Understanding the Difference: Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) vs. Other Transaction Agreements (OTA)

In the realm of government contracting and procurement, navigating the various mechanisms available can be a daunting task. Among these mechanisms, two terms often discussed are Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) and Other Transaction Agreements (OTA). While they might seem similar at first glance, understanding their differences is crucial for both government agencies and industry partners. Let’s delve into what sets them apart.

Other Transaction Agreements (OTA)

OTA is often hailed as a flexible and streamlined approach to engaging with industry partners for research, technology development, and prototype projects. Authorized by law, OTAs offer a departure from traditional procurement regulations governed by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). These agreements allow the government to work with non-traditional contractors, including startups and small businesses, fostering innovation and agility in the acquisition process.

Definition: A Other Transaction (OT) is an legal instrument issued by the federal government that is not a contract, cooperative agreement or grant.

Key features of OTA include:

  1. Flexibility: OTAs allow for tailored agreements outside the constraints of FAR regulations, enabling rapid prototyping and experimentation.
  2. Non-traditional Partnerships: Government agencies can collaborate with a diverse range of industry partners, including those that might not typically engage in federal contracting.
  3. Speed: By circumventing traditional procurement processes, OTAs can expedite project initiation and delivery, supporting agile development cycles.

Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO)

On the other hand, CSO is a solicitation method employed by government agencies, offering a pathway for acquiring innovative commercial solutions. Unlike OTAs, CSO can be either non-FAR or FAR-based, providing agencies with flexibility in their procurement approaches. CSO aims to leverage market research and industry expertise to identify existing commercial products or services that meet the government’s needs.

Definition: Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) is a non-Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) based solicitation authority for acquiring innovative and commercial solutions.

Key features of CSO include:

  1. Market-driven Approach: CSO relies on market research to identify and solicit commercial solutions that align with the government’s requirements.
  2. Competition: Similar to traditional procurement methods, CSO involves competitive processes where multiple vendors can submit proposals to address the solicited requirements.
  3. Flexibility: Depending on the agency’s needs, CSO can adhere to FAR regulations or opt for non-FAR-based approaches, providing adaptability in procurement strategies.

Distinguishing Factors

While both OTA and CSO offer alternatives to traditional procurement methods, their primary distinction lies in their nature and purpose. OTA serves as a legally binding agreement facilitating innovative research and development initiatives, while CSO functions as a solicitation method aimed at acquiring existing commercial solutions.


Understanding the nuances between OTA and CSO is essential for government agencies seeking to leverage innovative technologies and for industry partners eager to engage with the public sector. By recognizing the unique characteristics of each mechanism, stakeholders can navigate the procurement landscape more effectively, driving progress and innovation in government projects.