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Responsibility Determination

ACON 070


Alternate Definition

Before the contracting officer can award a contract, he/she must ensure the contractor is “responsible.” A responsibility determination signifies that the Government has judged the contractor to have the means and ability to complete the contract in question.

General Information

The terms “responsive” and “responsible” are sometimes confused. Responsive is not used under FAR Part 15 (Contracting by Negotiation) procedures, but under FAR 14 (Sealed Bidding) procedures. It refers to the contractor providing what the Government is asks for in a solicitation. If the solicitation calls for a component made of copper but the bidder offers one made of tin, the bid is considered nonresponsive. If the Government requires delivery in 5 days but the bidder offers delivery in 30 days, the bid is likewise deemed nonresponsive.


The term responsible has different implications. FAR 9.104-1 covers the general standards for a prospective contractor to be determined responsible. To be determined responsible, a contractor must:


  • Have adequate financial resources to perform the contract, or the ability to obtain them.
  • Be able to comply with the required or proposed delivery or performance schedule, taking into consideration all existing commercial and government business commitments
  • Have a satisfactory performance record
  • Have a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics
  • Have the necessary organization, experience, accounting and operational controls, and technical skills, or the ability to obtain them
  • Have the necessary production, construction, and technical equipment and facilities, or the ability to obtain them and
  • Be otherwise qualified and eligible to receive and award under applicable laws and regulations


The FAR also allows for the contracting officer to develop special standards apart from these general standards. The special standards must be set forth in the solicitation and apply to all offerors.


A preaward survey is normally required only when information that is readily available – including information already in Government files and information available from commercial sources – is not sufficient to make a determination of responsibility. However, if the contemplated contract will have a fixed price at or below the simplified acquisition threshold or will involve the acquisition of commercial items per FAR Part 12), the contracting officer should not request a preaward survey unless circumstances justify its cost. See FAR 9.106 for more information about requirements for preaward surveys.


If the apparent contract award winner is a small business but the contracting officer finds the offeror to be nonresponsible, the contracting officer must withhold contract award and refer the matter to the cognizant Small Business Administration (SBA) office. The SBA office may then issue a Certificate of Competency (COC), which states the offeror is in fact responsible with respect to all elements of responsibility. These elements of responsibility include (but are not limited to) “capability, competency, capacity, credit, integrity, perseverance, tenacity, and limitations on subcontracting” for the purpose of receiving and performing a specific Government contract. The COC program is applicable to all Government acquisitions regardless of dollar value. However, the COC program does not extend to questions concerning regulatory requirements imposed and enforced by other Federal agencies.