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HHS Conference Procurement and Planning Tookit

Procurement and Planning Requirements and Guidance for Conference Hosts

Chapter IV – Contracting Considerations

The following sections provide insight into aspects of conference planning that should be taken into consideration when contracting for support services and venues.  These are intended to advise program and contracting officials on planning and conducing acquisitions for conference support and venues, as appropriate and in addition to the Federal Acquisition Regulation, HHS Acquisition Regulation, HHS policies, and OPDIV/STAFFDIV-specific policies and procedures. 

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Section 4.1 – Procurement Guidance & Existing Contracting Vehicles

4.1.1 Departmental Guidance on Conference Procurement

HHS has issued Departmental policies on the Use of Appropriated funds for conferences and meeting space.  Additionally, in various communications the Department’s leadership has outlined its expectations in keeping with the Administration’s tenets for efficient spending, to include:

  • In acquiring conference support services:
    • Conduct early acquisition planning and market research with your acquisition team, focusing on the minimum requirements needed to hold an effective conference.  When the government does its homework upfront and plans effectively it leads to a successful contract; within budget, on time, and with good performance.
    • Consider using the NIH Conference, Administrative, and Travel Services (NIHCATS II) contracts as HHS’ strategic source (see Section 1.2).
    • Avoid using general program support, technical assistance, scientific or research contractors for the logistical aspects of your conferences.
    • Use small businesses and firm-fixed price contracts to the maximum extent practicable.
  • In selecting and reaching agreements with venues and for A/V services – either directly or through your conference support contractor:
    • Seek advice from the Office of the General Council or Acquisition Policy experts before agreeing to contracts/task orders/BPA calls with cancellation fees.
    • Do not accept complimentary services or rooms – which may violate our Ethics rules and principles.
    • Determine if using an outside source for A/V services represents the best value before using the venue’s A/V services.
    • Determine if existing government equipment is available for use.

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4.1.2 HHS Conference Contract Vehicles:

Securing the best possible pricing and ensuring that the terms of a venue or event planning agreement sufficiently limit the government’s liability requires contracting (officer) and programmatic expertise.  Utilizing one of the existing HHS contract vehicles will help streamline your acquisition team’s efforts and expedite the time needed by the Contracting Officer to make an award.  A narrative description of these vehicles is provided below.  To further assist conference hosts with determining which contract vehicle will meet your requirements, a breakdown of the characteristics of the HHS conference contract vehicles is included as Appendix 2 (Menu of Options).  HHS staff responsible for planning a conference should use this resource to help determine which HHS conference contract vehicle may best meet their requirements. 

  • Available HHS-Wide Contract:  NIHCATS II – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Conference, Administrative, and Travel Services (NIHCATS) contract is an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract utilizing firm-fixed-price- and time-and-materials-type task orders.  The contract may be used to procure services in five task areas and has 19 qualified vendors to provide services.  The contract is open to all of HHS and is the only HHS-wide conference contract vehicle currently identified, and is considered a strategic source within HHS for conference support. 
    • See important information, including fees and task order procedures.
    • Contact:  Jeff Klein, COR, 301-402-5262, Lisa Adams, CO, 496-7792, and Brian Goodger, Associate Director - OLAO, 301-496-0158.
  • Individual OPDIV Vehicles – several HHS OPDIVs have contract vehicles in place for conference needs.  Some vehicles meet specific requirements while others have more flexibility.  For more information on whether your OPDIV’s vehicle can meet your conference needs, review the Menu of Options for HHS Conference Contract Vehicles in Appendix 2 of the toolkit and/or contact the points of contact below. 
    • Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Conference Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs) – Carolyn Taylor, Contracting Officer, 301-443-6508,; This contract has (4) qualified HUBZone contractors and allows performance based task orders.
    • HRSA Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs) – The BPAs are for venues within the Gaithersburg and Rockville Area.  Diane Coger, Contracting Officer, 301-443-2750,
    • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Conference Contract – Gina Spann, Contracting Officer’s Representative,, 301-427-1217
    • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Conference Contract Vehicle – James Whitt, Contracting Officer, 301-827-1022,

