Here are some of the requirements from the Department of Homeland Security’s latest SBIR RFPs
“Additional deliverables in this phase include the following (templates to be provided later by the federal Program Manager):
I recently participated in a Navy SBIR conference where one of the other panelists encouraged contractors not to worry about the budgets on their SBIR Phase One. It appears that may no longer be the case.
I had a dim memory of the DOD program staff asking for similar reports years ago. I went to look and found one form so old that I cringed at the title: “Fund Man Hours Expenditures”. I imagine an updated version of this is in many small business contractor’s futures.
All of this underlines the importance of doing it right from the start. Contractors starting out should start out with a cost accounting system that will meet their needs and the government requirements.
In the current crisis surrounding DCAA, it is possible to receive a cost type contract requiring an approved accounting system without actually having anyone from the government look at your accounting system.
This may sound like a gift from heaven but it is not. All it does is transfer the risk off the government’s back and onto yours. Under this increasingly common scenario the contractor assumes the following risks:
|The government can come in at any time and evaluate your accounting system with disastrous results to include: suspension of full payments and even contract termination (the latter is extremely rare).|
The government can suddenly withhold all or part of your payments until they now decide your accounting system is adequate. They may even expect you to continue working while the mess is sorted out.
This withhold is now actually part of the Department of Defense regulations and the subject of a recent DOD OIG audit. This audit criticized DCMA for not withholding 5% of total payments after an accounting system was found inadequate.
This is not the 15% of your fee or profit you may have heard about. This is up to 5% of your total billing. Remember, profits on cost type contracts usually average 5% to 7% of costs billed. If the government refuses to pay 5% of your total billing they just eliminated the vast majority of your profits.
Oh, and it can get worse. Applied Physical Sciences, a small contractor, went to the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA) claiming the government failed to reimburse over a million dollars. The government simply refused to pay them based on an inadequate accounting system, arguing that the inadequacy made it impossible to determine if any of the costs claimed were actually associated with government work. Applied Physical Sciences actually raised the inadequate accounting system as a defense, asserting the government should not have awarded them a cost contract. Alas (or not), the government won.
|The lesson is ‘crystal clear’. The government awarded the contract in complete disregard of the government’s own standards and the contractor paid for it.|
The lesson is ‘crystal clear’. The government awarded the contract in complete disregard of the government’s own standards and the contractor paid for it. The contractor paid for it not because of the government’s failure to approve the accounting system, but because there was no adequate accounting system to support the contractor’s claimed costs.
They can also hold up any future contracts awaiting the now necessary approval.
|Even as the government has lost in way in how to enforce compliance, contractors need to understand the importance of excellent accounting systems to the government.|
Time and time again I am surprised by contractors who believe that accounting for government dollars on their part is unnecessary and a waste of time. A few years ago, I declined to work with a government contractor who bragged about getting DCAA to approve his accounting system without a general ledger system and his refusal to comply with the standards (or as he put it: “ridiculous demands”).
He wished to engage me to prepare and submit the billing on a cost type contract based on what he told me to bill. When I declined the ‘opportunity’, he accused me of being scared. When I told a friend about his comments; she teased me, stating that I was ex 82nd Airborne and not scared of anything. “No,” I replied, “I am scared, not of the government, but him”.
Your accounting system is important because the government says so, even if they come back after three years to punish you.
Each year the government spends billions of dollars with contractors providing vital services for our country. All of this money, to include classified work, is ultimately accountable to taxpayers (we all remember the stories about $400 hammers purchased by the Defense Department). The good contractors reading this book have no desire to make the front page of the papers (or worse the bench in front of a federal judge) because of their lack of accountability.
Almost immediately after publishing the new regulations about contractor business systems, DCMA hit Lockheed Martin with a reduction of 5% in payments for the F-35 fighter. Last time I checked the total withholding was over 47 million dollars. If five percent does not seem like a lot, it represents almost all of the profit Lockheed planned on the F-35. Until they get their business systems approved they are working for free.
