Sole Source Justification

  • Sole Source

    Sole Source – as defined by South Carolina law, a Sole Source purchase is one where there is only one source (one supplier) that could possibly supply the required product or service. Examples of Sole Source transactions are:

    • There is only one supplier that can meet the required specifications.
    • The product that is required is under patent, copyright, or proprietary design.
    • The product is available only direct from the manufacturer.
    • The product is a replacement part or component for existing equipment and only available from one source.

    What is NOT a sole source:

    • Something deemed to be the “best” fit for a specific purpose (by going through a process to determine what is “best” you are actually conducting a procurement process).

    • Something that is a “really good deal” – a vendor giving a great price for a short time, or only has one item available that we won’t get if we don’t place a PO now.

    • A good price, no time to do a bid, or stating it is the “best” anything are not reasons for sole source.

    • Something where there are multiple sources of supply but one supplier may be unique in how they do something, or we’ve used one in the past, or other institutions have used a supplier – these are examples of “single source” but not sole source.  With Single Source suppliers, we have a preferred but under SC law, those are not “sole” or only possible supplier so we would still need to compete, most likely via a Request for Proposal.

    Sole Source Justification >$10K

    Sole Source Justifications are only required if purchase is greater than $10,000.  If you are making a purchase that is >$10K, you must use the Sole Source form in buyWays and must provide very detailed and specific justification.  The rest of this information on this page should be used as guidance for providing this justification.

    **(new 8/2019) Sole Source Justification >$50K

    The law now requires that we issue an Intent to Sole Source for those sole sources that are greater than $50K.  It must be advertised for 5 business days (or 10 business days if >$250K).  The purpose of this requirement is to transparently notify other suppliers of our intent so they can notify us if they believe they are also able to provide the same good or service.

    Because of this new requirement, it is very important for the end user to understand the potential implications.  Submitted a sole source because they think it is the fastest/easiest option may backfire because the process could take MUCH longer if it is not a sole source and another supplier protests or questions the justification.  If we are not absolutely sure that something is a sole source it would make a lot more sense to do a bid/RFP as that may be a faster process with fewer issues.  Your buyer can provide you advice on this, so please contact someone in Procurement if you have any questions or doubt as to a potential sole source. 

    For something that is truly a sole source, nothing changes – you still need a solid justification that can stand on its own if another supplier asks why we are purchasing from a specific supplier.  However, because it is out there publically, it is just open to more scrutiny. 

    What makes a good sole source justification:

    A simple statement explaining 1) what requirement you have, 2) why the equipment or service must meet that requirement, 3) why a particular piece of equipment or service is the ONLY one that can meet that requirement, and 4) how you know it is only available from the one specific vendor.

    General Tips for a good sole source justification:

    • Do NOT say “see attached”; you must write the justification in the space provided in the form in buyWays.  It is much preferred to simply write a short paragraph than to write a long, formal memo that needs to be deciphered.  When it comes to sole source, quality is WAY more important than quantity.  If multiple items are truly unique in your justification, pick just one to explain in detail and use as your justification.

    • Do NOT provide more details than required above;  why it is a rush, why it is a good deal, or outlining specifications that are not unique to this purchase are irrelevant and should not be included.  A good justification based on a single, well justified requirement is much better than a long, drawn out, confusing justification.

    • Do NOT use word such as “we selected,” “a committee chose,” or “better than …;” these all suggest that an informal procurement process was used to select the product or service over another.

    • DO highlight any requirements for compatibility with existing equipment (explain what we have and why our need must be compatible with it – then explain why it is the only compatible item); mention any ongoing research requirements.

    • Note that under SC law and University policy, sole sources require a written determination and approval by the Procurement Director and Comptroller, plus any departmental or VP approvals as necessary, so allow time for processing.


    updated 9/6/2023

  • Sole Source Justification: Research Continuity

    Making sure that the research being performed is not interrupted, affected, or changed by the introduction of another good and/or service that will disrupt the continuity of the research.  Similar to Compatibility.

