Susan M. Anstead

University of Maryland, University College

CSMN637 – Acquisition of Information Technology

May 1999


Federal Requirements

Types of Statements of Work

Format of the Statement of Work



Examples of the Statement of Work


The Statement of Work (SOW) is a part of an Acquisitions Requirements Package, which tells a contractor what work is required on a contract. They are often the most essential documents in any Federal solicitation or contract. According to the Department of Defense, Handbook for Preparation of Statement of Work, "The majority of government contracts include a SOW which forms the basis for successful performance by the contractor and effective administration of the contract by the government."  A well-written SOW enhances the opportunity for all potential contractors to compete equally for Government contracts and serves as the standard for determining if the contractor meets the stated performance requirements.


Requirements for a Statement of Work are clearly defined by the United States Government. According to the United States Code,

"The solicitation for a task or delivery order contract shall include the following:

A Statement of Work, specifications, or other description that reasonably describes the general scope, nature, complexity, and purposes of the services or property to be procured under the contract."

The Federal Acquisition Regulations [FAC 97-11] describes in more detail the requirements of the Statement of Work:
  1. Generally, Statements of Work shall define requirements in clear, concise language identifying specific work to be accomplished. Statements of Work must be individually tailored to consider the period of performance, deliverable items, if any, and the desired degree of performance flexibility.
  2. When preparing Statements of Work, agencies shall, to the maximum extent practical –
    1. Describe the work in terms of "what" is to be the required output rather than either "how" the work is to be accomplished or the number of hours to be provided;
    2. Enable assessment of work performance against measurable performance standards;
    3. Rely on the use of measurable performance standards and financial incentives in a competitive environment to encourage competitors to develop and institute innovative and cost-effective methods of performing the work; and

    4. Avoid combining requirements into a single acquisition that is too broad for the agency or a prospective contractor to manage effectively.


There are three different types of Statements of Work:

  1. Design/detailed specification;
  2. Level of effort; and
  3. Performance based.
The design/detail Statement of Work tells the contractor how to do the work. In this case, the government requires the contractor to follow the government’s way of performing the task or making the product. This type of Statement of Work is primarily used for manufacturing or construction.

The deliverable in the Level of Effort Statement of Work is based on the hour of work. Level of Effort SOWs are usually very broad and describe the general nature of the service or products to be procured over a given period of time. This type of Statement of Work is primarily used for task order and delivery order contracts.

The Performance Based Statement of Work is by far the most preferred method. It focuses on the purpose of the work, but does not dictate how the work is to be done. It should provide answers to five basic questions: what, when, where, how many, and how well. The goals of this type of Statement of Work are:

  1. To save money by reducing contract costs from elimination of unnecessary effort, through innovation by the contractor, and reduction in government oversight.
  2. To shift the emphasis from processes to outputs.
  3. To hold contractors accountable for end results.
Performance Based Contracting (PBC) requires structuring all aspects of an acquisition around the purpose of the work to be performed as opposed either to how the work is to be performed or to broad and imprecise statements of work. It emphasizes quantifiable, measurable performance requirements and quality standards in developing statements of work, selecting contractors, determining contract type, incentives, and performing contract administration, including surveillance.

The Performance-based Statement of Work will be the focus of this report.


The Statement of Work is intended to be a brief statement of the tasks to be done, not an elaborate document that might be developed for procurement contracts. Examples of SOWs vary, with some consisting of only one to two pages, while others are ten pages or more.  Although there is no fixed format, there are basic elements that should be addressed in any Statement of Work. In general, the Statement of Work will include the following sections:

    1. Objective

    2. This is an introduction that gives a very brief overview of the services to be provided. In addition, it explains:
      1. why the particular project is of interest to the contractor
      2. what the overall requirement is
      3. the difficulties which may be encountered
      4. what determinations must be made.
      5. the intended collaborative effort and expected benefits
      6. the focus of the effort (for example, is it an exchange of technology for a mutually beneficial purpose, or a joint R&D project?)
      7. the objective in a few concise statements so that all the participants, including the reviewing officials, will have a clear understanding of what is proposed.
    3. Scope

    4. The scope is an overall picture of the desired work in a concise form. It may outline the phases of the project and establish limits in terms of technical objectives, time, or any other provisions or limitations. The scope should also describe the desire end result of the project.
      This Section includes a brief statement of what the SOW should cover. The scope paragraph defines the breadth and limitations of the work to be done. In some cases, the use of an introduction, background, or both, is preferred. Separate indentures under this Section are used in SOWs to accommodate complex acquisitions requiring lengthy background information. Background information should be limited to only that information needed to acquaint the proposer with the basic acquisition requirement. The items listed below should not be included in the "Scope" Section.
      1. Directions to the contractor to perform work tasks.
      2. Specification of data requirements.
      3. Description of deliverable products.
    5. Applicable Documents

