Determination to use a type C versus P

In need for guidance in addition to 4.1603 to explain in layman terms when to use a type C versus type P contract.

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If you are using Simplified Acquisition Procedures (FAR Part 13), use a P. For all other contracts (except IDIQs) use a C.

Here is the reference you provided:

4.1603 – Procedures.
Instrument / Letter Designation
(iii) Contracts of all types except indefinite-delivery contracts (see subpart 16.5) / C
(xvi) Purchase orders (assign V if numbering capacity of P is exhausted during a fiscal year) / P

Contract & purchase order are defined in FAR 2.101. The definition of contract here isn’t particularly helpful because it includes a very broad definition (including purchase order). The definition for purchase order is more helpful: an offer using simplified acquisition procedures (FAR Part 13).

FAR 2.101 – Definitions.
“Contract” means a mutually binding legal relationship obligating the seller to furnish the supplies or services (including construction) and the buyer to pay for them. It includes all types of commitments that obligate the Government to an expenditure of appropriated funds and that, except as otherwise authorized, are in writing. In addition to bilateral instruments, contracts include (but are not limited to) awards and notices of awards; job orders or task letters issued under basic ordering agreements; letter contracts; orders, such as purchase orders, under which the contract becomes effective by written acceptance or performance; and bilateral contract modifications. Contracts do not include grants and cooperative agreements covered by 31 U.S.C.6301, et seq . For discussion of various types of contracts, see Part 16.


“Purchase order,” when issued by the Government, means an offer by the Government to buy supplies or services, including construction and research and development, upon specified terms and conditions, using simplified acquisition procedures.

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P (Purchase Order) vs C (Contract) is closely related to Q (Request for Quotes) vs R (Request for Proposals). You use a Q for simplified acquisition procedures (FAR Part 13) and a R for negotiated acquisitions (FAR Part 15).

Interestingly, FAR Part 13 consistently uses “quote or offer” and says “A quotation is not an offer”. However FAR 4.1603 doesn’t address a “Request for Offers”. FAR Part 13 doesn’t use the word “proposal” once. Maybe there is a contracting expert out there who can shed some light on this one.

13.004 – Legal Effect of Quotations.

(a) A quotation is not an offer and, consequently, cannot be accepted by the Government to form a binding contract. Therefore, issuance by the Government of an order in response to a supplier’s quotation does not establish a contract. The order is an offer by the Government to the supplier to buy certain supplies or services upon specified terms and conditions. A contract is established when the supplier accepts the offer.

13.106-1 – Soliciting Competition.

(a) Considerations. In soliciting competition, the contracting officer shall consider the guidance in 13.104 and the following before requesting quotations or offers:

15.203 – Requests for Proposals.

(a) Requests for proposals (RFPs) are used in negotiated acquisitions to communicate Government requirements to prospective contractors and to solicit proposals.

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The type of solicitation is the primary driver in establishing Procurement Instrument Identifiers (PIID); if you issue a request for quote (RFQ) you will award something other than a contract (e.g., a purchase order or agreement). If you issue an invitation for bid (IFB) or request for proposal (RFP) you will award a contract (definite or indefinite-delivery) . (see FAR 2.101 definition of ‘offer’)

When using simplified acquisition procedures (SAP), practitioners can issue RFQs, IFBs, and RFPs. (see FAR 13.003(g))

…use any appropriate combination of the procedures in Parts 13, 14, 15…

The FAR councils could clear things up with a Procurement Instrument Identifier (PIID) Crosswalk or matrix. However, I wouldn’t wait and would create my own in-house tabular crosswalk.

For now, there’s this:

Step - 1: decide if you will solicit quotes or offers (bids or proposals)
Step - 2: establish the appropriate solicitation PIID to satisfy step 1
Step - 3: establish the appropriate award PIID; ensure compatibility with PIID from step 2



Interestingly, in 1994, FAR Part 13 expressly precluded the use of ‘delivery orders’ (at the time used for supplies/services), and contracts awarded through Part 14 sealed bidding and the negotiation procedures in Part 15.

In fact, it wasn’t allowed until 26 JAN 1996 via FAC 90-37.