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HHS Conference Procurement and Planning Tookit

Procurement and Planning Requirements and Guidance for Conference Hosts

Chapter I – HHS Conference Standard Operating Procedure

When planning a conference and procuring related services, follow the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) below to help ensure efficient spending and policy compliance.


  1. Review and follow the recommendations in the HHS Conference Planning and Procurement Toolkit.
  1. Start planning early, no less than 180 days before the event.
  1. Focus on the minimum requirements necessary for your conference when developing your conference statement of work (SOW). The NIHCATs II website offers an example conference SOW.
  1. Use conference planning and on-site support contractors. Avoid using general program support, technical assistance, scientific or research contractors for the logistical aspects of your conferences (conference planning and on-site support) or to procure a venue.
  1. Apply strategic sourcing principles to your procurement decisions.
    1. For large-attendance conferences where planning and on-site logistics support is needed, consider the NIH Conference, Administrative, and Travel Services (NIHCATS II) contracts

      Note: OPDIVs with their own internal conference contract vehicles (AHRQ, FDA and HRSA) are not required to use NIHCATS II.
    1. For smaller-scale events where conference planning and logistics support are not required, conduct a market analysis (with assistance from your contracting officer) to ensure you are getting reasonable rates. 
      1. Review the List of DCA-Area Federal Conference Venues and contact those that may meet your needs.
      2. Use GSA’s FedRooms Groups and Meetings Tool to do market research efficiently. It is a free tool that allows users to enter requirements and receive quotes from hotels for conferences and meetings.
      3. If a federal venue is not an option, review the rates negotiated under the HRSA conference BPA as benchmarks (see Section 4.1.2).  While only HRSA can currently use this BPA, other OPDIVs/STAFFDIVs should be able to get similar rates for similar requirements. 
    2. Use small businesses and firm-fixed price contracts to the maximum extent practicable.


Venue Agreements

  1. All conference venue agreements, whether negotiated directly or by a conference support contractor on behalf of HHS, must meet the following requirements:
    1. Incorporate the approved Force Majeure and other HHS standard contract terms (see Section 4.3 of the toolkit).
    2. Be consistent with the guidance and Cancellation Matrix in Section 4.3.1 of this guide. If you have questions, seek advice from the Office of the General Counsel or Acquisition Policy experts.
    3. Accepting complimentary services or rooms which do not benefit the entire body of the conference may violate HHS Ethics rules and principles.



  1. When contracting for Audio/Visual (A/V) services, either directly with an A/V provider, through a venue, or through your conference support contractor:
    1. Use the GSA Schedule to benchmark prices before engaging with a potential A/V vendor.
      1. Recognize that GSA prices are typically set at a quality of one, and are therefore discounted during competition/negotiations and when buying in volume.
      2. For help interpreting GSA Schedule pricing, contact GSA’s helpdesk at (800) 488-3111 or by email:
    2. If your conference venue offers A/V services, ask for a cost breakdown to determine if rates are reasonable and if using an A/V source not affiliated with your venue would be a better value. 



  1. When dealing with conference-related contractors of any kind, follow these guidelines:
    1. Do not share your budget with venues or event planners.  Discuss your requirements with your acquisition team and have your contracting officer ask for a proposal.
    2. Do not hold sleeping rooms or conference facilities on a purchase card before signing a contract with a vendor that includes the required HHS standard terms.

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Related Information:

Chapter II – Conference Cost Drivers

Chapter III – Programmatic Considerations

Chapter IV – Contracting Considerations



Content created by Assist. Sec./Financial Resources-Grants/Acquisition Policy
Content last reviewed on July 18, 2014