Learn about RFPs and contracts


A government agency solicits proposals for goods and services by asking vendors to provide information that explains their qualifications to deliver the desired services. This solicitation is called a request for proposal (RFP). RFPs include a scope of work (SOW) or a performance work statement (PWS). Increasingly, federal government agencies are using a PWS model, which requires vendors to connect contract terms to measurable outcomes. 

The RFP lays out what the government agency is looking for, includes specific requirements the vendor must meet, and asks vendors to provide a detailed explanation of how they will meet the requirements. Potential vendors respond to an RFP by submitting a bid. The government agency selects a vendor based on a range of factors, such as experience, management philosophy, and price. 

The RFP process is a transparent way for government agencies to award contracts for the purchase of goods or services. However, depending on the jurisdiction or government agency—or the size of the purchase—the agency may be able to enter into a contract without first issuing an RFP. Smaller contracts often do not go through an RFP process, and alternative methods of awarding contracts vary by jurisdiction and agency. However, the RFP provides an important opportunity to highlight nutrition and wellness as a critical part of food service.

We refer to the signed agreement between the government agency and the vendor as the contract. A contract is usually in place for a specific period of time, or term. Depending on the government agency, a contract may also be called an agreement or a memorandum of understanding. Some government agencies issue the vendor a license, which is a grant of permission by the agency to do something on its property (eg, provide food service). Whether the government agency uses a contract, agreement, memorandum of understanding, or license, the agency can include requirements that prioritize nutrition and wellness in food service operations.

Locate existing contracts, RFPs, permits, and other agreements

A government agency planning to incorporate the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities into food service contracts and operations should first locate existing or previous contracts and RFPs for food service. In the case of blind vendors and the Randolph-Sheppard Act, the government agency should instead locate any existing permits (or contracts for a cafeteria). See our section on the Randolph Sheppard Act and permits for more information. RFPs, contracts, and permits likely reside with a procurement office, contracts office, or facilities management office. Locating these documents is important; the agency can use them to develop strong contract requirements for healthy food procurement.

Understand the terms of the contract or permit

It’s important for all government staff involved to understand the terms of an existing contract or permit. Health department or wellness office staff, particularly those who have less experience with RFPs, contracts, and permits, can work closely with procurement or contracts office staff. This helps everyone understand the government agency’s process, and promotes discussion about potential changes that would make contract language stronger and health-focused.