    Good Examples: 

    • Clemson needs to purchase a seal tester that is compatible with equipment used by industry partners Printpack (founding member of CEFPACK - Center for flexible packaging) and with Sonoco in Hartsville. Because heat sealers have varying modes of operation, including the incline/direction of the pull for testing the heat seal, to conduct the required round robin testing with our partners, all parties must be using the same equipment for the research. The SL-10 Lab Hot Tack/Seal Tester LAB5010, sold solely by Testing Machines (TMI), is the only heat seal tester that will allow Clemson to participate in this collaborative research. For these reasons, this is a sole source procurement.

    • Clemson has used an XYZ machine to conduct research for studying the behavior of tennis balls.  In order to continue this research, Clemson needs an ABC machine to measure tennis ball tension.  The data that is being measured by both machines needs to be performed on devices that can communicate and share this data to ensure the data already measured will continue to be valid.  Company A is the only supplier that sells an ABC machine that will allow for continuity of data between the ABC and the XYZ machines.  Using another machine besides the ABC machine will invalidate all data collected thus far on this research project.  For these reasons, this is a sole source procurement.

    Poor Example:

    To continue research, Clemson needs to purchase this instrument.  (does not address the details about current research and what needs to be maintained or continued, as well as the risk of using another product).

    Helpful Hints:

    It is helpful to ask yourself: Why is this good and/or service essential to preserving or working with your current data and producing future data that is considered valid in your research?  Answer that question with specific detail that someone not familiar with the research can understand.

  • Sole Source Justification: Unique Design

    Looking at the form (the shape, size, dimensions, and mass), fit (the physical interface or interconnect with another items or assembly), and function (the action(s) that an item is designed to perform) of an item in comparison to other items. 

    Good Examples:

    • Clemson requires Thulium doped mode-locked fiber lasers and Hydrogen Raman Gas lasers for research on our home-made special optical fibers. The mode-locked lasers generate broad bandwidth and ultrashort optical pulses covering the optical spectrum from 1.7um to 2.1um and the Raman Gas lasers emit light at around 1.9um with smaller than 1nm accuracy. In order to characterize these fiber lasers, we need an optical spectrum analyzer (OSA) with the capabilities of both broad scanning range covering from 1.7um to 2.1um and high resolution of 0.1nm. Yokogawa is the only supplier that can provide such an OSA that meets these requirements. We researched other suppliers and even posted an Intent to Sole Source (see attached), all of which led to the determination that Yokogawa has the unique ability to meet our needs. For these reasons, this is a sole source procurement.

    • Clemson requires a box furnace with an inside square chamber of at least 9"x12"x8" that will run continuously with a programmable controller and fit in a space in our lab that is 20in wide X 28in length X 30in tall. These dimensions are required to fit in the space we have while being large enough inside to accommodate samples required for this research. The furnace must run at 1800C for long periods of time. There are many box furnaces on the market but there is only one supplier that specializes in making small, high temp furnaces with large inside capacity and that is CM Furnaces. No other supplier can provide a furnace that meets our requirements for this research as inside dimensions we require for this temperature require a much larger outside dimension that will not fit in the lab. CM only sells direct. For these reasons, this is a sole source procurement.

    • Clemson is conducting research on high-power fiber lasers by using our special optical fibers with the dimension up to 500um diameter which is fabricated here at Clemson. In order to build the fiber lasers, we need a fiber recoater with the capability to coat polymer on the optical fiber up to 500um diameter. Regular fiber recoaters can only coat the fiber with 125um diameter and are not suitable for our special home-made optical fibers. AFL Telecommunications LLC is the only vendor that can provide the fiber recoater for optical fiber up to 500um diameter with their customized mold. No other supplier can provide a recoater that can process to these specs. For these reasons, this is a sole source procurement. 

    Poor Example:

    We require a new widget.  We’ve looked at many widgets and this is the best one out there.  A lot of other schools use this widget.  It is the best widget ever.  (does not address WHAT specifically we need and why nor does it address why it is only available from this supplier.  This appears to be something that should be bid, as it might be “best” but not sole source).

    Helpful Hints:  

    • Be specific. Don’t assume someone is familiar with your needs or existing constraints.