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  • GSA Schedule – This procurement option can provide a range of conference support services to HHS conference hosts.  It should also be used as a market research tool, and only considered for procurement needs after the existing HHS vehicles have been reviewed and deemed incapable of meeting HHS conference requirements.  
  • Other Vehicles – The contract vehicles listed below are designed to serve a specific type of conference for an HHS OPDIV.  These vehicles and their program directors may be available as resources for those who need to establish similar conferences/programs.
    • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Office of Clinical Standards and Quality, Survey and Certification Group, BPA for Training Conferences for State Agency Surveyors – George Karahalis, Program Director (410-786-3486, and Fred Mehl, Training Facilitator (410-786-7518,  This program that provides training to state surveyors conducts 60 to 65 events per year with an annual budget of $15,000 by establishing standard terms with hotel venues that include no-cost meeting space for fulfilling room-block commitments.  This program plans events through a conference planning contractor and utilizes a separate AV contract for an annual fixed price (not included in $15,000 budget) to ensure value pricing. 
    • NIH Scientific Review and Evaluation Activities (SREA) Service Center – Diane Bernal, Program Director, 301-402-8380,  SREA manages over 40,000 peer reviewers who come together in meetings to review grant applications for merit.  The office is responsible for the approval of hotel contracts and meeting arrangements.  SREA has over 200 BPAs with hotels across the country (Washington, DC, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, San Antonio, Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, Baltimore, and Boston.  SREA achieves efficiencies through prescribed standards of what is included in meeting rooms and Audio/Visual (AV) equipment set-up, as well as ensuring prompt payment of venues following events. 

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Section 4.2 – Guidance on Costs and Agreements for Audio/Visual Services

The HHS Conference Workgroup identified the following best practices for researching and procuring A/V services for conferences:

  • Use General Services Administration (GSA) Schedule 541 4D-Conference Events and Tradeshow Planning Services (Set Aside) as a source for both price benchmarking and procurement options for A/V services.  GSA Schedule 541 4D includes over 100 vendors and pricing on a variety of A/V products and services.  The vendors, price lists, and terms and conditions can be accessed at:
  • Contractor pricing varies within the schedule.  According to GSA contracting officials, all prices offered represented maximum or ceiling price, indicating that they actively encourage further price negotiations to achieve greater efficiency. 
  • Within the HHS conference contract vehicles referenced in section 4.1.2, line item pricing for audio/visual products and services has not been established at the parent award level.  Therefore, OPDIVS and STAFFDIVS should review pricing available under GSA Schedule 541 4D for A/V products and services as a means of price benchmarking prior to negotiating prices for such products/services under existing HHS Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity contracts, Blanket Purchase Agreements, or other contracts. 

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Section 4.3 – Standard Terms, including Force Majeure 

HHS is developing a set of standard terms that will be required in all contracts/BPA calls with venues or contract support/event planners.  These terms are designed to limit HHS’ liability and to help ensure your conference complies with efficient spending, ethics, and other policies.  While the final set of terms are being developed, below are current drafts terms that you may incorporate into conference-related contracts/BPA calls and some tips and considerations for effective use of these terms. 

Tips and Considerations:

  • When the acquisition team plans your conference, think about any specific events you need to incorporate in your standard terms, such as a potential government shutdown being reflected in your contract.  While you don’t need to spell out every potential event that could qualify as an excusable delay, if you think a particular risk is likely, it will offer increased protection to specifically name it in the terms.
  • If you provide the venue with the terms, ensure none of the text has changed before HHS (Contracting Officer) signs the contract.
  • Smaller or remote venues may more readily accept HHS standard terms vs. large venues in major tourist or business districts.  Venues in “government towns” may be more likely to accept government policies like these standard terms.
  • In the rare event that you have to cancel a conference and the contract/BPA call you entered into previously does not comply with HHS cancellation policies (the required force majeure article), negotiate the cancellation fees in the best interest of the government.

