Rule underscores contracting officers' role

A new rule says contracting officers must ensure that ordering agencies' rules are followed.

Federal Acquisition Regulation; Federal Supply Schedules Services and Blanket Purchase Agreements

A new rule was published today to emphasize that contracting officers who place orders for another agency must ensure that the ordering agency's regulations are applied.

The rule, which amends the Federal Acquisition Regulation and pertains only to orders through the Federal Supply Schedules, also includes provisions regarding statements of work, blanket purchase agreements and sole-source contracting.

The rule reflects principles that already exist in statutes, and provides a mechanism for the government to enforce them, said Chip Mather, senior vice president at Acquisition Solutions Inc. and a former Air Force officer.

"It's clear in the statute that that's the requirement," he said. "This is about compliance. [Rules] have to be clearly understood and then you have to hold people accountable for applying them."

The new rule also holds that agencies can use sole-source procurement only if the need to do so is justified in writing and approved by agency officials. The rule designates different officials that must approve the need depending on the value of the contract.

The rules governing sole-source contracts had previously been scattered over various government Web sites and publications, sometimes in conflicting versions, Mather said.

"It's new guidance. It hadn't existed before," he said. "This is much-needed information."

Contracting practices have come under scrutiny recently. Last year, officials from GSA's Federal Technology Service were found to have misused a fund designated for information technology procurements. And recently, CACI International Inc. supplied prison interrogators to the military under an IT contract.

The new rule is a first step toward heading off such abuses, Mather said.

"Just the fact that they're now using the FAR to increase guidance and direction is a major step forward," he said. "Part of it's a management problem. Senior leadership does need to know what's going on in their activities. They do need to know what competitions are going on. Most procurement folks don't have the management systems in place to give them that information."

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