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FedSubK Feature: Hate the Game, Not the Players - Know the Roles in Federal Contracting

Updated: May 4

The Federal procurement process has a lot of pain points and it can be a love-hate relationship doing business in the Federal marketplace. But knowing who is involved in the process from the Government can go a long way in navigating frustration and finding avenues to build relationships that, over time, may provide business opportunities. Each role we’ll discuss sees the acquisition with a unique perspective and often a specific filter. But they all have the same end goal; meeting the agency's mission. Understanding who is involved and they perspective they bring is key to talking about the right things with the right people at the right time.

Let's take a closer look at the main roles involved for the Government.

Requiring Activity

The Requiring Activity is the agency or activity charged with meeting a mission and delivering requirements to the end-user, whether an internal or external Government customer. It is responsible for obtaining funding or developing the program objective memorandum. It may also be the organizational unit that develops the written requirement or Statement of Work (or other format) for services requiring a contract. The Requiring Activity can also be the Funding Activity and/or Procurement Activity when it receives appropriated funds directly for the requirement and/or it has the requisite procurement authority and contracting expertise for the type of contract required. Finally, the Requiring Activity supplies a trained and qualified Contracting Officer's Representative (COR) capable of deciding whether service contract requirements are being performed per the contract.

Funding Activity

This is the agency or activity that receives the funding appropriation that will be used to pay for the products or services being procured. The Funding Activity may be part of the Requiring Activity or Procuring Activity, such as the budget or finance office of an agency/organization.  

Procuring Activity (also called Contracting Activity)

This is the agency or activity with expertise and procurement authority that will manage the acquisition of the products and/or services required. The Procuring Activity initiates the Federal contracting process by establishing the acquisition strategy, often in consultation with the Requiring Activity (if it is a separate entity). It develops solicitations, responds to industry questions, and oversees the offer, evaluation, negotiation, and contract award activities. The Procuring Activity may also be the entity that oversees contractor performance through contract closeout. However, contract administration activities may be handed to another activity, like the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), when it is part of the agency’s/organization’s process to do so or required by agency policy.

Senior Procurement Executive

The Senior Procurement Executive (SPE) is the individual appointed per 41 U.S.C. 1702(c) who oversees the management direction of the acquisition system of the executive agency, including implementation of the unique acquisition policies, regulations, and standards of the agency. The SPE initiates acquisition policy rulemaking for the agency and decides the processes and procedures to be used in acquisition planning, contract formation, negotiation, contract administration, and contract closeout. The SPE is typically a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and a career Federal civilian.


Head of the Contracting Activity

The Head of the Contracting Activity (HCA) is the official who has overall responsibility for managing the Procuring or Contracting Activity. The SPE may choose to delegate certain responsibilities to the HCA for day-to-day management of acquisition processes and certain approvals, when allowable. The HCA may waive certain contractual requirements under specific circumstances allowed by regulation. These authorities are not usually eligible for further delegation to a lower level.  


Contracting Officer

The Contracting Officer (CO) is the person with the authority to enter into (sign), administer, and/or terminate contracts and make related determinations and findings. The term includes certain authorized representatives of the contracting officer acting within the limits of their authority as delegated by the contracting officer such as– 

  • Administrative contracting officer (ACO) – refers to a contracting officer who administers contracts during performance. 

  • Termination contracting officer (TCO) –  refers to a contracting officer who is settling terminated contracts. 

A single contracting officer may handle duties in any or all areas of contract formation, performance, termination, or closeout.

The Department of Defense uses “KO” in short for “Contracting Officer” so as not to confuse contracting officers with the military term Commanding Officer (CO).

Contrary to popular belief, the CO does not work in a vacuum and rarely makes all decisions alone. When I was a CO, we would talk with other COs, our supervisory COs, our Contract Specialists, and the entire team listed in this article to make well-rounded business decisions with buy-in. We called it "Contracting by Committee" because we knew that while we knew the regulations, didn't have all the answers and needed all perspectives.


Contract Specialist

The Contract Specialist (CS) is the person who assists the CO/KO in all aspects of the contracting process by preparation of documents, communications with industry, negotiation of contract prices, selection of terms and conditions, coordination and routing of contract documents, oversight of contractor performance, and contract closeout. The CS cannot enter into (sign) contractual instruments nor verbally obligate the Government. The CS may not make decisions on any contract action (pre or post award) that changes the scope, schedule, price, or terms and conditions. They are often the face to the public on solicitations, communications, and other activities that do not require CO/KO input or approvals.


Contracting Officer’s Representative

The Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR) is an individual designated and authorized in writing by the CO/KO to perform specific technical or administrative functions before and during contract performance. The COR oversees the daily activities of contract performance as the eyes and ears for the CO/KO. The COR cannot enter into (sign) contractual instruments nor verbally obligate the Government. The COR may not make decisions or make commitments that change the scope, schedule, price, or terms and conditions of any contract action. The COR does supply input on the contractor’s performance for use by the CO/KO in required performance evaluations. 

Very often the COR is from the Requiring Activity and is a technical subject matter expert or program/project manager responsible for the delivery of products or services to the end user. The COR has likely been involved in the acquisition since its inception and has provided counsel and technical guidance to the CO/KO and possibly participated in the development of evaluation factors and criteria, and source selection activities. 


Small Business Specialist

The Small Business Specialist serves as an advisor to the CO/KO and Requiring Activity in the development of the acquisition strategy by encouraging opportunities be available for participation by small business concerns within the various socioeconomic programs. They serve small businesses  by providing information on how to do business with the Federal Government and maintain a small business outreach program for the Procuring or Requiring Activity. The Small Business Specialist is responsible for monitoring and maintaining statistical data related to the acquisition process. They also assist small businesses that have issues obtaining payments or are receiving late payments as a prime or sub. 

Procurement Center Representative (PCR)

Procurement Center Representatives (PCRs) are employed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and advocate on behalf of the SBA and small businesses in the acquisition process. PCRs work closely with agency contracting staff on upcoming requirements, review acquisition strategies and solicitations, and inform agencies as to updates to SBA regulations and changes in SBA certification programs.  PCRs are also a resource to assist agencies in meeting their small business goals and review subcontracting plans from large businesses for compliance before award. PCRs receive copies of cure or show cause notices of small businesses in their territory that are struggling to meet performance requirements. 

Supporting Personnel

Others in the Government team may also be involved in the procurement process such as legal counsel, technical experts, budget analysts, and Government Contractor support personnel. These folks play a necessary supporting role to our key players. They are often the other bodies in the room who may not speak, but hear everything you say, also with their unique perspective. They provide subject matter advice to the procurement official. They are the folks you shake hands with at industry conferences and expos. Making an impression and having a well-honed elevator pitch (2 minutes tops) about your company’s capabilities is important to use when communicating with these roles. They can be the people that remind one of the key players about your company.  

Federal Contracting is a team sport. The interplay between government personnel in the roles that play a key part in acquisition and industry is crucial for problem-solving and driving innovation in the government space. As you can see, understanding the roles of key players in government is important in developing productive relationships and talking to the right people about the right things. Finding shared goals through mutual perspectives and appreciating each of these roles in Federal contracting from that view allows you to meet each player in the process where they are, know what they do, and lead them to you as a trusted resource and solution-maker.

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