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Government Contracts: A Beginner’s Guide

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This post was co-authored by Barbara Bavis and Robert Brammer, Legal Reference Librarians.

Despite the federal government’s recent reduction in spending—according to Bloomberg, federal “government spending on contracts fell 3.1 percent last year, the biggest one-year decline since 1997”—government contracting is still a big business nationwide.  The multitude of laws and regulations that control a company’s ability to successfully obtain and maintain a contract with the government can largely seem a maze, however.  To help our patrons who are interested in contracting with the federal government (or even those who are simply interested in the consequences of such a contracting relationship), we turn our attention to the law surrounding government contracts.

Like we have with some of our other Beginner’s Guides, we will provide information about the paper-based secondary and primary sources in the area, and then refer to some internet-based sources that may be of some assistance.


Pan American awarded New York-Bermuda airmail contract. Washington, D.C., Jan. 15. (Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division).
Pan American awarded New York-Bermuda airmail contract. Washington, D.C. (Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division).

We often advise patrons to use a legal treatise when beginning legal research in a new area of law. This advice is particularly important when dealing with the law regarding government contracts.

For True Beginners


Before the Contract/Negotiation

After the Contract

Statutes and Regulations

The treatises above should provide a good amount of context for the federal statutes and regulations regarding government contracts.  To further examine the statutes and regulations that most interest you, please note the sources below.


Most federal statutes regarding government contracts can be found in Title 41 of the United States Code (U.S.C.), “Government Contracts.”  The notable exceptions to this general rule are the Anti-Deficiency Act and Armed Services Procurement Act statutes, which can be found in Title 31 and Title 10, respectively.

  • Federal Property and Administrative Services Act (63 Stat. 377), Office of Federal Procurement Policy Act (88 Stat. 796), and Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (108 Stat. 3243) – 41 U.S.C. § 101 et seq.
  • Anti-Deficiency Act – 31 U.S.C. § 1341 et seq.
  • Armed Services Procurement Act – 10 U.S.C. §§ 2301-2314


Regulations are an essential component of legal research, and are of vital importance in the area of government contracts.  Please find some of the most frequently utilized regulations in this area of law listed below.

Court and Agency Decisions

In addition to reviewing the statutes and regulations that control government contracts, it is important to look to decisions made by courts and agencies regarding specific contract-related issues.  Fortunately, there are several frequently-updated collections of these decisions, including:

Many recent decisions regarding government contracts can also be found on the websites of the judicial and administrative courts that have jurisdiction over these issues.  Some of the most widely-used of these websites are:


In addition to the resources listed above, the internet offers a great deal of material that may be of assistance with research on government contracts. Please find research guides, forms, and even classes linked below.

Research Guides/Classes



We hope you found this guide helpful. Do you have a favorite resource related to government contracts? Please let us know in the comments section. If you have any questions, please contact the Law Library of Congress.


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