What is the FAR?

By Chris Wiedemann, consultant

We’ve established by now that government contracting is one of the most complicated business segments to work in. Part of what makes it so cumbersome is the plethora of rules and regulations, all packaged neatly in the hunk of a publication known as the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).

This multi-part document, established more than 40 years ago through the Office of Federal Procurement Policy Act of 1974, outlines all the rules and regulations that most federal agencies follow when buying goods and services.

Some examples of what you might find in the FAR are rules around business practices and personal conflicts of interest, safeguarding classified information within industry and full and open competition.

One of the most important and largest single parts of the FAR is Part 52, which is where all the contract clauses appear. These are the ingredients of every government contract action. Part 2 is also important because it defines and explains certain contracting terms, which can be particularly useful for the newbies of government contracting.  You can search the table of contents of the FAR’s online version to find other information.

The tricky thing about the FAR, however, is the fact that it’s not all set in stone. The Government Accountability Office, which monitors agency procurements, has made its own decisions about how agencies apply the FAR. Federal departments and agencies also pile on additional regulations in the form of agency-specific supplements.

FAR changes can also be instigated by the federal agencies themselves. The Department of Defense proposed new rules that would help contracting officers confirm that prices for goods and services are reasonable and would promote consistency in the acquisition process.

It’s also important to note that some government organizations are exempt from the FAR, including various intelligence agencies and quasi-governmental organizations like the U.S. Postal Service. The Federal Aviation Administration follows its own set of guidelines called Federal Aviation Regulations. Yep, we are talking about the same acronym here.

The Department of Veterans Affairs also follows its own VA Acquisition Regulation but recently floated a rule that would streamline its acquisition regulation to keep up with the FAR. All parts of the VA Acquisition Regulation will be reviewed to correct inconsistencies, remove redundant and duplicate material already covered by the FAR, delete outdated material or information and appropriately renumber VAAR text, clauses and provisions.

The guardians of the FAR include the DOD, GSA and NASA, whose procurement executives oversee any changes to the rules.

Despite all this, FAR is an important framework for federal procurement as a whole. It’s not necessary to memorize it (as impressive as that would be), but at least know how to navigate its many parts.

Looking for more help understanding how to work with the federal government? Sign up for my next class on Selling IT to the Federal Government in June in McLean, Va. And check out my posts on “What is government contracting?” and “What is a contract vehicle?” 

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