On this page you will find information about Sole Source Purchases. Before proceeding with a sole source purchase, consider the following:

What is a Sole Source?

A Sole Source is a method of acquisition. It is not to be used to avoid competition. Insofar as practicable, all purchases shall be based on competitive solicitations; however, competitive solicitations are not necessary for:
  • Purchases which are clearly and legitimately limited to a single (sole) source of supply; and,
  • Purchases involving special services, or market conditions, in which instances the purchase price may be best established by direct negotiation.” (39.26 RCW)

A "Sole Source" purchase means that only one supplier (source), to the best of the requester's knowledge and belief, based upon thorough research, (i.e. conducting a market survey), is capable of delivering the required product or service. Similar types of goods and services may exist, but only one supplier, for reasons of expertise, and / or standardization, quality, compatibility with existing equipment, specifications, or availability, is the only source that is acceptable to meet a specific need.

Price cannot be used as a factor in determining if a sole source exists because it indicates the existence of a competitive marketplace.

A sole source justification is required for every purchase over the direct buy limit (currently $10K) unless the purchase is being competitively solicited. Sole source justifications must be approved by a Procurement Services Buyer prior to an order being placed.



Sole Source Justification Criteria

The following list of criteria may be used in determining if a single or sole source situation exists:

  1. Only one manufacturer makes the item meeting salient specifications; that manufacturer only sells direct/exclusively through one regional/national representative;
  2. Item required must be identical to equipment already in use by the end user, to insure compatibility of equipment, and that item is only available from one source; same reasoning applied in the continuation of research situation.
  3. Collaborative project- Supplier is named by the funding source, inter-agency agreement or clinical trials where the identical equipment is required for compatibility and continuity of research.
  4. Maintenance or repair calls by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) are required for a piece of equipment, and the manufacturer does not have multiple agents to perform these services.
  5. Replacement or spare parts are required from the OEM, and the OEM. does not have distributors for those parts.
  6. Patented items or copyrighted materials, which are only available from the patent or copyright holder.
  7. A medical/surgical decision by a medical/dental professional, where a specific brand is required for patient care, and the manufacturer has no multiple distributors for the product.
  8. Unique expertise, background in recognized field of endeavor, the result of which may depend primarily on the individual's invention, imagination, or talent.  Consultant has advanced or specialized knowledge, or expertise gained over an extensive period of time in a specialized field of experience.
  9. A Market Survey has been conducted to determine whether other potential sources capable of satisfying the requirement exist.   A list of the suppliers contacted, along with the reason why each supplier could not meet the requirements may justify a sole source purchase. Market Survey Defined: A "market survey" refers to efforts to determine whether other qualified sources capable of satisfying the UW's requirement exist. Testing the marketplace may range from telephone to written contacts with suppliers' experts regarding similar or duplicate goods and services. The extent of the market survey depends on what constitutes a reasonable effort under the circumstances to ensure that competition is not feasible. If only one source is identified as a result of the market research, this fact may be used to help justify a noncompetitive acquisition.

Note: An item being a “sole brand” or a “sole manufacturer” does not automatically qualify to be a “sole source”. Many manufacturers sell their products through distributors. Therefore, even if a purchase is identified as a valid “sole brand” or “sole manufacturer”, the requester should verify whether the manufacturer has multiple distributors. If the manufacturer does have multiple distributors, competition should be sought among the distributors.

Sole Source Statement and Ethics

Individuals writing sole source statements need to understand that the statements carry weight similar to a perjury statement.  University personnel must not make any false or misleading statement in any official report or statement.

For more on UW Purchasing Ethics see: UW Administrative Policy Statement 52.1 Section 2.C Ethics in Relation to Sole Source Statements.

Characteristics of the Three Types of Purchases

►Characteristics of Goods and Purchased Services
"Goods" means material, supplies and equipment offered for sale by a supplier(s) and required by the university to accomplish continuing and necessary functions and not otherwise statutorily exempted.
"Purchased Services" are more repetitive, routine or mechanical in nature; following established or standardized procedures. Services contribute to the day-to-day business operations of the agency.
►Characteristics of IT Equipment
IT "Equipment" means the machines, devices, and transmission facilities used in information processing
►Characteristics of Personal Services and IT Personal Services
Personal Services and IT Personal Services" are professional or technical in nature and meet more specialized needs. Work is predominantly intellectual and varied.Work is independent from the day-to-day control of the agency; consultant maintains control of work methods. Work requires regular exercise of judgment, discretion, and decision-making; involves providing advice, opinions, or recommendations; may have policy-implications for agency; often addresses management-level issues. May require advanced or specialized knowledge, or expertise gained over an extensive period of time in a specialized field of experience. Work may be original and creative in character in a recognized field of endeavor, the result of which may depend primarily on the individual's invention, imagination, or talent.


Sole source purchases over $10,000 made with state-appropriated funds require advance approval by the State of Washington Department of Enterprise Services (DES). This approval process is in addition to the UW's approval process.

DES requires a mandatory minimum of 10 days to review and approve a sole source purchase, so keep this in mind in estimating the timeline for a purchase. Procurement Services buying staff cannot expedite the DES review process. Campus should be prepared to allow two additional weeks for the procurement process if state funds are used. State funded sole sources must also be publicly advertised on the UW website for 10 days, and on the State's WEBS website for 5 days, before the purchase may be made.

Campus customers can determine if a purchase is being made with state-appropriated funds by looking at the budget in MyFD (My Financial Desktop). If the budget field entitled “State Fund” says “No Value”, that means the budget is NOT state-appropriated funds.  If there is any value (such as 001) in that field, then the budget is state-appropriated funds. (There is also an identifier on the requisition that alerts the Buyer when a purchase requisition has state-appropriated funding.)

The following are examples of exemptions from the State's sole source rules, they are NOT exemptions from UW sole source rules:

  • OEM maintenance service contracts purchased from the OEM (original equipment manufacturer)
  • Contracts related to educational curriculum
  • Professional development conferences, seminars, professional licenses
  • If more than 50% of the funding for a purchase is from non-state appropriated funds


Please Note:

This webpage does not imply that individuals have the authority to purchase goods & services at any dollar amount or via any specific method.  Users are advised to consult directly with their own department or division regarding internal policies that may limit their authority to purchase.