Guide to the Different Contract Types in the Federal Marketplace

Whether you’re just getting started in the federal contracting marketplace or have more experience, knowing the different types or categories that contracts can fall under is crucial. Not only does it change how bidding (or not bidding) can be approached, but it also changes the way that the work is done (if you win the contract). While there are many different categories of contracts, the vast majority can be tied to a few common types.

Types of contracts

We’ve covered the basics of getting registered for government contracting, as well as finding and bidding on your first contract. Now, we’re going to discuss the nuances and factors that define the most prominent types of contracts that you’ll see as a government contractor. The differences between them aren’t inconsequential either, and you should have a full understanding of not only how each works and varies, but also which types fit your business’s strengths or industry. The four major categories of federal contracts that we’ll be going through today are fixed-price, cost-reimbursement, time-and-materials, and indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts.

Fixed-price contracts

The first and most basic type of contract is fixed-price, also known as lump sum contracts. As the name suggests, these use a set price that doesn’t change based on the incurred costs by the contractor. The price is instead estimated at the beginning of the process, and if costs end up going above the estimation, the contractor is responsible. This is why these contracts are preferred by agencies, as it greatly reduces their risk that they take on. However, there is also great profit opportunity for sellers, especially if the planning and forecasting of the expenditure phase are done accurately.

These types of contracts are typically used when the requested supplies and services have reasonably definite specifications (such as construction contracts) to make estimating and establishing a price easier.

Cost-reimbursement/cost-plus contracts

When situations call for more flexibility around final expenses, cost-reimbursement (or cost-plus) contracts are used. Generally, an estimated quote is provided by the seller at the beginning of the process, with the finalized price being determined either at the completion of the project or at a designated date along the project timeline. The flexibility of these contracts is not unlimited, however, and additional incurred costs are only allowed within the agreed-upon allowance in the contract. Different variations of cost-plus contracts include cost-plus-fixed-fee, cost-plus-incentive-fee, cost-plus-award-fee, and more.

These types of contracts are often used when accurate estimation for fixed-price contracts is unrealistic or uncertain. Examples of government agencies that often have to rely on cost-reimbursement contracts include the National Weather Services and Federal Transit Administration.

Time-and-material contracts (T&M)

Presenting the least risk to contractors and the most risk to the government (and therefore why they’re much less common), time-and-materials contracts can be thought of as payment by the hour and material costs. Only used when the estimation of project scope and costs are even more difficult or unclear than cost-reimbursement, T&M contracts use an agreed-upon cost for materials and hourly rate for labor to determine a final price. While this contract type has many benefits for contractors, it also means that tedious logging of everything that happens on this project is a necessity, from time spent to detailed lists of materials used.

As we mentioned, T&M contracts are avoided if possible by the government because of the increased risk it puts on them. However, in situations where the duration or scope of work is unknown or difficult to reasonably estimate, they may be used.

Indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts

The last of the major contract types is relatively common in the federal marketplace, and can use either fixed-price or cost-reimbursement models. The indefinite part of the name refers to the fact that these contracts often have recurring “task orders” under the umbrella or main contract. This allows the government to not only specify if each task will be fixed-price or cost-reimbursement, but select a pool of awardees that compete on a recurring basis for each task, rather than one awardee for the entire contract. This provides the government the most flexibility and value, as one bidder might offer a lower price for services as time goes on, and the quantities are more adaptable.

These contracts have gained popularity in recent years and are used when the government can’t predetermine the required quantity of supplies or services above a specified minimum. In addition, it’s usually a situation where it’s inadvisable for the government to commit to more than that minimum quantity and instead chooses a recurring order of the supplies or services.

Start applying for federal contracts today

Whichever type of contract you’re looking for or pursuing, FAMR’s experts can help maximize your chances of being awarded funding. We offer a variety of services to certify and market your company, from Capability Statement writing to optimizing and streamlining your DSBS profile. On top of that, our portal can alert you to key opportunities, reminders, and much more.

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