by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | September 01, 2005

Doing business on behalf of the U.S. federal government is a lesson in logistics as much as civics. And nowhere is this more evident than in the world of meeting planning, where requests for proposal vary from state to state, agency to agency and, often, even within agencies, where individual departments determine their own specific needs and design their own RFPs using anything from a simple three-page form to a tedious 30-page screed.
    But along with their individual ways of doing things, government meeting planners must follow the Federal Acquisition Regulation, a code of uniform rules pertaining to the acquisition of supplies and services for the executive branch.
    FAR policy and regulations can seem daunting, and for good reason. Whether it’s the Department of Education soliciting bids for a three-day training program in Atlanta or the Department of Defense looking to house 500 personnel in Alaska, the same rules and processes apply.
    Choosing a competitive acquisition is a matter of collecting information from all bidders, assessing each alternative on the basis of specified criteria, comparing each alternative to the others and then ranking them to determine which best meets the needs of the RFP.
    Still, say seasoned federal planners, the complex RFP process can be mastered without sacrificing adherence to general regulations, individual agency preferences or ethics.

By the Budget
The rules vary based on the budget for a particular meeting or event.
    " Up to $2,500. According to FAR, planners can place a single piece of business worth up to $2,500 directly with a hotel or supplier of their choice without going through the process of soliciting competing bids, comparing them and then formally awarding the business.
    " $2,501 to $25,000. For each single piece of business with costs falling within this range, meeting planners are required to get a minimum of three competing bids from three similar vendors before they award the business.
    “All prudent planners, even if they are using a third party, should make sure they get three bids,” says meeting planner Ruth Harris, CMP, with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Office of Workforce & Career Development, Strategic Workforce Activity, “because they are the ones in charge of assigning that government business, not the third party. And if at any time you are asked if you got the three bids, you can answer ‘yes’ and show them.”
    " More than $25,000. For each piece of business in this budget category, planners still can use their agency’s individually designed RFP form, but the RFP must be posted at FedBizOpps (, an online portal that is the single point of entry for federal procurement opportunities. It features RFPs from all agencies soliciting bids for products and services, as well as the bids awarded. In other words, it offers vendors looking to do business with the government complete transparency of the process.
    Once the meeting or event is listed on FedBizOpps, planners also can send the RFP directly to national hotel sales contacts or invite them to check the site and offer a bid.