The Court of Federal Claims’ decision in Panther Brands, LLC v. United States reminds us that (1) only contracting officers (COs), not their representatives (CORs), have authority to bind the government in contract, and (2) at-risk work is risky! Although simple in theory, in practice these principles can be complicated.
CO authority can be split between a “contracting office” and a “contract administration office.” COR authority may be clearly limited under one contract, yet indeterminate and expansive under another. Further muddying the waters, personnel titles can mean different things at different agencies: the “contract specialist” might be the full-fledged CO at one agency, but just an assistant at another. And while a COR’s – or even a three-star general’s – oral directive might have reliably represented the Government’s position in the past, as Panther shows, that doesn’t mean it will be contractually binding next time around.
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