An Acquisition Professional’s Overview of Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR)


Federal acquisitions are all about government agencies and contractors collaborating to secure goods and services, and that’s where the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) serves as a reliable guide. It ensures fairness, transparency, and efficiency in the procurement process.

FAR is a vital framework that every acquisition professional should grasp, whether they work for the government or a contractor. This article aims to provide newcomers to federal acquisitions with a comprehensive overview of FAR, its scope, and how to navigate its complex landscape.

Getting to Know the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)

The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) centers on a key concept: allowability. It defines the permissible charges billed to the government through contractual agreements while outlining which costs are not eligible. According to details from, the FAR serves as "the main code used by all federal executive entities to acquire goods and services using allocated funds."

FAR is critical in establishing consistent and standardized policies and procedures within the federal acquisition process. Its purpose is to define the situations and extent to which costs can be recovered under a government contract. Moreover, the FAR includes standard provisions and clauses for solicitation purposes and additional materials like the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS).

The Scope of FAR

FAR is an extensive document covering various aspects related to federal acquisitions. It encompasses regulations, policies, procedures, and best practices to achieve several important goals, such as the ones mentioned below:

1. Encouraging Fair Competition:

FAR ensures that the procurement process is open and competitive, creating a level playing field for contractors of all sizes.

2. Promoting Transparency:

It establishes guidelines for clear communication between government agencies and contractors, fostering transparency in contract negotiations and execution.

3. Emphasizing Cost Efficiency:

FAR outlines cost-effective practices, ensuring that taxpayer dollars are utilized wisely and efficiently.

4. Fostering Accountability:

The regulations outlined in FAR hold government officials and contractors accountable for their actions, promoting a culture of responsibility.

Navigating FAR

Navigating FAR might seem overwhelming initially for those new to federal acquisitions. However, breaking down the process into manageable steps can make understanding FAR more achievable. Here’s how you should manage that:

· Grasp the Basics:

Begin by becoming familiar with the structure of FAR. It is organized into different sections, each addressing specific aspects of federal procurement, such as definitions, contracting methods, and contract clauses.

· Determine Applicability:

Identify which parts of FAR are relevant to your role or contract. FAR covers a wide range of acquisitions, so pinpointing the sections that apply to your situation is essential.

· Utilize FAR Resources:

The official FAR website ( offers many resources, including the complete text of FAR, updates, supplements, and interpretive guidance.

· Seek Guidance:

Contact experienced acquisition professionals within your organization or network. They can provide valuable insights and practical advice on interpreting and applying FAR in real-world scenarios.

· Stay Informed:

FAR undergoes periodic updates and amendments. Staying informed about the latest changes is crucial to ensure compliance and stay ahead of developments in federal procurement.

Origins of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)

FAR was established more than four decades ago through the Office of Federal Procurement Policy Act of 1974. It is the benchmark federal agencies must adhere to when procuring goods and services. The oversight and maintenance of FAR are collaborative efforts involving different agencies such as the Department of Defense (DoD), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the General Services Administration (GSA).

The predominant purpose of the Federal Acquisition Regulation is to provide a standardized and publicly available framework of procedures and policies to guide federal agencies in their procurement activities. A fundamental aspect of FAR's vision is to deliver optimal value in products or services while upholding public trust and aligning with public policy goals. As detailed in section 1.102, the main objectives of the Federal Acquisition System are to:

  • Achieve customer satisfaction regarding cost, quality, and timely delivery of products or services. This is accomplished through maximizing commercial services and products, engaging proven contractors, and promoting competition.
  • Minimize administrative operating costs.
  • Maintain business operations characterized by fairness, integrity, and transparency.
  • Attain public policy objectives.

Compliance with FAR

Ensuring compliance with FAR is a critical responsibility for federal government contractors aiming to provide services or goods to federal entities. It's important to note that FAR distinguishes between contracting with private commercial entities and the federal government.

A common question relates to the universal applicability of FAR across government agencies. To clarify, FAR exclusively governs contracts within the Executive branch, while separate regulations oversee contracts within the Legislative and judicial branches.

While contracts within the Legislative branch (Congress) fall under the purview of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), contracts involving the judicial branch adhere to the Judiciary Policy – Volume 14 (Procurement). Nevertheless, most federal government contracts adhere to the FAR framework, and each contract incorporates specific FAR clauses relevant to its terms.

Contractors are responsible for thoroughly reviewing each contract and understanding the associated FAR clauses before entering into a formal agreement. Notably, FAR applies to solicitations (RFI, IFB, RFQ, and RFP), federal subcontracts, and prime contracts under federal prime contracts.

Breaking Down FAR Components

Before committing to a bidding agreement, contractors must review and comprehend all referenced FAR clauses. This can be intricate due to eight subchapters housing 53 parts. These parts and subchapters cover various topics, from acquisition planning and competition to socioeconomic programs, general contracting prerequisites, contract management, and distinct contracting categories.

