Leave the buying to us

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brian Heaps
  • 14th Contracting Squadron
One of the great attributes of our Air Force is tthat we are normally well-trained to accomplish our mission. Whatever your Air Force specialty, Uncle Sam spends a lot of money preparing and equipping you to meet your part of the AF mission.

Contracting is no different. Our training prepares us to buy the commodities, services and construction to meet our mission. Part of this training consists of knowing those pesky little issues like federal laws and Air Force Instructions that muck up the process. We receive a lot of training to legally buy stuff and, quite frankly, I believe we do a pretty good job of it in the 14th Contracting Squadron on Columbus AFB.

One federal regulation states only a warranted contracting officer can legally obligate the Government. A warranted contracting officer, is highly trained and entrusted with wisely spending our taxpayers' dollars. The only warranted COs on Columbus AFB are assigned to the 14th CONS. Personnel who use the Government Purchase Cards, are extensions of our purchasing capability. While they receive training and act on behalf of the Government, they are not COs.

This leads to a current dilemma here at Columbus AFB. An unauthorized commitment occurs when someone, who is not a CO or GPC holder, obligates the US Government. An example of an unauthorized commitment is if you told a contractor to deliver an extra amount of supplies or perform extra services that are not on the contract. Sometimes you are under pressure to just get it done; other times, you are trying to make a good impression. No matter the intent, it's not legal.

From February through August of this year, base personnel committed four unauthorized purchases. That may seem small to you, but we had zero during my previous 14 months. Unauthorized purchases get noticed ... by commanders, by headquarters and by inspectors.

There are basically two ways we deal with unauthorized commitments. The first is through the ratification process. In layman's terms, it's fixing an unauthorized commitment by making it legal. This is a tedious process that involves commanders and, depending on the dollar amount, higher headquarters approval.

The second resolution happens when we cannot legally ratify an unauthorized action. In this event, the individual stuck with the bill is normally the person who illegally committed the government in the first place. While it doesn't happen often, there are times we cannot ratify an action. The question to ask is whether or not you want to be the example of when we can't ratify an unauthorized commitment.

The great news is there's an easy fix to this. If you are conducting market research and getting prices, don't suggest to a company that they will get the job or order. It's not your decision. When dealing with a contractor, don't obligate the government to something that's not on contract. If you are unsure of what the contract states, find out by calling your contracting officer.