Who Can Bind The Government
Oftentimes in procurements multiple individuals will represent the government, handling various aspects of the contract award and administration. Procurements will have a “contracting officer,” also known as a CO or KO, as well as one or more “contracting officer representatives,” also known as a COR, such as assistant contracting officers, technical representatives, contract specialists, and task order managers. While the title describes the job function of the COR, it is irrelevant in terms of that individual’s authority to bind the government. A COR’s authority derives specifically from a written instrument by the Contracting Officer that designates and authorizes the COR to perform specific contract administration or technical functions on contracts or task/delivery orders.
Only contracting officers have the authority to delegate procurement functions and assign a COR. A COR is not authorized to further delegate any of this responsibility. The term COR does not include employees of a contract administration office (CAO) who perform technical or administrative functions in connection with contracts that have been delegated under FAR 42.202(a) to the CAO.
This distinction between a Contracting Officer and a Contracting Officer’s Representative is important for contractors to understand because a COR does not have authority to bind the government (although in limited circumstances, a CO may ratify a COR’s unauthorized commitment). Therefore, a contractor cannot make decisions or take action on a contract based on the advice of a COR without risking default or loss. If a contractor relies on the advice or decision of a COR, then it bears the risk of loss. The government is not required to honor any change to a contract or action taken by the contractor based on a COR recommendation. Only a Contracting Officer has authority to bind the government. So, if a contractor needs a change to the contract in price, for example, only the Contracting Officer can legally effectuate it.
The lesson here is for contractors is to be sure to get the opinion of the procurement’s Contracting Officer prior to acting or to administer any needed change to the contract. Otherwise, any loss as a result of action taken on the advice or response from a COR will be borne by the contractor.