This article was originally published by FedInsider.
The Office of Federal Procurement Policy is turning its attention to a long-neglected function, that of Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative. Starting January 1, COTRs will simply be called Contracting Officers’ Representative, or COR.
It’s not a toss-out of the Bush era policy, established when Paul Dennett was OFPP administrator, but rather an acknowledgement that making the COR a real job is a good idea. Much of the new policy is lifted verbatim from the old.
The COTR, or COR, was established in the first place by SARA, the Services Acquisition Reform Act, back in 2003. It recognizes that a big problem with contracts of all types is, who watches over them once they are awarded?
OMB attempted to establish a requirement that certified project managers be appointed to every project over something like a million dollars. But unless project managers did, or do, double duty, the government harbors too few of them to go around. This is one reason, I believe, agencies hired so many contractors to manage other contractors.
OMB’s implementation of the SARA requirement for COTRs left out DOD. DOD could also benefit from more COTRs or CORs. Several of the reports from the special inspectors general for Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction cited a shortage of good contracting officers technical representatives riding herd on overseas projects that went awry.
The new policy includes a number of what OFPP considers best practices in certifying and assigning CORs. For example, “CORs are critical in ensuring successful contract outcomes. As such, CORs must read and understand the contract and work closely with their CO. CORs who are physically located where the contract is being performed can help facilitate effective communication with the contractor.” This sounds like the government would like to see more people assigned to contractor facilities if that’s where a particular piece of work is being done.
OFPP, as noted, has established three levels of certification for CORs. The highest, Level III, requires a COR to have had 60 hours of training and two years’ experience “on contracts of moderate to high complexity that require significant acquisition investment.” They may obtain training from the Federal Acquisition Institute, the Defense Acquisition University, or even a commercial vendor.
OFPP also says it wants to build a “culture of effective collaboration and communication between the contracting officer and COR. For example, as a best practice, OFPP recommends the CO and the COR meet in person when the CO assigns the COR to a contract. You’d think that would be a given.
Curiously, the new policy makes no mention of information sharing or collaboration between the COR (or the CO) and the program manager for whom work is presumably contracted.
One best practice gives hope the government can surmount its fundamental problem with complex acquisitions, namely, requirements creep. Spreading vague or changing requirements render effective contract execution next to impossible. The practice says an individual doing pre-award tasks including requirements determination should be issued a COR appointment memo outlining pre-award and post-award responsibilities. The benefit here is, the COR could become a bulwark against changing or ballooning requirements.