Last updated:  August 18, 2022

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Departments who have authority to conduct their own informal bids must comply with the rules outlined below and all applicable University policies. These rules do not supersede University policy and are subject to change at any time.

Departments in following areas of The University of Tennessee may conduct their own informal bids:

  • Institute of Agriculture
  • Institute for Public Service
  • UT System Administration

*All Knoxville departments (including UTSI) must formally request approval to conduct informal bids.  This approval request procedure is outlined in the Knoxville Campus Supplemental Policy.


The informal bid process is only allowed for one-time purchases up to $49,999.99 using a Request for Quote (RFQ).  A department cannot issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) through the informal bid process.

The following cannot be bid by a department and must instead be handled by the procurement office

  • Framework order
  • Any agreement that will result in a contract (for example: hotel services)
  • An agreement that has renewals
  • Construction, demolition, renovation, installation  services (excludes the Facilities Services department)
  • Vehicles (including ATVs, Gators and golf carts)
  • Any purchase that would require a contractor’s license: see the State’s requirements at
  • Leases
  • Products that require trademark licensing
  • Security cameras
  • Drones
  • Travel agency services

Before Conducting an Informal Bid:

  1. Check your budget to ensure that you have sufficient funds to pay for the good or service.
  2. Check to see if internal University resources can provide the good or service. If so, you must utilize the internal University good or service.
  3. Check to see if there is an existing UT purchase order or contract or State of Tennessee contract.  If the item is available through an existing agreement you must use the existing agreement.
  4. Check to see if the UT Marketplace has the good or service available. If so, you must utilize the UT Marketplace.
  5. If applicable on your Campus or Institute, ensure that you seek all necessary prior-approvals (entertainment, etc.).
  6. Read the Informal Bid Rules website. Don’t refer to a printed copy, as the rules can change.
  7. If needed, review the writing guidelines for writing better specifications below.
  8. Complete a solicitation evaluation attestation form (SEAF) for each employee involved in the bid process and attach the forms to the requisition. You can access the form here: SEAF



  1. All University fiscal policies apply and departments must refer to relevant policies before starting an informal bid.
  2. When interacting with suppliers, you must make it clear that you are seeking quotes only, and that you cannot make a binding commitment (i.e., you are not placing an order).
  3. If something is a factor in your bid, you must mention it in your bid.
    1. Examples:
      1. If you are seeking bids on goods, and you want to take the suppliers’ warranty into consideration, you must mention this in your specifications.
      2. If delivery date is a consideration, you must list that in your specifications.
  4. Departments shall seek bids from at least 3 separate suppliers. (Note: a supplier’s response with a “no bid” does not qualify as a bid under these rules).
  5. Departments shall not split transactions or bids in an effort to be below the formal bid limit of $50,000.00.
  6. If delivery time is a factor in the award, then departments must communicate this to the potential suppliers during the bid.
  7. Departments shall not falsify or manipulate a supplier’s bid response details.
  8. Departments shall develop sufficiently clear specifications to define what goods and services are being sought. Departments must permit competition between products of equal quality.
  9. Departments must write specifications in an objective manner.
  10. Bids obtained from suppliers and submitted to the Office of Procurement Services must be for the same specifications.
  11. Departments shall not modify the specifications after sending the specifications.
  12. Specifications must include requirements for design, installation, warranties, maintenance, and shipping.
  13. Departments must require suppliers to include in the supplier’s response all possible costs involved in the supplier’s good or service (for example, delivery, installation, etc.).
  14. Departments are encouraged to obtain informal bids from small businesses and minority-owned businesses, and should do so whenever possible.
  15. Departments’ informal bid requests must be in writing (email, fax, or letter). The University encourages departments to use email, as this reduces costs and increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the informal bid process.
  16. Telephone bids and website screen-shots are not acceptable.
  17. If a department seeks quotes on used or refurbished equipment, the department must also obtain quotes on new equipment.
  18. If a department seeks quotes on leasing an item, the department must seek a quote on purchasing the items.
  19. Departments must use the bid tab report located here [insert link], and departments must submit this with each requisition.
  20. Departments must ensure that an IRIS supplier number is created before the Office of Procurement Services issues an award to the winning bidder.
  21. In the event that a department wants to award to a bidder who is not the lowest bidder, the department must provide justification with the bid tab form.
  22. The department may not share any bid information submitted from any bidder to anyone other than the Procurement Services department.
  23. Departments shall not notify a bidder that the bidder won. The Office of Procurement Services will notify the winning bidder.

