Survey says, contracting officers bow to auditors

To contractors, it appears that contracting officers have fallen prey to auditors.

The relationship between government contractors and federal acquisition officials has been on the decline for several years now, according to a new Grant Thornton survey, but companies say their relationships with contracting officers have deteriorated more in the last year than in the past.

Grant Thornton surveyed more than 100 government contractors in 2011 for its 17th annual Grant Thornton Government Contractor Industry Survey, which was released Feb. 20. Of those contractors, 78 percent of them said the government is inefficient. But half of that 78 percent put the primary blame on the contracting officers, while 28 percent blame the auditors.

In an analysis of the responses, Grant Thornton said it’s a shift in blame from prior surveys in which most respondents blamed the Defense Contract Audit Agency for inefficiencies in resolving contract issues.

“It appears that respondents have come to expect delays from the DCAA, and are becoming more and more frustrated by the unwillingness of contracting officers to assert the decision-making authority granted to them in the procurement regulations,” according to the survey.

Grant Thornton said in practice, the auditors have been granted greater influence on contracting officers in recent years. They now exert more pressure on the officers regarding the resolution of a contracting issue involving contract costs or a contractor’s business systems. However, auditors are only advisors to the contracting officers.

“Predictably, the impact of this structural infighting has been to slow down the resolution of routine issues, with the government often paying a far higher cost than would have been paid had the auditor been limited to an advisory role as defined in the regulations,” Grant Thornton said.

Despite the shifts, auditors and contractors have had a not-so-good relationship, although the better relationship with contracting officers is hurting too.

The relationship with auditors was rated as “fair or poor” by 19 percent of the more than 100 surveyed companies, compared with 11 percent in the 16th annual survey.

The relationship with contracting officers was rated as “fair or poor” by 10 percent of the participants in the 17th annual survey, compared with 5 percent in the prior survey.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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