It is not only the Defense Department that is tightening down on contractor accountability, look at a recent Department of Energy regulation:
Contractor business systems and its internal controls are the first line of defense against waste, fraud, and abuse. Weak control systems increase the risk of unallowable and unreasonable cost on Government contracts. When a contract includes these business systems clauses, it will require the contractor to meet business system criteria for its estimating system, accounting system, earned value management system, purchasing management system, and property management system. When the contractor has acceptable business systems that comply with the terms and conditions of the contract, this will improve contract performance. Under certain conditions, if the business system has significant deficiencies, the contracting officer will be able to withhold a percentage of payments until the significant deficiencies are corrected.
Taxpayers demand accountability and the government will demand accountability from you, not stories, not promises.
 Evaluation of Defense Contract Management Agency Actions on Reported DoD Contractor Business System Deficiencies (Project No. D2013-DAPOCF-0201.002) DODIG-2016-001
 Lockheed Martin just finished three years of fee withholding for a noncompliant estimating system.
 Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA) 56581 and 58038
 We will discuss the regulations later in the chapter.
Excerpt from Surviving a DCAA Audit, available on Amazon
We do not
Often, small business government contractors require all of these services. The written tax code numbers in the thousands of pages as do the laws and regulations relevant to government contracting compliance. Few accountants make the attempt to keep up with both areas and even within larger accounting firms the specialties (tax and government contracting compliance) are split among different practitioners.
One of the many pleasures in our practice is working with the contractor’s tax accountant or bookkeeper. The contractor benefits by having access to two professionals with a bit of crossover for the same price. Two opinions in harmony, most of the time.
I flew in to support a contractor on an accounting system audit in conjunction with his tax accountant. DCAA showed up and we began one of the strangest audits in the almost thirty years of work in this area. If I told all of the story, DCAA would attempt to send my old unit from the 82nd Airborne after me, but I will tell part of it.
Toward the end of the rather strange audit, the DCAA auditor went on a rampage about small business contractors keeping their books on a cash basis.
This is not an unusual complaint made by some DCAA auditors, but I had never heard contractors referred to as idiots for the practices, especially in front of one of these “idiot” contractors.
I went on my usual contractor defense, explaining to the auditor the history of accrued accounting and the very classical utilization of the GAAP accounting cycle which allowed you to keep the books on a cash basis during the period and make the accruals as part of the closing process.
In this case, as in too many others, my purpose was to remind and educate the auditor not to rush to judgement and to expand their knowledge of the accounting world beyond the limited field of DCAA auditing. I sought to gently argue that the DCAA auditor’s strong comments were not only wrong but displayed a lack of knowledge on how accounting is actually practiced in the trenches.
The client’s tax accountant took a different approach, and I loved it.
He turned to the auditor and told him in no uncertain terms that the contractor kept his books on a cash basis because he, the tax accountant, recommend the contractor do so and that any small business owner that did not do so was an idiot and paying thousands of dollars in unnecessary taxes.
The room fell silent and I managed to keep a straight face as I backed the tax accountant up and said that not only was he correct, it was common sense, and allowed under GAAP as I previously outlined (cash converted to accrual during period close).
The DCAA auditor quickly packed up and left. I held my breath for a couple of days until DCAA approved the contractor’s accounting system, even though I knew that both the tax accountant and I made strong arguments in defense of the contractor’s practices.
This is simply one of the countless examples of where we worked hand in hand with the contractor’s tax accountant and/or bookkeeper to move the contractor’s business forward.
Indeed, many of our referrals actually come from the contractor’s outside accountant and I am happy to return the favor when one of my clients is seeking tax or audit work.
I will direct the reader to a previous article about cash v accrual accounting for the specific accounting arguments at https://dcaacompliance.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/all-the-fuss-over-accrued-accounting/.