Bid Instructions:

  1. Write specifications (see writing guidelines for additional information).
  2. Include the correct insurance requirements in your bid. For reference see Risk Management’s Insurance & Bonding Guidelines.
  3. Send out the same specifications to at least 3 suppliers (seek bids from small businesses and minority-owned businesses whenever possible).
  4. Give suppliers adequate time to respond to your request for quote (we recommend using a deadline for response of 4-6 business days). The deadline for response should be the same for all suppliers.
  1. Ask suppliers for discounts applicable to non-profit educational entities and state government entities.
  2. Be sure to send the supplier the applicable tax exemption information.
  3. Obtain 3 bids in writing from 3 separate suppliers (“in writing” includes email or other quotes from the supplier).  Telephone bids and website screenshots are not acceptable.
  4. Do not share a supplier’s information, communications, responses, etc. with other suppliers.

Required Information from the supplier:

  1. A substantive quote that is responsive to the departments’ specifications.
  2. Shipping terms.
  3. All possible costs (including all fees for shipping and delivery, installation, set-up, removal, etc.). Note: if exact shipping costs are not known, as for all suppliers to estimate the maximum possible shipping costs.
  4. All costs must be itemized in the bid response or quote

After the Bid:

In order to process an informal bid correctly, you must:

  1. Set up a vendor number for the low bid supplier if a vendor number does not already exist.
  2. Include the specifications that were sent to all suppliers (the specifications sent to each supplier must be identical for each informal bid).
  3. Include all of the individual quotes submitted by the suppliers (no telephone bids are allowed; “no bid” responses do not count for informal bids).
  4. Fill in and attach a bid tab.
  5. Submit a requisition (including vendor number for low bidder) using the order type “informal bid.”
  6. After the requisition is submitted, Purchasing will review all documents attached to the requisition and will notify the supplier who is receiving the award.

Failure to Comply with Informal Bid Rules:

The Office of Procurement Services will inform the appropriate Chief Business Officer of any department staff who fail to comply with these rules and applicable University policies. Failure to do so will result in a department’s informal bid privileges being suspended (temporarily) or revoked (permanently), and may also subject the individual employee(s) to disciplinary action. In limited circumstances, Tennessee law may deem certain behavior criminal conduct, such as an employee selling goods to the University, or an employee accepting bribes or kickbacks from a supplier.

Rules of Ethics:

The following rules of ethics govern all informal bids:

  1. Department staff shall ensure that their department is in compliance with all applicable University policies (including, but not limited to, the Code of Conduct and Conflict of Interest policies), and department staff shall frequently review all applicable policies.
  2. All departmental staff involved in seeking informal bids or communicating with suppliers must keep their conflict-of-interest forms current.
  3. Department staff shall refrain from soliciting or accepting money, loans, credits, or prejudicial discounts (i.e. discount that are not available to the entire University or general public).
  4. Further, department staff shall refrain from accepting gifts, entertainment, favors or services from present or potential suppliers, which might influence, or appear to influence, procurement decisions.
  5. Supplier-paid site visits or training for University employees are not permitted unless stipulated as part of a formal supplier contract that was reviewed and approved by Procurement Services.
  6. Department staff shall conduct business with potential and current suppliers in an atmosphere of good faith.
  7. Department staff shall promote honest and positive relationships with suppliers by being courteous and impartial.
  8. Department staff shall give all suppliers who submit responses fair and equitable consideration.
  9. Departments must give all suppliers for each bid the same information. Departments shall not engage in giving a particular supplier or suppliers “insider information” (i.e. information that is not shared with all suppliers).
  10. Department staff shall not:
    1. inform a bidder that they are the lowest bidder or the winning bidder;
    2. discuss other suppliers’ responses with any other supplier;
    3. communicate the results with suppliers;
    4. share a supplier’s information, communication, or bid response with any other supplier;
    5. notify any supplier of the award.

Writing Guidelines:

  • Use objective characteristics, and use generic/common descriptions for goods or services. For example, don’t say “Kleenex,” say “facial tissues.”
  • Be clear and precise, and avoid ambiguity (ambiguity is when a word is reasonably interpreted to mean more than one thing).  For example, “tall” is ambiguous.  Also, the word “should” is ambiguous.
  • When specifying compliance with certain industry test methods or standards, include copies or indicate where copies may be obtained.
  • When sizes, weights, speeds, etc. are a part of the specification, determine if a range is acceptable then indicate minimums or maximums or approximates.
  • Be sure to include who is responsible for shipping costs.
  • Give the Office of Procurement Services as much information as possible (for example, if you bid items for an existing piece of equipment, include the PO number for the existing equipment, if applicable).
  • Indicate the appropriate unit of measure (e.g., liters, feet, etc.).  If you say “box” or “package,” be sure to specify how many units should be in a box or package.
  • If compatibility with an existing piece of equipment is a factor, describe the equipment, connectors, interfaces, brand and model of the existing equipment.