    • Can another supplier possibly provide something that COULD work?  If so, even if not the best option (more expensive, less ideal performance, etc…) then it may not be a sole source.  Consider addressing the justification to provide to a supplier that will not be getting the order.

    • Use Form and Function as a guide:
      • Form: the shape, size, dimensions and mass of the equipment
      • Function: does it meet the required specifications and performance
  • Sole Source Justification: Compatibility

    The goods being purchased are capable of performing with another good without issue;  it is designed to work or operate with another good or system without modification.   

    Good Examples:

    • Clemson owns a Sensititre Optiread (Decal # 218-85) automated fluorometric plate reading system that is used at the AVS lab and requires an add-on module that will help the system with incubating and reading susceptible plates in a fully automated process. The system must be compatible with this existing system. The only system that would meet these requirements is the Sensititre ARIS 2X system that is sold solely by Thermo Scientific through their Remel reseller. No other supplier can provide a compatible system, therefore this is a sole source procurement.

    • Clemson requires a new ellipsometer to continue research in protein adsorption to nanostructured surfaces and under the application of an electric potential. This is ongoing research that a new faculty member has been conducting at his previous school over the past 10 years. In order to continue this research project for Clemson, Chemistry needs to purchase an identical ellipsometer to allow for the transfer of existing/current data files so that data already collected will not be invalidated as research continues. The data are mathematical models that required years of development and are needed to continue research. In addition there are several customized parts and procedures that have been characterized and would only fit the existing JA Woollam equipment. As the OEM of the original ellipsometer, they are the only supplier that would be able to supply a machine compatible with this research. They only sell direct. For these reasons, this is a sole source procurement.

    • Clemson needs to purchase a seal tester that is compatible with equipment used by industry partners Printpack (founding member of CEFPACK - Center for flexible packaging) and with Sonoco in Hartsville. Because heat sealers have varying modes of operation, including the incline/direction of the pull for testing the heat seal, to conduct the required round robin testing with our partners, all parties must be using the same equipment for the research. The SL-10 Lab Hot Tack/Seal Tester LAB5010, sold solely by Testing Machines (TMI), is the only heat seal tester that will allow Clemson to participate in this collaborative research. The other seller of this equipment, Lakotool, was recently acquired by TMI, making TMI the sole seller of this equipment. For these reasons, this is a sole source procurement.

    Poor Example:

    We have a microscope that needs a new part.  The new part is only available from Supplier A.  (not specific…what type of microscope?  Why does it need new part? Etc…)

    Helpful Hints: 

    • Explain any impact on current or ongoing research that would result by going with a different item or supplier.  What specifically would happen?  Why couldn’t another item or supplier work?
    • Use Fit as a guide:
      • Fit:  how well does the good interface or interconnect with other goods, a system, or assembly 
  • Sole Source Justification: Individuals Unique Qualifications Required

    Occasionally contracting with an individual is required.  The vast majority of the time, this is NOT going to be a sole source because it is nearly impossible to justify that one person is the ONLY person in the world that can do something.  Most of the time, the best that can be justified is that they are “best” qualified, which would not be a sole source.  However, if you feel an individual is REQUIRED based on qualifications they have, a sole source may be appropriate.  The key with this justification is to explain in details the required qualifications – why we need someone with that specific qualification and how we know this is the only supplier with this qualification.  

    Good Example:

    Clemson requires a consultant to aid in submitting a joint CU-ICAR and IIT Gandhinagar (ITT-G) proposal to the Tata Trust Foundation for potential endowment and fellowships/ scholarships. A consultant is needed that is familiar with CU-ICAR and ITT-G, as well as familiar with the Tata Trust to increase the probability of a successful proposal. Dr. Khorana is the only consultant with these unique connections required for this work. He has worked directly with Mr. Tata, the overseer of this Trust, as well as both schools (CU-ICAR and ITT- G). Dr. Khorona is the only person with a unique blend of experience and relationships with CU, IIT-G, and Tata Trusts that enable him to promote Clemson's interests in an academic focus area with a strategic geographic alignment. No other supplier has this unique skill set so no other supplier could even be considered. For these reasons, this is a sole source procurement.

