If you’re new to the world of federal grants and acquisitions, there are several key phrases, definitions and acronyms you will want to become familiar with as you pursue these new opportunities. The Gallium Solutions team has created this growing, go-to list to help you navigate U.S. government language.

Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL)

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is a scientific research organization operated by the United States Air Force Materiel Command, dedicated to leading the discovery, development, and integration of aerospace war-fighting technologies, planning and executing the Air Force science and technology program, and providing war-fighting capabilities to United States air, space, and cyberspace forces. It is located at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.


AFVENTURES is a collaboration of Air Force Acquisition, AFWERX, and Air Force SBIR/STTR. It works as a means for commercial innovators and private capital investment to help the Department of the Air Force solve problems and deliver better capacity more efficiently to the warfighter.


The innovation arm of the Department of the Air Force that is powered by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). AFWERX accelerates agile and affordable capability transitions by teaming innovative technology developers with Airman and Guardian talent. AFWERX has three core arms: AFVentures, Spark and Prime which serve to expand the defense industrial base for advanced technologies, empower talent, and drive faster technology transition to operational capability.  AFWERX teams internationally across academia, industry and government to develop technology, expand talent, and transition dual-use capabilities.

Army Resource Laboratory

ARL is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command under Army Futures Command. ARL consists of four directors and the Army Research Office. These organizations focus on technology areas critical to strategic dominance across the entire spectrum of operations. The directorates included Computational and Information Sciences, Human Research and Engineering, Sensors and Electron Devices, and Weapons and Materials Research. 

Broad Agency Announcement

A general announcement of an agency’s research interest which can include topic areas of interests, criteria for selecting proposals, a formal solicitation for interested offers and criteria that can satisfy the government’s needs.

CAGE code

A Commercial and Governmental Entity (CAGE) code is assigned to businesses using sam.gov to identify a company. This five-character alpha-numeric, unique identifier is assigned by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). 

Cost Reimbursement Contracts

In a cost reimbursement contract the government reimburses a contractor for allowable, reasonable, and allocable costs associated with the contract requirements.  This contract type is seldom used with small businesses, as invoicing and payment requires an accounting system that meets Federal Cost Accounting Standards.

Customer/End User

In the Department of Defense, a customer is a designated individual representing a governmental entity that has acquisition authority to purchase technology. The customer represents the final users of the product, also known as end-users. Example: a general (customer) may be interested in new tire technology, which will be used by airplane ground/maintenance crews (end-users). Though infrequent, the customer and end-user can be the same.  This terminology does not extend across the entire government.

Department of Defense (DoD)

The Department of Defense is America's largest government agency with a national defense budget of $752.9 billion (FY 2022), 2.91 million service members and civilian employees, and 4,800 sites in more than 160 countries. Its mission is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and ensure our nation's security. The DoD includes all the US military's armed forces: Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and National Guard.

Department of Education (ED)

The U.S. Department of Education establishes policy for, administers and coordinates most federal assistance to education. It executes federal education policies and implements laws pertaining to education.

Department of Energy (DOE)

The Department of Energy manages the United States' nuclear infrastructure and administers the country's energy policy. The DoE is also charged with funding scientific research in the energy field. 

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The Department of Homeland Security protects our country's borders and manages the flow of people and products into and out of the United States. DHS has five core missions: preventing terrorism, securing borders, enforcing immigration law, safeguarding cyber systems, and ensuring resilience when disasters occur. The DHS includes several different departments including the Coast Guard (USCG), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), United States Secret Service (USSS), and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) among others.

Department of Transportation (DoT)

The Department of Transportation is responsible for planning and coordinating federal transportation projects. It also sets safety regulations for all major modes of transportation. The DoT also includes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is responsible for civil aviation. 

DUNS number

DUNS numbers are issued free via Dun & Bradstreet, a company that provides commercial data, analytics, and insights for businesses. DUNS numbers are unique, nine-digit numbers that specifically identify your company. In 2022, sam.gov phased out the use of DUNS numbers when registering on the website, but DUNS numbers can still be obtained and serve other non-governmental business purposes. DUNS numbers are used for a variety of reasons, such as providing your company’s D&B rating, assessing your company’s creditworthiness, or finding out more information about your company. 

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for protecting human health and the environment. The EPA develops and enforces environmental regulations based on laws passed by Congress. The EPA also sponsors and conducts research relating to these areas. 