Specification Writing Tips:

The term “specification” simply means the description of a good or service that you want to buy. The goal is to tell suppliers specifically what you are looking to buy. Sometimes the term “specification” is abbreviated as “specs.”

Your specifications must be as clear and complete as possible.

Why do we need specifications? The University’s goal is to encourage open competition among suppliers to save money and to get the best deal possible. Departments will use specifications to search for quotes on goods or services. The Office of Procurement Services will use the specifications to determine whether a supplier’s bid was adequate in response to the specifications.

The lists below are simply to help you think through what you need. You might think of other things to ask suppliers, and that’s completely acceptable. Just be sure to communicate the same needs to all suppliers.


  • Quantity
    • Be more specific than “box” or “crate.” Be sure to know the exact quantity you are buying.
  • Does the item need to be installed?
    • Specify location.
    • Specify dimensions or other facts.
  • Warranty
    • If warranty is a factor, you must mention this in the specifications.
  • Delivery:
    • What are the delivery costs?
    • Is delivery time a factor in your award?
    • Where does the item need to be delivered?
    • Will the items be insured while in transit?
  • Include any relevant compatibility requirements.
  • If needed, inquire about warranty offerings.


  • Indicate the timeframe in which you want the services provided.
  • Does the service need to be compatible with certain existing systems?
  • Does the service provider need to be familiar with particular standards?
  • How soon do you need the services?
  • Does the service provider need access to campus?

Preliminary Steps:

  1. Talk to the “end user” (the people who will be using the good or service) in your department. Ask them questions, and be sure to utilize their expertise and knowledge.
  2. Search the internet for companies who sell the good or service you’re seeking.
  3. Be sure to think about quantity, quality, weights, measurements, etc.
  4. Be sure to think about delivery.
    • When do you need the item?
    • Where will it be delivered?
  5. Does the good or service you are buying need to be compatible with something your department currently uses? For example, compatible with certain software? If so, be sure to state this in your specifications.
  6. If you are uncertain how to write a specification, contact the Office of Procurement Services.

Good Specifications:

The “Four C’s”

  • Clear: write your specifications clearly. Avoid ambiguity and vagueness.
  • Concise: write complete, but concise specifications. Avoid excess verbiage.
  • Complete: include all required information is in the specifications.
  • Correct: ensure that your specifications are technically accurate and applies to the project (meets your needs)

Good specifications must be clear. Be sure to write specifications in a manner that isn’t up to interpretation about what you need. For example, if you want an “environmentally friendly” machine, don’t use the word “green.” Green is a color, and has no bearing on environmental standards. Instead, you might say: “Energy Star certified” or some other objective description.

Be sure to list your requirements clearly. Consider the following before you start writing:

  • Color
  • Physical dimensions
  • Composition (such as, chemical composition)
  • Purity
  • Design standards
  • Quantity
  • Dimensions
  • Size
  • Form
  • Standard of workmanship
  • Grades of materials
  • Type of ingredients
  • Percent
  • Unit of measure (Metric or U.S. measurements)
  • Performance
  • Weights

Figures and Tables: Do you need to include:

  • Figures
  • Illustrations
  • Photos
  • Graphs
  • Charts

General drafting guidelines:

Use short, easy-to-read sentences (avoid run-on sentences). Keep paragraphs short, too (3-5 sentences per paragraph). Avoid using abbreviations, acronyms, slang, or jargon. It’s OK to use abbreviations or acronyms, but only if you define them first!

Active voice:

Use the active voice only. Active voice is when the subject of the sentence does the action. Using passive voice (when the subject is no longer active) leads to unclear sentences, confusion, and excess words. For example:

Active: The cat played with the toy mouse.
Passive: The toy mouse was played with by the cat.

Active: The university must have the following…
Passive: The following items are needed by the university…

Specifying Time:

Time Zones: If you specify a time zone, please remember that “daylight savings time” and “standard time” are specific periods of the year. If you see “EST” or “Eastern Standard Time,” that is referring to a specific time of year. Most people forget that. Do not reference “standard” or “daylight” when specifying a time zone. Instead, simply reference “Eastern Time,” “Central Time,” “Mountain Time,” or “Pacific Time.”

Time of Day: If you use capitals, don’t use periods. Use “AM” or “a.m.”, and “PM” or “p.m.”


Digits only: Do not spell out numbers (for example, do not write “twenty,” instead, write “20”). Digits are much easier to proofread. Never use digits plus spelling, such as “twenty (20)” as this is archaic, and also likely to cause conflicts. Many people will update the word or the digit, but not both.