    6. Cite all applicable documents, specifications, reports, and other material which have an impact on the project.
      Military handbooks, government instructions, service regulations, technical orders, and policy letters, as a type, are not written in language suitable for contract application. In the event that it is necessary that such documents be included in a SOW, only excerpts should be used and these should be made into either a clear task statement or a clear reference statement for guidance only, and not for contract compliance. Any documents called out in Section 2 of the SOW should have the specific version referenced, i.e. by date or by revision letter.
    7. Technical Tasks/Requirements

    8. This should explain the work to be accomplished and describe the main steps and actions which are required.
      These tasks, developed to satisfy program needs, are essentially the contractor work requirements. Although the Source Selection Evaluation Board (SSEB) is responsible for the examination of SOW requirements in order to eliminate nonessential requirements, such examinations may be accomplished by the functional technical groups during development of the SOW.

  3. Data and reporting requirements should be indicated here. This includes how the contractor will present the data to the Agency, how successes will be measured, and what the final deliverable will be.


As part of the approval process, a Statement of Work is read by individuals with very diverse backgrounds. They may include engineers, scientists, accountants, lawyers, and contract specialists. Because of these varying backgrounds, it is critical that the SOW be written in such a manner so that both technical and non-technical professionals can understand them. The SOW should specify in clear, understandable terms the work to be done in developing or producing the goods to be delivered or services to be performed by a contractor. Preparation of an effective SOW requires both an understanding of the goods or services that are needed to satisfy a particular requirement and an ability to define what is required in specific, performance-based, quantitative terms. A SOW prepared in explicit terms will enable offerors to clearly understand the government's needs.

The Statement of Work should clearly describe the work to be done by a contractor.  There must be an understanding of the goods or services that are needed to satisfy a particular requirement and an ability to define what is required in specific terms.  A SOW enables contractors to understand the government's needs, and this facilitates the preparation of responsive proposals and delivery of the required goods or services.  A well-written SOW also aids the Government in conduct of the source selection and contract administration after award.

According to the NASA Guidance For Writing Work Statements, an effort to produce a quality Statement of Work will:

A well-written SOW has the following attributes: According to the Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, a Statement of Work must include the following minimum requirements to be considered Performance Based:
  1. Performance requirements that define the work in measurable, mission-related terms.
  2. Performance standards (i.e., quality, quantity, timeliness) tied to the performance requirements.
  3. A Government quality assurance plan that describes how the contractor’s performance will be measured against the performance standards.
  4. If the acquisition is either critical to agency mission accomplishment or requires relatively large expenditures of funds, positive and negative incentives tied to the Government QA plan measurements.


The Statement of Work is a vital part of an acquisitions package, particularly in the Federal Government. As outlined above, many Federal Agencies maintain strict guidelines on the preparation of the Statement of Work. Requirements for the Statement of Work are outlined not only from the Executive Office of the President, but also through United States Code. Due to the focus on the Statement of Work in Government acquisitions, it becomes necessary for anyone doing business with the Federal Government to provide a Statement of Work as part of their proposal.

By using the Statement of Work, both the Agency and the Contractor are provided certain protections. The Agency is assured that the work will meet an acceptable level of requirements, in order for the proposal to be accepted. The Contractor is assured that they will be given the freedom to reach the agreed-upon end-result in a manner that is most feasible to the Contractor.

The Federal Government is not the only one who is using the Statement of Work. Many companies in private industry are also recognizing the benefits of using such a tool in acquisitions. These companies include educational institutions and private technology firms.

One of the greatest benefits of the Statement of Work as outlined in this report is its focus on Performance Based Contracting (PBC). PBC allows for the Contractor to propose an end-result, but not propose how it will reach that end-result. The focus is on WHAT will be accomplished, rather than HOW it will be accomplished. This prevents both the Agency and the Contractor from concentrating too much on minute specifics, rather than concentrating on what they are trying to accomplish in the end.


 ATN Scientific Computing at
 Large Binocular Telescope Project at

Statement of Work for Joint Interoperability Engineering Organization (JIEO) Systems Engineering (JSE) Contracts at

Statement Of Work Forbase Supporttrunked Radio Systems at

Contract Statement Of Work For National Defense Center For Environmental Excellence at


CERTAN-ITSS, Preparing the S.O.W.; February 15, 1999; Online, available at

Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) Statement of Work (SOW) Guidelines; April 16, 1999; Online, available at

Department of Defense, Handbook for Preparation of Statement of Work (SOW); April 3, 1996; Online, available at

Kelman, Steven; PBSC Checklist Memorandum; Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget; August 8, 1997; Online, available at

NASA Guidance for Writing Work Statements; December 1997; Online, available at

Performance Based Statement of Work (SOW); April 16, 1999; Online, available at

Sateriale, Ken; Performance Based Contracting; NASA; August 7, 1999; Online, available at

Software Development Contracts; May 22, 1997; Online, available at

Statement of Work; June 16, 1996; Online, available at

Statement of Work Format, Example Model Text; February 17, 1999; Online, available at