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What Is a Contracting Officer?

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  • Written By: Jo Dunaway
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2016
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Entering into contracts for the United States government with the authority to commit public taxpayer funds on behalf of the government is in the authority delegated by law only to U.S. contracting officers. A U.S. contracting officer is either the top head of a U.S. agency, such as the Central Intelligence Agency Director or the director's delegated officer, or a delegated officer in the military, who is usually three to four steps down from top command. The education, experience, and qualifications required for this responsibility are usually quite high. The duties of a contracting officer are strictly authorized in writing through a Certificate of Appointment that specifies exactly what level of authority is being delegated in monetary amount terms. Sometimes, a person in this position works on behalf of the U.S. government at stations overseas.

The Certificate of Appointment states the threshold authority the officer holds, and this authority is based upon qualifying education and experience. Rigorous on-the-job training and years of civilian or military college courses in specific financial, business management, and engineering areas are typically needed. The experiences a candidate has from the administration of civilian or military contracts or commercial purchasing is then scrutinized.

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The contracting officer must have a thorough knowledge of practices and guidelines as legally stated in many government regulations, procedures, and policy statements that require strict adherence in duty performance. Any specialized training in the field for which he or she is contracting is a plus. Additionally, the candidate must have a personal reputation for integrity, soundness in business judgment, and commitment to accomplishing the mission.

The duties of this position can be grouped broadly into three stages: initiating contracts, taking charge of administration of chosen contracts, and finalizing contracts at termination. The contracting officer must keep records of contract initiations, supporting decisions, inspection findings, and document every stage of a purchase of goods, services, or construction work in progress. The objective is to achieve the best value possible for the government's taxpayers, drawing on officer's talents and negotiating skills. Additionally, a contracting officer must complete up to 40 continuous credit hours per year prescribed by law for the level of authority he or she possesses.

A military contracting officer has more people to report to, as military hierarchy oversight is strictly required in several armed forces directives. In addition to the civilian Fair Acquisitions Regulations of the U.S. government, individual armed services have specific procedure guidelines for adherence from the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) of 1990. In addition, several regular evaluations must be passed to retain acquisitioning authority.

When a contracting officer is stationed overseas, the U.S. State Department and other government agencies will require further international education requirements. Training includes education necessary for engaging in acquisitions from overseas companies and administrating shipments from the U.S. to overseas stations. Administration of construction projects, setting up installation facilities, and assisting aid agencies are just some overseas duties. Countries have differing import and export tariffs as well, which a contracting officer must have thorough knowledge about.

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