Firm Fixed Price contract

A Firm Fixed Price (FFP) contract provides supplies or services for a specific price. It is not subject to any adjustment based on the contractor’s incurred costs. This contract type is very common in dealing with the federal government because it imposes minimum administrative burdens and the contractor assumes any risk in performance costs rather than passing increases on to the government.  It is typically used for acquiring supplies and services with reasonably definite specifications and when reasonable prices can be established at the outset.

Health and Human Services (HHS)

Health and Human Services is the U.S. government's principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services. HHS includes 11 operating divisions, including eight agencies in the U.S. Public Health Service and three human services agencies. Among the agencies under the HHS umbrella are the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Indefinite-Delivery, Indefinite-Quantity Contracts (IDIQ)

These contracts acquire supplies or services but do not specify a firm quantity that will be issued and delivered during the period of the contract (as delivery orders or task orders). The basic contract specifies the contract types authorized (e.g. Cost Reimbursement or Firm Fixed Price) and each task order will identify the specific contract type utilized. These are typically used when the government cannot predetermine, above a specified minimum, the precise quantities of supplies or services required during the contract period, and it is inadvisable for the government to commit itself for more than a minimum quantity. Used when a recurring need is anticipated.

Memo of Understanding (MOU)

A Memo of Understanding is an agreement between two or more parties outlined in a formal document. It is not legally binding but signals the willingness of the parties to move forward with a contract. When signing a MOU for a SBIR/STTR submission, AFWERX currently requires two signatures, one from the customer and one from the end-user.

NAICS code 

The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is a way to categorize businesses. Business owners self-assign the best NAICS codes that reflect their primary business activities. The NAICS System was developed for use by Federal Statistical Agencies for the collection, analysis and publication of statistical data related to the US Economy. NAICS codes provide size standards in accordance with number of employees and annual profit that categorize a business as Small or Large for each code.  NAICS codes are needed for when you register at sam.gov but can be added or modified once entered. Some government contracting opportunities are released under specific NAICS codes.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is responsible for science and technology relating to airplanes or space. NASA is an independent civilian space agency that is controlled by the Executive Branch of the US government. NASA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., but has 10 field centers located across the country.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency of the US government to support scientific research that transforms the future. Specifically, the NSF is tasked with supporting research in all fields of fundamental science and engineering, with the exception of medical sciences. The NSF is the funding source for approximately 25% of all federally supported basic research conducted by American colleges and universities.

Principal Investigator (PI)

The individual responsible for the preparation, conduct, and administration of a federal research grant, cooperative agreement, contract, or other funded project. A PI is generally identified for SBIR and STTR type programs.Typically, this person is required to work full time at the business. A contract amendment is required to change the PI once a contract is awarded.

Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) 

Upon registering at sam.gov, your company will be assigned a Unique Entity Identifier (UEI), a 12-digit code specifically identifies your company for the federal government. This code is issued free of charge.

United States Department of Commerce (DoC)

The Department of Commerce is responsible for creating the conditions for economic growth and opportunity for communities in the United States.  


The System for Award Management (SAM.gov) is a free website that businesses must register through to do business with the U.S. government.


An announcement released by an entity to solicit responses based on specific needs, interest and criteria. Solicitations provide comprehensive information about what the entity is looking for, a timeline, award criteria and guidelines for the submission structure. 

Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR)

A competitive multi-phase award system which provides qualified small business concerns with opportunities to propose innovative ideas that meet the specific research and development needs of the federal government. SBIRs do not require submitting companies to partner with a non-profit research institution as part of the process. Each year, Federal agencies with extramural research and development (R&D) budgets that exceed $100 million are required to allocate 3.2% (since FY2017) of this extramural R&D budget to fund small businesses through the SBIR program. Currently 11 Federal agencies participate in SBIR including USDA, DoD, DOC , DOE, ED, HHS (including NIH, CDC, and FAA), DHS, DoT, EPA, NASA, and NSF. Each agency administers its own individual program within guidelines established by Congress.  

Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR)

A competitive multi-phase award system which provides qualified small business concerns with opportunities to propose innovative ideas that meet the specific research and development needs of the federal government. Companies interested in pursuing STTR funding must partner/collaborate with a U.S.-based non-profit research institution, such as a university. This is the primary difference between the two programs. Federal agencies with extramural R&D budgets that exceed $1 billion are required to reserve 0.45% (since FY2016) of this extramural R&D budget for the STTR program. Currently, five federal agencies participate in STTR including DoD, HHS, NASA, DOE, and NSF.  Each agency administers its own individual program within guidelines established by Congress.  

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

The United States Department of Agriculture is the federal executive department responsible for developing and executing federal laws related to farming, forestry, rural economic development, and food.