An “unauthorized commitment” is defined in FAR 1.602-3(a) as “an agreement that is not binding solely because the Government representative who made it lacked the authority to enter into that agreement on behalf of the Government.” The only individuals who can bind the Government are warranted contracting officers and purchase cardholders acting within the limits of their delegated authority. Unauthorized commitments violate Federal law, Federal regulation, the Government-wide Standards of Conduct for Federal Employees, and Department of State Acquisition Regulations.
Examples of unauthorized commitments include:
§ Supplies or services are ordered by someone not named on a purchase card or identified in a contract or blanket purchase agreement. Note: A funding document is not a contractual document.
§ Contractor starts work before the contractual document is issued or awarded by a CO.
§ An invoice is received from a contractor, but no purchase order or contract exists for the items or work described in the invoice.
§ Purchase cardholder exceeds single purchase limitation without proper authorization/delegation of authority.
There are severe consequences for all parties involved with the unauthorized commitment. Unauthorized commitments may result in personal liability for the individual who made the commitment.
Personnel responsible for unauthorized commitments are required to give detailed written explanations of their actions and may be subject to disciplinary action, especially if violations are flagrant and/or repetitive.
Contractors who act on unauthorized commitments do so at their own risk. They are not entitled to consideration (money) unless and until the unauthorized commitment is ratified. Payment is therefore substantially delayed or may not be forthcoming at all if the action is not ratified or costs are not recognized.
The process whereby designated individuals convert an unauthorized commitment to a legal contract is called ratification. Under the Department of State Acquisition Regulation (DOSAR), the Head of the Contracting Activity has been delegated authority to ratify unauthorized commitments not exceeding $1,000. The Procurement Executive must ratify any commitment exceeding $1,000. Ratifications may only occur when all the regulatory requirements or conditions have been met. Contracting officers do no have the authority to simply issue a purchase order or contract modification when an unauthorized commitment has been identified.
Questions on unauthorized commitments may be directed to Susan Catington, Department of State Competition Advocate, (703) 516-1693.