NO. 60 DATE 01/16/03

Writing Statements of Work for
Commercial Services

By Kenneth Smith, Natural Resource Specialist, BLM, National Science and Technology Center

Statements of Work (SOWs) are essential when purchasing a commercial service, such as the contractual writing of an Environmental Impact Statement or an Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis. These statements are read and interpreted by government and industry personnel with diverse training, background, and experience in such fields as engineering, science, accounting, law, and contracting. Careful drafting of the SOW is, therefore, essential. The basic structure of a successful SOW is described here:

The primary objectives of a SOW are to provide a logical and readable presentation, identify and emphasize the critical elements of the procurement document, and state exactly what the contractor must do to receive payment.

There are two kinds of SOWs—the performance-based SOW and the detailed SOW. The performance-based SOW is written to ensure that contractors are free to determine how to meet the government’s performance objectives. An example stipulation of a performance-based SOW is “The contractor shall develop a Community Relations Plan consistent with the National Contingency Plan, 40 CFR, Part 300.” Often, contracting officers prefer a performance based SOW because it leads to more cost-effective acquisitions and better value, holds the contractor accountable for the end results, maximizes contractor control of the work processes, and allows for innovation in approaching various work requirements.

The detailed SOW requires that the procuring official be proficient enough to describe the work in great detail. Such SOWs must accurately portray the job to be performed. When using a new contractor, you should use a detailed SOW to be sure that you and the contractor are in agreement on task performance. Later SOWs for the same contractor and similar duties can be performance-based, with greater confidence that the work will be accomplished satisfactorily.

There is no standard form for a SOW. Contracting officers and contracting officers’ representatives may have varying opinions as to the contents of a SOW. Your SOW should contain at least the following elements: background, objectives, tasks or requirements, deliverables and delivery schedule, government furnished equipment, government furnished information, security requirements, and place and period of performance. Separate headings are not necessarily required to develop this information into a procurement document.


Kenneth Smith
National Science and
Technology Center
Denver Federal Center
Building 50
P.O. Box 25047
Denver, CO, 80225-0047
Phone 303-236-0206
Fax: 303-236-3508

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