Frequently Asked Questions
What is the definition of an off-the-shelf commercial item? The BPPM appears to say the solicitation can't have specifications for the purchased item to be off-the-shelf. If that's correct, then if a transit agency buys a tire off the rack, it's an off-the-shelf item. But if the agency says they want 10 tires, it's not off-the-shelf, because now there's a specification (quantity of 10). Is this correct? We're getting questions about off-the-shelf items we can't answer.
An item's classification as a "commercial item" or "off the shelf commercial item" is not affected by the quantity of the item being procured, nor by the fact that the purchase order includes a performance specification for the item.
The definition of "commercial item" or “off the shelf commercial item," as those terms are used in Federal contracting, may be found in the Federal Acquisition Regulations. The Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) define “commercial items” and “commercially available off-the-shelf items” as shown below.
“Commercial item” means—
(1) Any item, other than real property, that is of a type customarily used by the general public or by non-governmental entities for purposes other than governmental purposes, and—
(i) Has been sold, leased, or licensed to the general public; or
(ii) Has been offered for sale, lease, or license to the general public;
(2) Any item that evolved from an item described in paragraph (1) of this definition through advances in technology or performance and that is not yet available in the commercial marketplace, but will be available in the commercial marketplace in time to satisfy the delivery requirements under a Government solicitation;
(3) Any item that would satisfy a criterion expressed in paragraphs (1) or (2) of this definition, but for—
(i) Modifications of a type customarily available in the commercial marketplace; or
(ii) Minor modifications of a type not customarily available in the commercial marketplace made to meet Federal Government requirements. Minor modifications mean modifications that do not significantly alter the nongovernmental function or essential physical characteristics of an item or component, or change the purpose of a process. Factors to be considered in determining whether a modification is minor include the value and size of the modification and the comparative value and size of the final product. Dollar values and percentages may be used as guideposts, but are not conclusive evidence that a modification is minor;
(4) Any combination of items meeting the requirements of paragraphs (1), (2), (3), or (5) of this definition that are of a type customarily combined and sold in combination to the general public;
(5) Installation services, maintenance services, repair services, training services, and other services if—
(i) Such services are procured for support of an item referred to in paragraph (1), (2), (3), or (4) of this definition, regardless of whether such services are provided by the same source or at the same time as the item; and
(ii) The source of such services provides similar services contemporaneously to the general public under terms and conditions similar to those offered to the Federal Government;
(6) Services of a type offered and sold competitively in substantial quantities in the commercial marketplace based on established catalog or market prices for specific tasks performed or specific outcomes to be achieved and under standard commercial terms and conditions. For purposes of these services—
(i) “Catalog price” means a price included in a catalog, price list, schedule, or other form that is regularly maintained by the manufacturer or vendor, is either published or otherwise available for inspection by customers, and states prices at which sales are currently, or were last, made to a significant number of buyers constituting the general public; and
(ii) “Market prices” means current prices that are established in the course of ordinary trade between buyers and sellers free to bargain and that can be substantiated through competition or from sources independent of the offerors.
(7) Any item, combination of items, or service referred to in paragraphs (1) through (6) of this definition, notwithstanding the fact that the item, combination of items, or service is transferred between or among separate divisions, subsidiaries, or affiliates of a contractor; or
(8) A non-developmental item, if the procuring agency determines the item was developed exclusively at private expense and sold in substantial quantities, on a competitive basis, to multiple State and local governments.
“Commercially available off-the-shelf (COTS) item—”
(1) Means any item of supply (including construction material) that is—
(i) A commercial item (as defined in paragraph (1) of the definition in this section);
(ii) Sold in substantial quantities in the commercial marketplace; and
(iii) Offered to the Government, under a contract or subcontract at any tier, without modification, in the same form in which it is sold in the commercial marketplace; and
(2) Does not include bulk cargo, as defined in 46 U.S.C. 40102(4), such as agricultural products and petroleum products.
(Posted: November, 2013)