Unauthorized commitments can cost money

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Michael Debreczeni
  • 374th Contracting Squadron commander
The opening chapter of the Federal Acquisition Regulation defines a contracting officer as the only person with the authority to legally bind the government by signing a contractual instrument.

On occasion the 374th Contracting Squadron learns of an unauthorized commitment. Often times we learn of these when contractors call us requesting our assistance in getting them paid.

If you take action that reasonably causes or results in a contractor expending resources, money, or incurring costs to prepare or perform a contract and you do not have contracting authority, then it's likely that you have committed an unauthorized commitment.

An unauthorized commitment is an agreement or purchase that is not binding on the government because it was made in violation of applicable laws and regulations.

Usually, doing market research to find out what is available in the market or making inquiries simply to find more competition will not normally result in an unauthorized commitment.

When conducting market research contractors need to understand that you are not requiring the contractor to do anything to prepare for a possible order or that it would be to the potential contractor's benefit to do so.

You may not indicate that a particular contractor will get any business or that they will be given any priority over potential competitors.

Understand that many officials have responsibility to accomplish tasks that support the mission, but do not confuse that responsibility with the authority to commit the government to pay money or incur an obligation to pay money.

If you have the responsibility to get a mission done and lack the contracting authority to get it done, then it's your responsibility to notify your chain of command for assistance - do not cause an unauthorized commitment.

If you do commit the government and you don't have the authority, then the general rule is that you have bought the service or item and you will be paying the invoice - not the government. Under certain circumstances, you can also end up paying a fine and serving time in a federal prison.

In some cases an unauthorized commitment can be ratified. However, the ratification process is a lengthy, complicated process involving notification of commanders at various echelons depending on dollar amounts.

The individual making the unauthorized commitment must explain the circumstances and indicate why proper procurement procedures were not followed.

The commander must also prepare a written statement and explain corrective actions taken to ensure it will not happen again and of course funds need to be available.

The entire ratification package is then reviewed by the staff judge advocate to determine the proper course of action.

An unauthorized commitment creates a lose-lose situation for both the government and contractor.

If you are in doubt as to the propriety of taking any particular action that may result in an unauthorized commitment, call the contracting office at 225-7199 or 011-81-3117-55-7199.