You know who you are. Yes, you, the one trying to figure out just when DCAA is going to enter your life, or worse, a non DCAA auditor or government official is assessing your operations and accounting system. Perhaps, just perhaps, you already had the pleasure and are reading this simply to improve the experience (read: “recover from disaster”).
Federal regulations require an approved accounting system before the government can award a cost type contract.
Two Presidents, Regan and Obama, started out their presidencies trying to reduce or even forbid government cost type contracts. In both cases, the number of cost type contracts actually grew.
There is a wealth of government created documents justifying the use of cost type contracts. Most of them center on the necessity of the government to assume the risks associated with the contract. Since cost type contracts are a reality, let me just make two observations and move on:
One of the bizarre results of the crisis government contracting entered into in the year 2008, is the increased award of cost type contracts to small contractors without an approved accounting system despite the requirements forbidding this. It started out by contracting officers just ignoring the regulations in order to get the critical contracts issued, but now some of them are actually ‘approving’ the accounting systems after the contractor fills out a form.
Of course contractors may pay for this action by the contracting officers. Recent Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA) decisions that asserted that a lack of an approved accounting system was no defense for the contractor and contractors with cost contracts and an unapproved accounting system appear to be holding all of the risks.
I am not telling contractors to turn down contracts, I am just pointing out issues for consideration.
Your solution may be as simple as taking the contract and making sure your accounting system is fully compliant in anticipation of the day DCAA or another auditor working for the government shows up.
The process of adopting and implementing an accounting system that would win government approval reduces the contractor’s risk and provides critical information to help them identify and manage costs.
 FAR (16-301-3(a)(3)) “(3) The contractor’s accounting system is adequate for determining costs applicable to the contract or order…”
 ASBCA 56581 and 52593
Return on Investment (ROI) always proved a concept of limited value and extreme abstraction in government. How does one measure the ROI associated with a paratrooper sitting on the ground at the green ramp waiting to deploy in harm’s way? How is the ROI measured on a nuclear missile resting in its silo?
Several years ago, DCAA adopted ROI as one of its main arguments to defend (or excuse) the quantity and quality of their work to taxpayers. ROI was an alternative to other measurements such as audit productivity, down to 1.06 audits per year per auditor from 1.5 in 2012. Additionally, form your own opinion about the fact that DCAA wins only half of the fights that get past the auditors and are made by someone outside DCAA.
Let us not forget that one of DCAA’s critical missions, and long neglected by their own admission, is to prevent or reduce costs associated with cost findings by auditing by approving or disapproving contractor’s business systems. I argue that developing and subsequent auditing of a compliant accounting system is a major return on investment for both the contractor and government. I will point out that DCAA recently developed and launched new tools that make major strides in this area with preliminary checklist forms and new audit programs that I believe will greatly enhance DCAA’s future efforts in this area.
I question how DCAA measures ROI as they include forward pricing ‘savings’ in the calculation. This is a classic example of counting your chickens before the eggs hatch. If a contractor proposes $100,000 in fringe benefit costs and DCAA only approves $80,000, DCAA counts the $20,000 toward ROI. Unfortunately, when the year ends the contractor may discover the fringe costs proved $110,000 and bill the government for the $30,000 in difference. To further complicate the issue, the incurred cost submission may propose a different number and the subsequent audit even a fourth number.
The irony of all of this is the development of the ROI model contributed to DCAA’s current crisis, the continued replacement of DCAA as incurred cost proposal auditors by outside accounting firms. ROI is now a dangerous temptation in evaluating ‘independent” accounting firms’ “success” in auditing incurred cost proposals.
In recent testimony before Congress, Industry complained that DCAA acted more like a collection agency than auditors. Imagine our response if this becomes formalized as commercial contractors are awarded contracts on their promises regarding return on investment.
 There is no indication that DCAA follows the potential saving through the entire chain. First, they do not report how they calculated the ‘savings’ and given the incurred cost proposal backlog of years, one would wonder about the practicality of going beyond the simplest and first number.
