Beware of the contracting "rat"

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- What is a contracting "rat?" In the acquisition field, we call the ratification of an unauthorized commitment of government funds, "rats."

Just imagine you are gearing up for a visit by some dignitaries. Your supervisor tells you to take care of the landscaping in front of your building because it is not looking "pretty" enough for the dignitary team. Since you are the squadron superstar, you say no problem boss and immediately jump to the tasking. You thumb through the yellow pages and call Joe Bob at Earthworks, Inc. because he has a nice looking advertisement. Joe Bob comes out and before you know it Joe Bob has added new shrubbery, flowers, mulch, edging, and a nice tree--now we look good. He lays the bill on you and it's a cool $2,800.

Wow you say! However, you have no fear and head off to your friendly Resource Advisor and Government Purchase Cardholder for the $2,800 to pay Joe Bob.

To your surprise, the Resource Advisor shoots through the ceiling after turning two shades of red exclaiming, "We can't pay for this!"

She knows the rules and understands she has a "rat" because the Government Purchase Card can only be used to pay for items of this nature up to $2,500.

Sound farfetched? Not really, people make some really bad decisions sometimes in the name of just "getting the job done".

Keep in mind, contracts aren't just big documents that require a formal signature-sometimes they are just simple verbal agreements between a person trying to get the mission done and a vendor who doesn't know our contracting process. But at the end of the day -- despite the good intentions -- somebody is going to get in trouble for violating the law. You don't want to be the one.

The authority to obligate government funds and enter into contractual agreements resides only with warranted contracting officers. One area that is perfect for a "rat" is with the Government Purchase Card.

Some individuals in your squadrons have been delegated the authority to obtain pricing information and purchase certain items with their GPC within card limitations.

Keeping with our landscaping example, GPC holders can make open-market purchases of this nature up to $2,500. In this case, the individual exceeded this limit and thus we have a "rat". For "rats" less than $25,000, the 23rd Contracting Squadron Commander has the authority to ratify. If the "rat" is above $25,000, it must go to Headquarters Air Combat Command Contracting through the 23rd Wing Commander for ratification.

Individuals responsible for committing unauthorized contracting actions may be held liable for the cost of those actions and are subject to disciplinary action.

Once an unauthorized commitment is brought to the attention of the 23rd CONS, a warranted contracting officer must determine if the action can be resolved through the ratification process by ensuring:

(1) supplies or services have been provided to and accepted by the government, or that the government otherwise has obtained a benefit resulting from performance of the unauthorized commitment

(2) the ratifying official has the authority to enter into a contractual commitment;

(3) the resulting contract would otherwise have been proper if made by an appropriate contracting officer

(4) the contracting officer reviewing the unauthorized commitment determines the price to be fair and reasonable

(5) the contracting officer recommends payment and legal counsel concurs in the recommendation

(6) funds are available and were available at the time the unauthorized commitment was made; and finally

(7) the ratification is in accordance with any other limitations prescribed under agency procedures. Only if all of these seven characteristics are present, may the contracting officer pursue ratification procedures. If any one of the characteristics is not present, then the commitment is not ratifiable and you get stuck with the bill.

To protect yourself from getting into a ratification situation, become familiar with the following sample don'ts:

-Don't make any commitment to prospective contractors or give any information to one source unless all prospective sources are given the same information.

-Don't pay for an item expecting to get reimbursement later.

-Don't change shipping instructions except as stated in the contract.

-Don't give verbal instructions, which are outside the scope of the contract to incur additional cost.

-Don't let a contractor use government equipment or give any item of government furnished property without proper authority and documentation.

-Don't use your position to obtain personal advantages or give a contractor the impression that you have commitment authority.

-Don't exceed the limits of the GPC.

Again, the "rat" process is no fun for all involved. You stand the likelihood of getting your name in neon lights with your commander, group commander, wing commander, and possibly ACC if you cause a "rat". Understand the trap is out there on a daily basis.

Yes, you might be trying to get the job done; however, there are procedures in place to make the purchase correctly the first time and still be a hero.

Should you ever have any question on the best avenue to fulfill a requirement do not hesitate to contact 23rd CONS at 257-3453 for assistance--we exist for you.