• Published
  • By Maj. Glenn Basso
  • 36th Contracting Squadron commander
No . . . we're not talking about a Parisian rat with culinary prowess. That was just the bait-and-switch to make you think about actually reading this article! But trust me, the little spatula-swinging gourmet-food-producing rodent-loving movie script now showing on the big screen is no less amusing than reality sometimes in the contracting business. People can do some really cheesy things from time to time. However, one thing folks really shouldn't mouse around with is obligating the Government to pay a bill when they don't have the authority to do so. How can that happen? Let me tell you, it's easier than you think. 

Scenario: Your boss is really putting the pressure on you to get some piece of equipment fixed. It's gotta happen now or the mission will suffer! You make a few phone calls, and then before you know it, you've got a local contractor out to the base digging into your machine to find the problem. One small "hey do you think you could fix this" leads to a small bill at the end of the day because the contractor spent an hour working to help you solve your problem. You weren't expecting him to charge you . . . but he did. You've just obligated the government illegally. Rats! 

Sound farfetched? Not really . . . trust me, people really lean too far out forward sometimes in the name of just "getting it 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 that person. 

What do you need to know to stay out of trouble? Well, only "Contracting Officers" who have been delegated the appropriate legal responsibility are permitted to actually bind the Government into contractual agreements. If you're a Contracting Officer then you'll have a "warrant". If you don't have one, then you aren't one, so don't act like one. It's really that simple. 

So what's with the title of this article? When other personnel accidentally or intentionally obligate the Government, that action has to be legally rectified. That process is known as the "ratification" process. They aren't fun, and the "rat" process is intentionally designed to be painful. And at the end of the day, if a Contracting Officer can't ratify your mistake (that's most likely me for all ratifications up to $30K), you may get stuck paying the bill yourself. Not naming names, but I know a few folks around the Air Force who've learned the lesson the hard way. Don't get caught being the rat! Ask your contracting professionals at the 36th Contracting Squadron (366-4214) for help . . . before you get trapped into a predicament you can't squeak out of.