DCAA Director Bales testified yesterday before the House Armed Services Subcommittee On Oversight and Investigations. Here is a link to her written testimony: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS06/20170406/105777/HHRG-115-AS06-Wstate-BalesA-20170406.pdf
What is not clear is if DCAA is actually caught up. In the era of parsing words within the beltway, she states that there still is a backlog and the hiring freeze makes it impossible for them to catch up.
Best line from the industry testimony so far:
David Berteau, Professional Services Council
“As one of our member companies characterized it, DCAA should focus on being an auditing agency, not a collection agency”
The Ignorance regarding how DCAA works is not limited to contractors, but is prevalent (no surprise) among government acquisition staff. The ignorance found among the GAO appeals division is a bit surprising and disconcerting.
There have been several decisions recently supporting the acquisition staff’s positions requiring a DCAA approved accounting system. Bidders who are not “DCAA Approved” face disqualification or penalization in the bidding process. Look at my recent article on this issue.
In the famous words of Bugs Bunny “I knew I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque”, the GAO has taken a strange turn moving government contracting out of the Twilight Zone and into Toonland.
Now, A contractor is not only required to bid with only an approved DCAA accounting system, but must have a positive assertion of the DCAA approval. The contractor asserting such and even providing the DCAA audit report number is now deemed inadequate.
Leader essentially argues that the solicitation required only that offerors have received verification from DCAA that their accounting systems had been audited and determined adequate, but did not require the submission of any documentation from DCAA itself. Protest at 5-6; Comments at 3-4. In this regard, Leader contends that its elimination from the competition was unreasonable because Leader met the RFP’s requirement by providing its own unambiguous statement that its accounting system had been audited and approved by DCAA, along with the 2008 DCAA audit report number and additional information. Id. In Leader’s view, this information was sufficient for the agency itself to independently confirm with DCAA the verification and audit of its accounting system. Id.
In response, the agency acknowledges that a DCAA audit report would have been an acceptable source of verification; however, it explains that the solicitation expressly required offerors to furnish verification from DCAA with its proposal. AR, MOL at 8; AR, see also Supp. MOL at 3-6. In this regard, the agency also explains that the solicitation did not permit offerors to essentially self-verify the adequacy of their accounting systems. Rather, by requiring offerors to provide verification from DCAA, the agency would obtain independent verification that offerors’ accounting systems had been audited and determined adequate. Id.
When a dispute arises as to the actual meaning of solicitation language, our Office will resolve the matter by reading the solicitation as a whole and in a manner that gives effect to all provisions of the solicitation. See Level 3 Commc’ns LLC, B-412854 et al., June 21, 2016, 2016 CPD ¶ 171 at 7; KAES Enters., LLC, B-411225 et al., June 18, 2015, 2015 CPD ¶ 186 at 5. A solicitation is not ambiguous unless it is susceptible to two or more reasonable interpretations. WingGate Travel, Inc., B-412921, July 1, 2016, 2016 CPD ¶ 179 at 7. If the solicitation language is unambiguous, our inquiry ceases. Id.
On this record, we find that the agency’s interpretation of the solicitation, when read as a whole, is reasonable, whereas the protester’s interpretation is not reasonable. Here, the solicitation stated that an offeror “must have verification from [DCAA]. . . of an accounting system that has been audited and determined adequate” in order to be eligible for award. Id. at L-17 (emphasis added). The solicitation also advised that the agency would “evaluate evidence that the [o]fferor . . . [has] an adequate accounting system . . . as required under Section L.3.1.h.” Id. at M-3 (emphasis added). Finally, the solicitation cautioned that failure to “furnish verification of an adequate cost accounting system” would result in a rating of unacceptable and render the proposal ineligible for award. Id. (emphasis added). As explained by the agency, contrary to Leader’s contentions, the solicitation did not contemplate that an offeror could simply provide a declarative statement in lieu of the submission of evidence from DCAA verifying the adequacy of the offeror’s accounting system. See AR, Supp. MOL at 5. On this record, we find that the agency followed the clear and unambiguous terms of the solicitation and reasonably found Leader’s proposal unacceptable because it did not provide verification from DCAA that its accounting system had been audited and deemed adequate.