Do not use ambiguous words: Below is a list of words that you should avoid using when possible because these words are ambiguous (there are many other words that might be ambiguous):

about quality recognized
acceptable immediately relevant
accurate improper reputable
adequate instant safe
adjustable insufficient sanction
affordable known secure
applicable less significant
appropriate low similar
average major simple
better neat smooth
capable necessary stable
careful normal substantial
deep optimum sufficient
dependable other suitable
desirable periodically temporary
easy pleasing timely
economical possible typical
efficient practicable variable
essential practical various
excessive proper wide
good quick workmanlike
high reasonable worse


U.S. Metric
in (inches) mm (millimeters)
ft (feet) m (meters)
yd (yards) m (meters)
mi (miles) km (kilometers)
U.S. Matric
in2 (square inches) mm2 (square millimeters)
ft2 (square feet) m2 (square meters)
yd2 (square yard) m2 (square meters)
ac (acres) ha (hectares)
mi2 (square miles) km2 (square kilometers)
U.S. Metric
fl oz (fluid ounces) mL (Milliliters)
gal (gallons) L (Liters)
ft3 (cubic feet) m3 (cubic meters)
yd3 (cubic yards) m3 (cubic meters)
U.S. Metric
oz (ounces) g (grams)
lb (pounds) kg (kilograms)
T short tons (2000 lb) Mg (or “t”) megagrams (or “metric ton”)
U.S. Metric
°F (Fahrenheit) °C (Celsius)
U.S. Metric
fc (foot-candles) lx (lux)
fl (foot-Lamberts) cd/m2 (candela/m2)
Force and Pressure or Stress
U.S. Metric
lbf (poundforce) N (Newtons)
lbf/in2 (poundforce per square inch) kPa (Kilopascals)



  • Sleeping rooms:
    • Be sure to specify the number of rooms per night.
    • Do you need any handicap accessible rooms?
  • Meeting rooms:
    • Capacity: specify how many people per day need to be in the room.
    • Set-up: if a particular set-up is necessary, please specify this.
  • Time:
    • During what times each day do you need the meeting room?
    • Will you need to leave items in meeting rooms overnight?
  • Food and beverages:
    • Breakfast: is breakfast included in the hotel’s room rate?
    • Meals:
      • Specify time.
      • Specify number of people.
      • Specify any special dietary needs.
  • Parking:
    • Ask the hotel if there is a charge to park?
    • Does your department need to park a bus? If so, ask the hotel whether there will be an extra charge for this.
  • Wi-Fi: Is wireless internet free?
  • Audio-visual: There are lots of different audio-visual equipment, so the list below is overly general.
    • Podium (lectern)
    • Projector
    • Projector screen
    • Laptop
    • Microphone
      • Stations
      • Lapel
      • Hand-held
    • Wireless presenter device (commonly called a “wireless clicker”) for slideshows
    • Telephone
    • Television
      • Size
    • Speakers
    • Electronic computer tablet

Common terms in the hotel industry

  • Attrition: A threshold minimum guarantee of a certain amount of bookings or revenue. For example, the hotel will require you to fulfill a minimum of 80% of your booked room occupancy, or you will be charged the difference between actual occupancy and 80%.
  • Cancellation: Completely cancelling the event. Hotels usually impose cancellation fees, and these fees are based on how far in advance you cancel. The longer in advance you cancel, generally, the lower the cancellation fees will be.
  • Walk:” On almost a daily basis, guests who have reservations do not show up for various reasons. Many times, guests fail to show up because of an emergency, a flight delay, or other reasons beyond their control. In those cases, hotels often do not charge the guest for the room. In order to increase their revenue to account for the lost rooms, hotels often over-sell their rooms. For example, if a hotel has 200 rooms, the hotel will often allow reservations booked for 204 or 205 rooms. In this example, if all 204 people show up, then the hotel will “walk” (relocate) the 4 extra people. Almost always, the hotel will pay for those 4 people to stay one night in another hotel, the taxi fare to the other hotel, and for one local phone call.

Hotel industry practices:

Hotels are free to bargain, and hotels do not have to offer these items. The discussion below is meant to help you understand what to ask for when seeking to do business with a hotel:

  • Complimentary sleeping rooms: Hotels often give a group 1 free room per night for every 40 rooms paid for per night, per stay. In other words, if you book 50 rooms for 2 nights, it’s likely that the hotel will give you 1 free room per night.
  • Complimentary meeting rooms: Hotels often give a group free meeting space when the group books either food and beverage, or sleeping rooms.
  • Complimentary parking: Hotels sometimes offer complimentary parking to groups.
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi: Hotels often offer free Wi-Fi to groups.

Diversity Businesses:

The University of Tennessee values diversity, and the University encourages departments to do business with companies that are small, minority-owned, woman-owned, service-disabled veteran-owned, or owned by persons with disabilities.  Accordingly, the University encourages departments to seek quotes from small and diversity owned businesses whenever possible.

To learn more, including how to find small and diversity businesses, visit the Resources for University Employees section of our supplier diversity webpage,