Help Us Help You: Avoiding Unauthorized Commitments and Pecuniary Punishment

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Kelly Snyder
  • 355th Contracting Squadron
Does your monthly budget include spending $17,000 so that others can relax on vacation? Do you save so that you could splurge and dish out $1,700 for somebody else to have an aerobics instructor, or a cool $5,700 for diesel fuel? What's that you say? You answered 'no' to these questions? Although these scenarios seem ridiculous, they were near reality for some D-M personnel within the past year as a result of unauthorized commitments.

An unauthorized commitment is an agreement that is not binding solely because the government representative who made it, lacked the authority to enter into an agreement on behalf of the government. As a violation of the Federal Acquisition Regulation, unauthorized commitments are a violation of federal law and may lead to disciplinary and financial punishment.

As evident from the near government shut-down and continuing heated budget debates around Washington, the federal government does not have money to waste in these tough economic times and neither do you. However, when unauthorized commitments are made, individuals can be held accountable for the costs and may have to pay out-of-pocket.

Some reasons people run into this situation are because they didn't have the authority to make the purchase, their organization did not have the money at the time of the commitment or extensive market research was not done before the action.

The federal government has the inherent power to enter into contracts, which is delegated to personnel appointed as contracting officers who become agents of the U.S. Government. Contracting officers are the only government officials authorized to enter into or change existing contracts or agreements that will obligate funds for the government. No other individual may legally obligate the government unless they have written authorization from a Contracting officer, or the Chief of the Contracting Office for the use of the Government-wide Purchase Card.

Thankfully for many, not all unauthorized commitments result in individual out-of-pocket expense. A process exists that allows appropriate authorities the ability to ratify unauthorized commitments in order to legally use government funds to pay for products and services. One word to describe the ratification process is humiliating. This lengthy and tedious process attracts negative attention to the individual, their organization and the entire base. Those involved include squadron and group commanders, contracting squadron commander, potentially the wing commander and perhaps higher depending on the dollar value. If specific conditions were not met when the unauthorized commitment occurred, then it cannot be ratified. The only appeal authority for this situation is the Government Accountability Office.

By following these rules, individuals can protect themselves and taxpayer dollars:
  • Airmen shouldn't make any verbal or written commitments to contractors if not authorized to do so.
  • Airmen shouldn't pay for any items out-of-pocket and expect reimbursement.¬†
  • Airmen shouldn't make any changes outside the scope of the contract.
  • ¬†Airmen shouldn't let contractors use government equipment without proper authority and documentation.
  • Airmen shouldn't give the impression that they have been given authority to make purchase if they do not have that authority.
  • Airmen shouldn't exceed GPC thresholds (supplies and equipment, $3,000; services, $2,500; construction, $2,000).
Remember, to an ordinary civilian we are all representatives of the government and they may not know the distinction between those individuals authorized vs. unauthorized to obligate the government. It is your personal responsibility as a government employee or military member to recognize this difference and to know what is within your authority. Be alert and contact the 355th Contracting Squadron for assistance.

If you're unsure about any issue pertaining to contracts, contractors or GPC purchases, call the 355th Contracting Squadron at 228-3131. Unauthorized commitments are completely avoidable and can lead to an embarrassing and costly situation involving many people far up the chain of command. Either way, personal funds or tax dollars will pay for these mistakes.

Regulations often change, and all contracts are different. What may be correct for one contract may not be appropriate for another. The 355th Contracting Squadron is filled with contracting officers and specialists to assist in finding the right answers. If unsure of any situation, ask questions to get clarification.