Contracting With NSF

Each year, the U.S. National Science Foundation spends a large proportion of its budget acquiring goods and services from the private sector.

NSF commonly procures the major categories of supplies and services listed below:

  • Scientific studies.
  • Applied research.
  • Educational research.
  • Audit services.
  • Facilities maintenance.
  • IT hardware, software, maintenance and integration; telecommunications and other technical support.
  • Logistics, operations and maintenance support for ocean drilling and operations in polar regions.

NSF's acquisition process

Acquisition at NSF typically takes three steps:


NSF issues a solicitation on, which outlines the foundation's requirements and invites bids or proposals from businesses.

Evaluation and award

NSF reviews proposals, sets the competitive range, conducts negotiations with bidders and awards the contract to its selected awardee.


NSF monitors contract compliance and performance, approves invoices and payments, and modifies or terminates contracts, where necessary.

Award types

NSF relies a great deal on the use of consolidated purchasing programs, such as GSA Schedules, government-wide acquisition contracts and other multiple award vehicles. NSF's contracts are typically exclusively negotiated.

The foundation commonly uses the selection techniques and award types listed below:

1. Micropurchases:

NSF may make purchases without soliciting competitive quotations if the purchase price is reasonable and below the current micro-purchase threshold defined at FAR 2.101. NSF often uses purchase cards for its micro-purchases.

2. Simplified acquisitions:

NSF may use simplified procedures, with reduced contract clause requirements, for purchases that are greater than the micro-purchase threshold but less than or equal to the simplified acquisition threshold defined at FAR 2.101.

3. Acquisitions above the simplified acquisition threshold:

For acquisitions that exceed the simplified acquisition threshold defined at FAR 2.101, NSF's contracting officers use three methods, described below:

With this method, sealed bids are submitted to NSF, which are publicly opened. Award goes to the low, responsive, responsible bidder.

With this method, NSF issues a request for proposals, discusses proposals with offerors in the competitive range, and awards based on the evaluation criteria outlined in the solicitation.

This method is only permitted only when a contract meets statutory exceptions to competition, such as urgency or lack of any other responsible source.

Instrument types


NSF uses Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR)-based contracts and non-FAR-based contracts for its procurement needs.

FAR-based contracts

A type of contract that provides for a firm price or, under appropriate circumstances, for an adjustable price for the supplies or services being procured.

Time and materials contracts are a type of contract that provides for acquiring supplies or services based on:

  • Direct labor hours at specified fixed hourly rates that include wages, overhead, general and administrative expenses and profit.
  • Actual cost for materials.

A labor-hour contract is a variation of the time-and-materials contract, differing only in that materials are not supplied by the contractor.

Costs incurred in the contract performance to the extent prescribed in the contract. These contracts may not require completion of the contract work, but rather the best efforts of the contractor. The types of cost reimbursement contracts include:

  • Cost.
  • Cost-plus-fixed-fee (CPFF).
  • Cost-plus-incentive fee (CPIF).
  • Cost-plus-award fee (CPAF).

A tool used for acquisition of basic and applied research. BAAs focus on advancing the state-of-the-art or increasing knowledge or understanding — not on a specific system or hardware solution. Visit NSF's Broad Agency Announcements webpage for more information.

Non-FAR-based instruments

NSF generally uses other arrangements for binding non-assistance, contract-like instruments. These arrangements are used for many purposes and are generally intended to be contractual in nature. They generally possess the requirements for a valid, enforceable contract with the United States; these are:

  • Mutuality of intent to contract.
  • Offer and acceptance.
  • Consideration. 

Procurement instruments other than contracts, grants or cooperative agreements that are used for the acquisition of applied research focusing on technology advancement or rapid prototype development.

Who to contact

NSF is committed to maintaining an environment in which small businesses and others are free to question or complain about the foundation's actions or policies without fear of retaliation.

Senior Procurement Executive:

Patrick Breen:

Manages the direction of NSF's acquisition system, including NSF's unique acquisition policies, regulations and standards.

Acquisition Innovation Advocate:

Raymond McCollum:

Encourages testing of new ideas and better ways of executing existing acquisition practices at NSF.

Head of Contracting Activity:

Charlean Thompson:

Manages NSF's contracting activities.

Competitive Advocate:

Jason Bossie:

Promotes full and open competition for the purchase of goods and services at NSF.

Director of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization:

Wonzie Gardner:

Provides small and small disadvantaged businesses with opportunities to participate in NSF acquisitions.

Comments or complaints

About regulatory or enforcement actions:

Small businesses may direct comments to the Small Business Administration's Office of the National Ombudsman:

  • Email:
  • Phone: 1-888-REG-FAIR
  • Mail: SBA Office of the National Ombudsman, 409 Third St. SW, Washington, D.C., 20416

Note: The National Ombudsman process has no effect on your rights or obligations under the agency on which you are commenting. You must still comply with all of NSF's processes and procedures.

About task or delivery orders:

Contractor complaints about task-orders and delivery-orders executed under procedures set forth in FAR 16.505 can be directed to:

NSF's Task-Order and Delivery-Order Ombudsman reviews complaints and ensures they have a fair opportunity to be considered, consistent with the procedures in the applicable contract.

Note: The NSF Acquisition Ombudsman has no authority to review complaints that relate to matters beyond 41 U.S.C § 4106(g) and/or FAR 16.505(b)(8).