I have recently transitioned to a new agency and have been surprised by a local policy that states "As a general rule, the contract specialist originating a document signs it as the CO (Contracting Officer) after all required reviews." In practice, this language is cited supporting the fact that a specialist (non-warrant holder) would actually sign contract actions, or a contracting officer may sign actions over their delegated warrant authority. Now, one of the levels of review required would be from a Contracting Officer that holds the required warrant authority and they would be required to sign the review forms necessary. Though, again, the ultimate government signatory may not actually have a warrant that covers the value of the action.
In speaking with our local policy official, it was explained that the rationale behind this approach is that the contract specialist whom is involved with the acquisition has a far greater knowledge base about the acquisition than a Contracting Officer whose only contribution is their warrant authority. While I understand that point of view, it was always my belief that the Specialist/Officer dichotomy centered around the Contracting Officer keeping familiar at least in a general sense with their contract. The specialist is responsible for keeping the Contracting Officer aware of issues and potential complications.
Ultimately, I THINK I would be protected from personal liability if this practice was ever challenged in litigation as long as I am operating within established contracting office policy - but am not really sure. The legal council for the office has apparently signed off on this practice, so that does alleviate some of my concern.
I consider myself a moderately seasoned contracting professional, and have always understood that you just do not sign actions that you do not have warrant authority to sign. However, I certainly do not have a robust knowledge of the various agencies policies when it comes to warrant delegation.
I am curious if:
(a) Anyone else operates under this type of structure?
(b) If so, has it ever been challenged?
(c) General thoughts about this structure, such as does this approach fall within the purview of FAR 1.602-1(a) "Contracting officers may bind the Government only to the extent of the authority delegated to them. Contracting officers shall receive from the appointing authority (see 1.603-1) clear instructions in writing regarding the limits of their authority." Also, am I at risk for Unauthorized Commitments with every action I would be signing?
I am consciously being vague about the agency/office just to avoid seeming accusatory, but suffice to say that agency FAR supplement does not address this - only the local policy does. Sorry for the long post, but I thank you all in advance for any input.