However, FAR Parts 31 and 52 are crucial, as they guide Contract Clauses and Cost Principles. Let's explore deeper into these and other essential parts.

FAR Part 31

FAR Part 31 clarifies the procedures and principles that govern contract costs. Specifically, FAR Part 31 covers the following:

  • FAR Part 31.201-3: Establishing reasonableness.
  • FAR Part 31.201-4: Determining allocability.
  • FAR Part 31.201-6: Accountability for costs deemed unallowable.

Notably, FAR Part 31.201-6 poses a potential challenge for contractors, distinguishing between consistent and typically unallowable costs.

FAR Part 52

On the other hand, FAR Part 52 provides insights into allowable payments and costs. This covers various elements such as direct labor, travel expenses, services, and supplies. It also includes detailed information about reimbursement, invoicing, bill payments, and rates.

One crucial aspect is the enumeration of Reimbursable Costs, encompassing categories like Direct Travel, Direct Labor, and Materials Issued from Inventory, Services, Supplies, and Indirect Expenses. Additional important details concerning billing and payments can be found within FAR Part 52.216-7, particularly in the sections:

  • 216-7(d): Submission of the Final Indirect Cost Rate Proposal.
  • 216-7(e): Indirect Expense Rates for Billing Purposes.
  • 216-7(g): Audit of Interim Billings.
  • 216-7(h): Stipulations for Final Payment Requirements.

FAR Part 17

FAR Part 17 delves into specialized contracting methods, including multi-year contracting, Leader Company contracting, and options. Multi-year contracting aims to reduce costs, alleviate the administrative burden of contracts, ensure production continuity, and stabilize contractor workforces. Part 17 highlights different requirements for the Department of Defense, the Coast Guard, and NASA when engaging in multi-year contracts.

As per Part 17.105-1, for the Department of Defense, the Coast Guard, and NASA, a multi-year supply contract may be entered into if specific conditions are met. These conditions include substantial cost savings, unchanged procurement needs, stable supply designs, reasonable funding expectations, and realistic cost estimates.

FAR Part 19

Dedicated to Small Business programs, FAR Part 19 covers a diverse range of elements, including participation by various types of small businesses such as HUBZone entities, 8(a) participants, economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSB), service-disabled veteran-owned businesses, and women-owned small businesses (WOSB).

Detailed guidelines and policies relevant to all these small business participants are elaborated in FAR Part 19. Specifically, section 19.202-1 emphasizes mechanisms that promote small business involvement in procurements, ensuring equal opportunities for small enterprises to compete for contracts.


In conjunction with FAR compliance, many government contractors must adhere to the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS). The following discussion outlines the distinctions between these two regulatory frameworks.

• Understanding DFARS

When discussing the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS), it's important to note that it is an extension of FAR and exclusively applicable to the Defense Industrial Base (DiB). Contractors operating within the DoD supply chain must uphold DFARS requirements, which complement and supplement the stipulations of FAR. Contractors collaborating with defense agencies risk contract termination if they fail to comply with DFARS.

A pivotal clause within the DFARS pertains to cybersecurity standards outlined in NIST SP800-171. This standardized set of requirements within DFARS clause 252.204-7012 outlines the cybersecurity framework that government contractors must adhere to. This framework, which includes the newly introduced Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), serves as a guide to ensure compliance in fulfilling DoD contractual obligations.

Differentiating FAR From DFARS

Although the acronyms FAR and DFARS may appear similar, they serve distinct purposes. Any entity operating under a federal contract is obligated to adhere to FAR. However, entities that handle "CUI or Controlled Unclassified Information" must conform to DFARS. This distinction often applies to DoD subcontractors or contractors. Recognizing that FAR constitutes the overarching regulatory framework under which DFARS operates is essential.

Contractors navigating the government procurement landscape must understand the relevant clauses embedded within DFARS and FAR to their projects. Awareness of amendments or revisions is crucial to maintaining compliance and upholding a successful track record in securing contracts. Deviating from compliance with either regulation jeopardizes contractual agreements, underscoring the importance of meticulous adherence.

Navigating these regulatory frameworks' intricate details can be a formidable challenge, especially when dealing with 53 diverse components without considering the dimensions of DFARS. However, proactive preparation and assembling a skilled team supported by robust systems will empower you to establish streamlined processes conducive to enduring success.

Final Thoughts

In the complex landscape of federal acquisitions, the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) stands as an essential guide, steering federal employees and contractors through the intricacies of the procurement process. By providing a standardized framework that promotes fairness, transparency, and efficiency, FAR ensures the effective realization of the government's acquisition goals.

Newcomers embarking on a journey in federal acquisitions can confidently move forward by grasping the fundamentals of FAR, exploring its applicability, utilizing available resources, seeking guidance from experienced professionals, and staying informed about the latest changes.

By embracing FAR as an indispensable tool, acquisition professionals can contribute to successful procurements, fostering collaboration between government agencies and contractors for the collective benefit of all involved stakeholders.

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