Leader also argues that its proposal should nonetheless have been accepted because it satisfied the agency’s actual and reasonable needs, its acceptance would not result in unfair prejudice to other offerors or provide Leader with a competitive advantage, and it contained sufficient information for the agency to obtain additional verification or confirmation with DCAA. See Protest at 6; Comments at 7-8. We disagree.
Clearly stated RFP requirements are considered material to the needs of the government, and a proposal that fails to conform to such material terms is unacceptable and may not form the basis for award. AttainX, Inc.; FreeAlliance.com, LLC, B-413104.5, B-413104.6, Nov. 10, 2016, 2016 CPD ¶ 330 at 5; TYBRIN Corp., B-298364.6, B-298364.7, Mar. 13, 2007, 2007 CPD ¶ 51 at 5; National Shower Express, Inc.; Rickaby Fire Support, B-293970, B-293970.2, July 15, 2004, 2004 CPD ¶ 140 at 4-5. As explained by the agency, here, the requirement to provide verification from DCAA was a material requirement, the waiver of which would result in an inconsistent and unfair evaluation, thereby prejudicing other offerors. See AR, MOL at 6-7; AR, Supp. MOL at 7. Accordingly, we have no basis to sustain the protest.
Well, golly gee, what is next? Are we awaiting a disqualification because the DCAA audit is not fresh (over two years old)?
The scratched out areas were discussed in previous articles. Today, I am going to talk about developing findings and documenting consultants’ work products. Again, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.
The fact that I consider this topic worthy of discussion illustrates the reality that the failure of auditors to properly develop findings is an ongoing issue in too many DCAA audits. Way too often, the first time a contractor hears about a proposed finding is when it is proposed.
During a recent DCAA auditor, the auditor thought she could benefit from the research she did on me and my views by announcing her agreement with what she thought was one of my strong assertions:
“Well, we all know that the Contract Audit Manual. is not regulatory and only guidance”.
My response had a visible impact on her: “The CAM is guidance for contractors, but it is your standing orders. I would expect a DCAA auditor to follow those orders.”
Let us see what those standing orders in the CAM say about developing findings:
4-303.1(b) The auditor should discuss preliminary audit findings (e.g., potential system deficiencies, potential FAR/CAS noncompliances, etc.) with the contractor to ensure conclusions are based on a complete understanding of all pertinent facts. These types of discussions do not impair auditor independence and are generally necessary to obtain sufficient evidence to support audit conclusions.
6-708(b). During the course of the audit, significant audit findings should be brought to the attention of, and discussed with, the contractor, and when appropriate with the cognizant principal ACO and CAC, as soon as possible to expedite the resolution process (See 6-902e). The discussions are to ensure that the auditor’s conclusions are based on a proper understanding of the facts and to ascertain whether the contractor/ACO/CAC has any additional information which would support or modify the audit findings. This will enable resolution of the findings to take place prior to the completion of the audit. If agreement on an issue cannot be reached, the contractor should be requested to prepare a rebuttal for inclusion in the audit report. The process outlined above will result in an efficient audit that will conserve both audit and contractor personnel resources.
6-709(b). During the course of the audit, significant audit findings should be brought to the attention of, and discussed with, the contractor, and, where appropriate, with the principal cognizant ACO and CAC, as soon as possible so as to expedite the resolution process (see 6-902e). The discussions are to ensure that the auditor’s conclusions are based on a proper understanding of the facts and to ascertain whether the contractor/ACO/CAC have any additional information which would support or modify the audit findings
I simply cannot stress how many times simple misunderstandings were cleared up because the DCAA field operator brought it to our attention before taking it to their supervisor, and after that writing it up as a proposed finding. Heading off trouble at the earliest stages is an essential aspect of successful DCAA relationships.
