What is Sole Source?

Also know as: sole sourcing, sole source solicitation, sole vendor, sole supplier, sole distributor, federal government sole source, sourcing, sole source award, government solicitation, what is sole source procurement, what is sole source tender, what is sole source award, what is sole source solicitation, what is sole source bid, federal government sole source, what is sole source proposal, or solicitation.

What is Sole Source?

Sole Source Definition

Sole source is a non-competitive purchase or procurement process accomplished through solicitation or acceptance of a proposal from one single provider, so-called sole source.

Sole Source is also know as: sole source procurement, sole sourcing, sole-sourced contract, direct sourcing, sole supplier, direct source, sole-supplier procurement, sole-source tender, FAR sole source, federal sole source, government sole source, sole source tendering, government sole source contract, federal government sole source, sole source bid, sole source solicitation, noncompetitive negotiation, negotiated sole source, sole source bidding, or sole source procurement.

What is the difference between Sole Source, Single Source, and Sole Brand?

What is
Sole Source?
Specific products or services available from only one source, also called sole source, sole provider, sole supplier, sole vendor, or sole distributor.
What is
Single Source?
A single source is a source specifically selected amongst others, if any, due to specific reasons, i.e. replacement parts, compatibility, quality, service, support, etc.
What is
Sole Brand?
Products or services from a specific manufacturer, whether available from one or more than one source or distributor.

Sole Source Evaluation

Like for any purchase performed through procurement methods with Full and Open Competition (FOC), a sole source evaluation will take place, but in a significantly different manner because no comparison will be performed against other prospective providers.

Indeed, the sole source evaluation is limited to the compliance of acquired goods or services to requirements set forth in the solicitation document. Because there is no competition, not only the requester's margin of negotiation is thin, but the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of the project may be more expensive than if there would have been other competitors.

For these reasons, requesters should review carefully and thoroughly the cost section of the proposal, knowing that such an audit could expand their negotiation margin.

Benefits of Sole Sourcing

As soon as you understand what is sole source, obvious are the benefits. As positive impacts of a shortened acquisition process, benefits of sole source are:

  1. a reduced decision cycle, i.e. time required to award contracts;
  2. lowered administrative costs, i.e. procurement process reduced to a minimum;
  3. prices reflecting the best value;
  4. better promoted small business participation; and
  5. improved delivery of products and services.

To gauge the intrinsic benefit of sole sourcing, the General Accounting Office (GAO) run a test and presented to the Congress the report of effectiveness of a shortened acquisition process (PDF file, 127Kb).

When to use Sole Source as a contracting method?

Sole Source Prescription

A sole source procurement process should only be used under specifically defined circumstances. Sole source solicitation is used only when other procurement methods, namely micro-purchases, small purchases, and competitive solicitation procedures like sealed bids, or competitive proposals, are not applicable or lead to an unrealistic process.

Sole Source Justification

What is sole source justification? It's the rationale of the decision to use sole source solicitation as a procurement process, and it be thoroughly documented. The burden of proof to justify sole source procurement falls to the requester who should prepare a document called Sole Source Justification and Approval (J&A). The main justification for adopting a sole source procurement process is when there is, by definition, only one supplier capable of satisfying the Statement of Work.

In the section above defining what is sole source, we've just said that sole source can only be used when:

  • none of other procurement methods applies, and
  • there is at at least one reason or justification for relying solely on one provider or sole source (no competition, unsolicited proposal, etc.).

Such circumstances justifying sole source could be:

  • unicity, i.e. the item is only available from one single supplier, like for parts maintenance; or
  • immediacy, i.e. delays resulting from competitive solicitation are not acceptable; or
  • emergency, i.e. delays resulting from other methods of solicitation are not bearable; or
  • legitimacy, i.e. specific contexts (geographic, contractual, political, legal, military, security, etc.) may allow such a non-competition of sources; or
  • inadequacy, all sources are qualified as inadequate (compatibility, compliance, price, quality, service, support, etc.); or
  • exigency, i.e. any other specific reason dictating the choice of a given provider.

Sole Source Justification is also known as: source justification, sole source justification, sole source justification letter, sole supplier justification, source justification letter, justification letter, sole source award justification, FAR source justification, justification for other than full and open competition, JOFOC form, JOFOC, justification and approval form, sole sourcing justification, other than full and open competition justification form, FAR sole source justification, FAR justification, Justification & Approval, J&A, J&A letter, Justification & Approval letter.

Inappropriate Sole Source Justification

Sole sourcing is not appropriately justified and justifiable when used as a method of selecting a preferred vendor. Notwithstanding the fact that they could be voided by potential sole source solicitation protests, purchases of this kind, when put under scrutiny, will surely attract auditors' interest in their quest for details suggesting a bit of favoritism, partiality, and other bias.

How to use Sole Source

In order for your Purchasing/Procurement department to validate the purchase of sole-sourced goods or services, you should:

  1. provide a recent (less than 30 days) quotation (RFQ) from the sole source provider;
  2. fill out a Sole Source Justification & Approval (J&A) form;
  3. get the approval and signature on the form of an appropriate authority for the acquisition; and
  4. request your Procurement/Purchasing service for a Purchase Order (PO) by joining your Sole Source J&A form.

How to protest against Sole Source solicitation?

How to subdue your enemy without fighting: Use your enemy's inertia, absorb it, and then return it against him.
-- Sun-Tzu,
   The Art of War

Use your enemy's weapon

By understanding what is sole source and learning what are the reasons invoked to justify it, you are given the strongest weapon to use in your protest journey. Indeed, you, as a supplier planning to file a sole source protest, can use as a lever the same reasons with which sole source was justified as a procurement method. So, by getting through the sole source justification laid down by the requester, the protesting provider can challenge veracity, fairness, emergency, legitimacy, and adequacy of the sole source method.

For further information about how you can leverage the same sole source justifications that were provided when the contract was awarded, read the discussion on How to Protest Against Sole-Source Solicitation.

Sole Source Solicitation Web References

Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)
Sole Source Solicitation (SubPart 15, except SubPart 15.3)

This part prescribes solicitation policies and procedures governing competitive and noncompetitive negotiated acquisitions, particularly sole source acquisitions:

  • definition of what is sole source
  • what is sole source selection objective
  • what is sole source procedure

Competition in Contracting Act (CICA)
Public Law 98-369, sec. 2701, embedded into FAR Part 6

Organizational Conflict of Interest (OCI)
Embedded into FAR §9.5

What is sole source protest? What is sole source benefit? How to write a sole source protest letter? Find an answer to these questions by reading the discussion on How to Protest Against Sole Source.

Tips, templates, and samples of a professional protest letter


Learn tips on how to write a professional, very impressive, and bullet-proof protest letters in our FREE Request for Proposal Letters Toolkit.

You will find in it, amongst others, templates and samples of a Request for Proposal protest letter.

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