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4.3.1 HHS Required Force Majeure Article 

HHS Conference hosts and contract service providers acting on HHS’s behalf must use the approved, required Force Majeure clause below in venue contract to limit HHS’s liability for cancellation and other damages.

  • Responsibility of the Contractor
    Prior to entering into a third party contract (the hotel) for venues, the prime contractor shall submit the proposed contract to the contracting officer for review.  The prime contractor, on its own, cannot obligate the Government.
  • Cancellation Matrix
    The prime contractor shall include terms and conditions in the third party venue (hotel) contract that reduce or eliminate the Government’s liability in the event of cancellation.  The cancellation fees shall not exceed the following percentages:
    • Up to 30 days prior to the event:  Cancellation permitted with no (0%) penalty.
    • 15 to 29 days prior to the event: Contractor (and therefore the government) will be liable for:  no more than 75% of the total costs (meeting rooms and audiovisual equipment).
    • 14 days prior to the event: Contractor (and therefore the government) will be liable for no more than 100% of the total costs (meeting rooms and audiovisual equipment).
    When a Government cancellation results in penalty, the contractor shall promptly contact the third party venue (hotel) to ensure every effort is made to offer the cancelled space to other parties to reduce the Government’s penalty.  The contractor shall only be reimbursed for actual penalties paid by the contractor.

    The Government shall not be charged for cancellations of room blocks.  All third party contracts for lodging (hotel room blocks) shall cancel automatically within 48 hours of the check-in-date for rooms that are not guaranteed by the task order/contract order or the individual federal employee’s government travel card.

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  • Excusable Delays
    The performance of this contract is subject to cancellation without penalty or fee upon the occurrence of any circumstance beyond the control of either party, excusable delays include, but not are limited to: acts of god, war, weather driven, acts of terrorism, government shut down, U.S. congress, government regulations, natural disasters, strikes, civil disorder, or curtailment of transportation facilities – to the extent that such circumstances make it illegal or impossible for the hotel to provide, or for groups in general to use the hotel facilities.
  • Good Faith Effort
    In the event of cancellation, less than 29 days prior to the event by the government, under the provisions of this contract, if the third party (hotel) resells the sleeping rooms, function space or any portion thereof, the charges will be applied against the cancellation fee.  The contractor agrees to ensure the third party (hotel) accepts the responsibility to minimize any actual monetary harm or damages it may otherwise incur of suffer from unused sleeping rooms, or related revenue.  Therefore, the contractor will ensure the third party (hotel) will make a good faith effort to book additional groups or organized business meetings or otherwise sell the sleeping rooms and related accommodations made available by the cancellation.  Should the third party (hotel) replace the group with another group, all or a portion of the cancellation fee will be refunded based upon the replacement value to the mutual agreement of the government and the contractor.

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4.3.2 Other Standard Terms and Conditions 

  • Terms to Prohibit Acceptance of Gifts
    Persons doing business with the government shall not offer nor shall any government employee or family members, or person acting on behalf of the government or their family members solicit, accept or receive directly or indirectly whether in the form of complimentary rooms, room upgrades, guest passes, food, or other gifts, gratuities and services.
  • Special Needs
    In accordance with HHSAR 352.270-1, identify in advance any special needs of any disabled guests who are requiring accommodation including hearing and sight impaired individuals by the Hotel and notify the Hotel of the need for such accommodation in writing to the Sales Department as soon as possible.  Any expenditures or services necessary to accommodate any such guest(s) may be at the expense of the guest.

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Related Information

Chapter I – HHS Conference Standard Operating Procedure

Chapter II – Conference Cost Drivers

Chapter III – Programmatic Considerations



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