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Federal Contract Hierarchies

Understanding the structure and relationships between federal awards

Overview of Federal Contract Hierarchy

Federal contract awards can be very complex with multiple different "levels" of awards.
The below chart summarizes the hierarchy of federal contract awards. There are exceptions to the flow of awards here and not every type of potential contract is covered, but the vast majority of Federal awards will fall somewhere into this hierarchy.
In HigherGov, all Vehicle, IDV, Prime Award, and Sub Award pages will have an Award Hierarchy section that will show and link to the other relevant awards in the hierarchy.

Vehicle Awards

Vehicles (often referred to as Multiple Award Vehicles or Master Vehicles) are contracting vehicles awarded to multiple Awardees (through IDVs). Depending on the year, approximately 30-40% of all money obligated by the federal government is made through task orders on Multiple Award Vehicles.
Multiple Award Vehicles are typically either:
(1) awarded by the government once every 5-10 years through open competition
(2) have occasional on-ramp periods (such as TSA eFAST)
(3) or are open to apply for at any time (such as the GSA Multiple Award Schedule)
The government will typically use Multiple Award Vehicles in situations where there are likely to be many (or at least a few) contractors best able to perform certain categories of work.
From the government's perspective, Vehicles greatly simplify the acquisition process as after the initial award it does not have to publicly post solicitations and can work with a smaller set of approved contractors. From a contractor's perspective, getting onto a Vehicle can be very valuable as it positions them to win work with more limited competition than open solicitations. However, vehicles can disadvantage qualified contractors that do not have access to them either directly or as a subcontractor.

IDV Awards

Indefinite Delivery Vehicles (IDV) are awards given to an individual Awardee. They can be structured either as stand-alone Single Award IDVs or through Multiple Award Vehicles (as discussed above).
IDVs typically have a set length known as an Ordering Period, which is most commonly 5 years but can vary widely from a few months to over 20 years.
IDV Awards can be thought of as "hunting licenses" -- while money is rarely awarded directly through IDVs, they allow an Awardee to receive or compete for task orders specifically released under that vehicle.
The most common types of IDVs are:
Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) GSA schedule IDV contracts awarded to specified vendors and part of the broader Multiple Award GSA Federal Supply Schedule. Federal Supply Schedules can generally be used by all agencies. FSSs are always associated with a Multiple Award Vehicle.
Government-Wide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) Administered by the GSA and designed to facilitate IT-related acquisitions across all federal agencies. GWACs are always associated with a Multiple Award Vehicle.
Indefinite Delivery Contract (IDC) Agency-specific IDVs used across different product and service categories. They are often referred to as Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts. IDC IDVs may be awarded to a single Awardee or may be associated with a Multiple Award Vehicle.
Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) Allow the government to issue task orders (BPA calls) without extensive competition once the BPA is authorized. BPAs are typically used for repeat purchases. BPA IDVs may be awarded to a single Awardee or may be associated with a Multiple Award Vehicle.
Basic Ordering Agreements (BOA) Agreement where an agency orders from a supplier allowing multiple delivery dates over a set period. BOA's are often negotiated to benefit from predetermined pricing and are typically implemented when the government needs to regularly replenish supplies. BOA IDVs may be awarded to a single Awardee or may be associated with a Multiple Award Vehicle.

Prime Awards

Prime Awards are the level at which the government typically obligates funding to contractors. Prime awards have a set duration and potential value (though both are often amended). The government will often structure a Prime Award to include multiple Contract Line Item Numbers (CLINs) and Option Years (OYs) to allow the government to have greater control over the ultimate duration and tasks actually executed in an award.
Prime awards can be either awarded through an IDV (referred to as a Task Order) or awarded directly without an IDV (referred to as a Direct Award).

Direct Awards

The two most common types of direct awards are:
Definitive Contracts Typically awarded for non-commoditized products or services
Purchase Orders Typically awarded for commodity products and services
Both types of awards can be either competed or awarded sole-source.

Task Orders

Task Orders refer to contracts awarded to a single Awardee through an existing IDV. Task Orders have their own contract values and periods of performance that will usually differ from the IDV.
The two most common types of task orders are:
Delivery Orders Task orders awarded through Federal Supply Schedules, Government Wide Acquisition Contracts, Indefinite Delivery Contracts, or Basic Ordering Agreements.
BPA Calls Task orders issued through Blanket Purchase Agreements.

Sub Awards

Sub Awards are any award issued by a Prime Awardee through any type of Prime Award. There are many reasons why Prime Awardees will issue Sub Awards including to gain access to skills they do not have or to meet government requirements to subcontract work to small businesses.
The level of Sub Awards issued through a Prime Award can vary greatly -- from 0% of the award value to virtually 100% depending on the type of work and contract requirements. Prime Awardees are generally required to disclose any Sub Award that exceeds $30,000.