    Poor Example:

    Joe Smith is needed to assist with this work.  Joe is a world-renowned expert and has done this hundreds of times.  No one is as good as Joe and/or no one but Joe could do this work. (Joe may be “best” qualified but not the ONLY one that could do it.  An RFP should be used that may ultimately result in Joes selection as best option, but other individuals could possibly respond).

    Helpful Hints: 

    • Very rarely used or approved.  An RFP to choose the “best” qualified individual or consultant is most times the better option.
    • If using, be sure to focus on the unique qualifications – why do we need someone with that qualification and why is this the only person that could possibly have that qualification?
  • Sole Source Justification: Legal Requirement

    An urgent need for goods and/or services.

    Good Examples: 

    Clemson is opening a Raising Cane's franchise and according to the franchisee agreement, Raising Cane's requires that Clemson purchase custom fabricated components for the set up of the restaurant from their supplier, N. Wasserstrom & Sons (see attached letter). Under our agreement no other supplier is able to supply these components for our Raising Cane's restaurant. For these reasons, this is a sole source procurement.

    Clemson has a subcontract grant, effective July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016, by and between Mississippi State University and Clemson University for the purpose of providing for the employment and support by CLEMSON of the Executive Director, Association of Southern Region Extension Directors (ASRED) of which CLEMSON AND MISSISSIPPI are members. Pursuant to this grant, there is no other vendor that could provide this support without violating the terms of the grant. For this reason, this is a sole source procurement.

    Poor Example:

    We are required to use this supplier because the group giving us the money asked us to use this supplier.  (if it is in the grant and specifies this supplier, then a Grant Specified Procurement or Procurement Certification may be appropriate.  If it is not in writing as part of the grant/contract, then consider asking the Grantor to amend the grant/contract to make this a requirement.  If it is not part of the contract, we cannot say it is a legal requirement).

    Helpful Hints: 

    • Provide documentation that supports any legal requirement to use a specific supplier.
    • If it is not in writing somewhere, it is not a legal/contractual requirement.
    • Consider a Grant Specified Procurement if the purchase is related to a Grant requirement.
  • Sole Source Justification: OEM Replacement Parts and/or Service

    An item that is part of an overall piece of equipment or system needs replacement and only the original equipment manufacturer makes and distributes the item

    Good Examples: 

    • Clemson currently owns an NB5000 dual-beam system microscope at the Electron Microscope Facility with EDS and EBSD detectors from EDAX. EDAX is the only vendor with trained technicians capable of providing ongoing maintenance support for this equipment. No other vendor can service this equipment therefore this is a sole source procurement.

    • Clemson owns a Lansmont hydraulic vibration system that requires maintenance and work to upgrade and bring up to date after being in operation for 25+ years. Lansmont has been recently acquired by Data Physics. Data Physics, as now the OEM of this system, is the only supplier that is able to provide the custom parts that will be compatible with the existing system as well as the technicians trained and able to perform this upgrade. No other supplier can provide what is required to bring this vibration system to the level required for continued research. Data Physics only sells these parts direct. For these reasons, this is a sole source procurement.

    • Clemson currently has a Malvern S90 dynamic light scattering system for measuring the size of nanoparticles in suspensions and we need to modify this to a Malvern ZS90 system that would allow for the ability to measure the surface charge of the nanoparticles. Only Malvern instruments performs such an upgrade on the Malvern S90 instrument. This modification cannot be purchased as a separate instrument by itself. Since we are using Malvern S90 for measuring the nanoparticle size, it is important measure the other properties also with same instrument simultaneously. No other supplier can sell a system that is compatible with this existing equipment and meets these specifications. For these reasons, this is a sole source procurement.

    Bad Example: 

    We have a piece of equipment that only Supplier A can service or provide a part for.  (be specific in terms of what the equipment is, what and why it needs parts or service, and why can only one supplier provide.  Many times in this case there are distributors or dealers that may be able to sell parts or provide service, so something confirming the OEM is the only one that can do this may be helpful, especially on higher dollar purchases).

    Helpful Hints: 

    • Provide documentation showing that the replacement part can only come from the original equipment manufacturer or from one source.