Rachel Chilton is the Deputy USAID Industry Liaison and Deputy Communications Director for USAID's Office of Acquisition and Assistance.
Last year, more than 30 percent of all new USAID new funding opportunities included industry engagement prior to asking organizations to submit applications or proposals to USAID. Some of the most common ways USAID seeks input from entities interested in opportunities are through Industry Days, Requests for Information (RFI), and Sources Sought Notices (SSN). You can read about Industry Days in one of my previous posts. In this blog, I want to talk a little bit more about RFIs and SSNs and what they mean for you.
What is an RFI?
An RFI is a formal process used by USAID to collect information and gauge interest in a potential solicitation from potential partners and the public. An RFI is an important step of the procurement process that helps USAID improve the design of an activity and ultimately the outcome for development objectives. RFIs do not have a required format; instead, they are tailored to USAID’s needs for the specific procurement.
As explained by USAID Contracting and Agreement Officer Amy McQuade, “RFIs are an important preliminary procurement tool for stronger, more informed programming. USAID may use the RFI to issue a series of questions to test their assumptions and identify missing information for a proposed activity, or, USAID may issue a draft scope to request feedback from the public.”
What is an SSN?
An SSN is a call for interest used by USAID to conduct market research. An SSN enables USAID to determine the interest, resources, and capabilities of entities within the relevant marketplace to potentially implement the activity. When USAID posts this type of notice, the Agency is only looking for possible sources of future work.
Ultimately, RFIs and SSNs enable USAID staff to better understand what solutions exist and additional factors to consider in designing activities, as well as the landscape of potential partners positioned to best achieve the Agency’s objectives.
How do I find RFIs and SSNs?
- Follow our Work with USAID social media handles, where we post daily recaps of USAID Opportunities. You can find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
- Monitor SAM.gov and Grants.gov for calls for information collection via RFIs and SSNs. Some presolicitation notices will include a combined RFI and SSN.
What are some tips for responding to RFIs and SSNs?
- Read through the instructions thoroughly and take note of the response deadline.
- Identify subject matter experts on your team to respond to questions in the presolicitation posed by USAID.
- Use this opportunity to respond to the specific request of the RFI and SSN, whether it is to ask and answer questions or to demonstrate your capabilities. Make sure that you provide the information that is requested in the RFI so that your submission is responsive to USAID’s needs.
- Do not send proprietary information as USAID may use any information provided without incurring any obligation. The Agency reserves the right to, or not to, incorporate any, some, or none of the comments received into any subsequent solicitation or design document.
Why is engaging at this early stage important?
If you are new to working with USAID, responding to an RFI and/or SSN is an important step you can take to introduce your organization and its technical capabilities to the Agency. It is also a means for you to inform USAID of how they can improve their activity based on your unique knowledge of the challenge and context.
What comes after an RFI and/or a SSN?
Information gathered by USAID through RFIs and SSNs will be used to help inform the design of a solicitation, whether it be acquisition (contract) on SAM.gov or assistance (grant or cooperative agreement) on Grants.gov. This can include limiting competition as to who is eligible to apply for the funding – such as limiting the activity to just local organizations or only U.S. small businesses. This will often be determined based on the analysis of capabilities of the partners in implementing the work as outlined in the SSN.
If you are interested in learning more about RFIs, SSNs, or other ways to engage with USAID. Check out my colleague’s blog on Seven Ways to Introduce Yourself to USAID. You can also reach out to me at IndustryLiaison@usaid.gov.