One famous example was a DCAA auditor putting together this extensive spreadsheet that “proved” the contractor was calculating social security taxes incorrectly and that highly compensated employees were not paying their fair share of social security tax. He was still pretty embarrassed, but at least he had not written it up and sent it to his supervisor.
No one likes egg on their face and contractors should avoid watching DCAA auditors make fools of themselves. Sometimes this results a stubborn refusal on the part of some DCAA auditors to admit an error, such as my aggregating “Backspace Key Crisis”
In the TSI case, it appears time and time again that both DCAA (at least the second auditor) and DCMA bent over backwards in the attempt to allow the contractor to dispute the findings. Despite this, it appears DCAA and DCMA stuck to their guns only to find the appeals board disagreeing with the auditors on over half of their findings.
It is a pure joy to hear the appeals board admonish DCAA with the exact arguments I made time and time again. I will let the judges speak for themselves:
The government labors under the false impression that the FAR requires a consultant to create “work product” merely for the purposes of proving its costs (see R4, tab 16 at 258, 260; gov’t br. at 54-55, 64-66). Though the FAR language in question is not as clear as we might like, it can be read- as we read it here – to impose no such requirement, Moreover, we have factually found the invoices submitted by TSI to be adequate to support a finding that TSI incurred the charged costs for SMI’s marketing activities.
We begin by examining that language of the FAR that the government holds out as requiring the generation and provision of “work product” to entitle recovery of costs for professional and consultant services. FAR 31.205-33, Professional and consultant service costs, provides in relevant part that:
(f) Fees for services rendered are allowable only when supported by evidence of the nature and scope of the service provided. work performed is proper and does not violate law or regulation shall include
(1) Details of all agreements (e.g., work requirements, rate of compensation, and nature and amount of other expenses, if any) with the individuals or organizations providing the services and details of actual services performed;
(2) Invoices or billings submitted by consultants, including sufficient detail as to the time expended and nature of the actual services provided; and
(3) Consultants’ work products and related documents, such as trip reports indicating persons visited and subjects discussed, minutes of meetings, and collateral memoranda and reports.
The government makes a superficially persuasive argument, that the FAR’s statement that the evidence necessary to determine that the work is proper “shall include … work products” and related documents, makes the provision of such documents mandatory (gov’t hr. at 54). The problem with this interpretation of the FAR is that it does not account for the case in which such documents were never created by the consultant. Moreover, it does not account for the case where, as here, the invoices include the data that the FAR defines as work product, such as persons visited and subjects discussed. We further note, that DCAA’s own audit manual, reflecting the government’s own interpretation of this FAR requirement, provides that, “[t]he auditor should not insist on a work product if other evidence provided is sufficient to determine the nature and scope of the actual work performed.” DCAA Manual, at 58-2 – 58-3. Moreover, amongst the “Frequently Asked Questions” in the relevant portions of the audit manual are responses indicating that other additional evidence may be considered to determine whether the services were, indeed, provided and allowable. Id. at 58-7.
Thus, we conclude that FAR 31.205-33(f) may require the provision of a consultant’s work product, if it exists, but is not so rigid as to require its creation when it would not otherwise be necessary for the consultant to perform its duties. To be sure, any lack of work product makes it more difficult for a contractor to prove that it incurred the costs for which it seeks compensation, and the lack of work product in an instance where the consulting work was of such a scale or scope that work product would be expected may properly subject the costs to question. As with most things, the proper amount of documentation and work product to be expected will largely depend on the scope of work performed, and we do not conclude that the FAR 25 intended to impose “make work” upon consultants that would only lead to higher costs to the contractor which would then be imposed upon the taxpayer.
Turning to the facts before us, we have found that the consulting agreements and the invoices provided, combined with the testimony given at the hearing, persuade us that the costs included in TSI’s FY 2007 ICP for SMI’s marketing services were, in fact, for that purpose and are allowable. This portion of the appeal is sustained.
