now Arbor E&T LLC /dba/ ResCare Workforce Services, I didn’t really need to know what a contract was and what those other words meant.



I was too busy learning the day-to-day ins and outs of facilitating job search workshops, videotaping mock employment interviews, meeting individually with program participants, tracking referrals, entering and reporting information in Excel, and handwriting narrative to give these terms much attention.

A year later, however, I learned very quickly why this vocabulary was important, beginning with the words Request for Proposal (RFP.) An RFP is generally used by government entities when the selection of a supplier cannot be made solely on the basis of lowest price. An RFP is used to obtain the most cost-effective solution based on identified evaluation criteria. Hold up! (And insert sound of needle scratching across an old vinyl record…)

My recollection of the conversation I had with my supervisor at the moment I learned about an RFP went something like this:

Me: “You mean to tell me I have just spent the last year learning a job that is part of a government contract?”

Supervisor: “Yes.”

Me:  “And they are putting out an RFP now for contracted employment services beginning in July?”

Supervisor: “Yes.”

Me: “Did I understand you correctly when you said an RFP is a competitive bid?”

Supervisor: “Yes.”

Me: “Do we even have competitors for the work we do?”

Supervisor: “Yes, actually there are several competitors on both local and national levels.”

Me: “Oh. Okay. (Heart rate and blood pressure rising slightly…) So, you’re telling me if we ‘lose’ at the end of the bidding process, I will no longer have a job. Did I understand you correctly?”

Supervisor: “In the unlikely event the contract would be awarded to another bidder, yes, your employment would end at the termination of the contract period.”

Me: “How do you feel about this?”

Supervisor: “I’m not worried, and you shouldn’t be either.”

This conversation happened in the fall of 2002. Do you suppose this might be part of why less than five percent of businesses contract with the U.S. Government? I recall those months between October of 2003 and April of 2004 as very stressful.

In April of 2004, Central Service Area of Nebraska was awarded the contract and provided services through June 2007. Another contract adding additional employment service components was awarded and began on July 1,  2007, with a contract amendment beginning July 1, 2009.

Our current contract ends June 30, 2015. Another RFP is in our near future and preparations for this competitive bidding process have already begun. Is there a trick to contracting? I don’t think so, other than dotting every “i,” crossing every “t,” triple checking every sentence for spelling and grammar, and matching every chart and graph to a corresponding exhibit letter or number in the RFP.

Errors and incomplete submissions could result in your proposal being rejected before anyone is even able to read and consider it. The key is to know your business inside and out and be aware of your advantages before stepping into the competition. Entering into a contract with federal government, state government, or any local agency is not for the faint of heart.

There are rules. There are regulations. There is reporting, a lot of reporting. But if you are the owner or manager of a business, or if you are an employee working in any business worth its salt, there are rules, regulations and reporting there, too. Do what you do best, and keep these things in mind when choosing whether or not to enter into a contract. The rewards will be great…and many.

About the Author

Shawna Alloway
Project Manager, ResCare Workforce

Shawna ensures contract success for the state of Nebraska at ResCare Workforce. She is a graduate of Central Community College and Leadership Hastings. She also serves on several organizations and boards in her community.


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