By Steve Rizer
For those construction professionals entering the federal contracting game, it is important to be aware of the limited authority of federal officials, Hal Perloff, a partner in Husch Blackwell LLP, told attendees of a webinar for which WPL recently made a recording available -- free of charge -- to ConstructionPro Network (ConstructionProNet.com) subscribers. “This is something that can be maddening to deal with for someone who’s new at government contracts.”
Perloff explained that the federal government “is only bound by its agents acting within the scope of their authority, and on government contracts, there’s typically an individual called a ‘contracting officer’ who will be identified in a government solicitation, and that will be the individual who executes the contract on behalf of the government. The key thing here is the government can only act through its agents, and it only gives certain authority to those agents, so it’s critical at every step of the process to understand who you are dealing with [in] the government and whether that individual truly has the authority to do what’s being asked of you.”
Contracting officers are authorized “to spend a certain amount of money, and unless they’ve delegated that authority in writing to another individual, only that contracting officer has any ability to take any sort of official action with respect to your contracts, such as signing modifications and change orders,” Perloff said. “[T]he government will issue a letter to you identifying a host of other individuals who might be working on your contract. And it will also identify, with respect to each of those individuals, what their authority is. And, generally speaking, a lot of the local area reps -- your ROICs [resident officers in charge of contracts] and your local quality-assurance officers -- do not have authority to issue any changes or direct any changes to your work, and you can often run into a lot of problems in government contracts because those local individuals don’t have authority.”
It is also important to understand that many contracting officers do not have expertise in construction, Perloff said. Contracting officers often must “rely on their technical experts – those individuals I had talked about, [including] the inspectors and the local project managers – to advise them on technical issues, but the problem is that those local individuals typically don’t have authority or enough authority to take the actions that need to be taken, so everything has to get funneled up through the contracting officer, who doesn’t have, necessarily, particular expertise in construction.”
During the 90-minute webinar, Perloff and Brian Waagner, another partner in Husch Blackwell, also discussed the differences between government and commercial contracts; subcontract issues; the federal acquisition process; ways to find opportunities; contract award methods; special marketing considerations; key laws, regulations, and clauses; contract changes; terminations; certification requirements; and other topics.
For immediate access to the complete webinar (full audio and visual) -- as well as two dozen other construction-related webinars that are available for download -- sign up for a subscription to WPL Publishing’s ConstructionPro Network news and information service at http://constructionpronet.com/info/Charter2012.aspx.