The Armed Services Board of Contract Appeal is down again for the second time in the last several months. I will not let this attack on democracy (although I am sure the government has an excellent reason for the prolonged denial of access to this information) stop our discussion of the TSI case.
Back to the recent Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA) Technology Systems, Inc. (TSI) (ASBCA 59577 and the nine areas I believe are worth discussing:
The scratched out areas were discussed in previous articles. Today, I am going to talk about DCAA’s right to change their mind in subsequent audits. Again, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.
The disagreement between the ASBCA judges and too much of the 61-page opinion addresses the question of DCAA’s changing its mind from audit to audit and from auditor to auditor. To sum up, the two judges in the majority believe DCAA has a broad right to do so, while the minority judge does not.
I am not going to quote their respective arguments, which coincidently coincides with their website unavailability, because I believe this is a horrible case to address the issue.
If DCAA audits, or chooses not to audit, a subcontractor’s invoices in 2012 and sees nothing wrong; this does not prevent them from looking at the subcontractor’s new invoices in 2013 and deciding there is something wrong. All of the extensive legal arguments between the judges aside, the ability to look at costs fresh from year to year is simply common sense to me. This is not absolute but generally true.
One obvious area where DCAA must change its opinion is when there a change in law, regulation, or GAAP.
Does this infer that I believe DCAA is allowed to change their mind at any time and without any constraint? NO, IT DOES NOT. I just believe, despite the pages and pages dedicated to the issue, that this was not the case to explore DCAA’s mind changing abilities.
Let us look at some areas where I believe DCAA’s ability to change its mind is limited.
Underlying this, as is often the case with DCAA, is the fundamental issues surrounding burden of proof. DCAA auditors can propose findings based on two conclusions: first; the finding is based on a violation of statute, regulation, or GAAP; second; the finding is based on DCAA’s assertion that the cost is unreasonable or imprudent.
If a subsequent DCAA auditor objects to a cost that a previous DCAA auditor allowed because the previous auditor missed an applicable regulation, then the new DCAA auditor is not only within rights to question, but is ethically obligated to proceed with the finding development. However; if the proposed finding is based on reasonableness (or unreasonableness), I believe the contractor enjoys a strong argument that the actions of the previous auditor establish the cost was reasonable and that the personal differences in auditors cannot form the basis for a finding.
Implicit in this is the assumption that both auditors actually sampled and audited the cost. If the first auditor did not actually sample and audit the cost, there is no assumption made.
Sometimes I believe the only person some DCAA auditors lacks respect for more than a contractor is another DCAA auditor. It does not surprise me that this second guessing occurs frequently, but I have now provided a basis for evaluation and objection.
For a closer look at burden of proof issues, look at these previous articles.
Another common area where we witness disputes between prior and present DCAA auditors is regarding documentation. The first auditor accepts the documentation while the subsequent auditor does not. Again, there is the assumption the first auditor actually sampled and reviewed the documentation. Again, if there is a SRG issue, especially a change in one of them, I believe the subsequent auditor has the right to raise the issue.
In most cases, the difference arises out of a different interpretation of the SRG. A good example is how some auditors read the requirement for consultant documentation. We will discuss this thoroughly in a future article on this case, but I will just point out that the judges noted that the subsequent DCAA’s auditor’s interpretation of the regulation on consultant documentation was wrong.
Where the documentation is basically identical, the issue gets a bit trickier. As the recent Lockheed Martin case asserted (I would link it if the website was up), inadequate documentation is not a reasonable and prudent argument. Because of this the burden of proof that the documentation is inadequate rests with the government auditor. Now the auditor has to demonstrate the documentation is inadequate despite the previous auditor’s acceptance. I think that is a challenge, but not an impossible one.
Where DCAA should respect prior audit opinions is in the area of a contractor’s policies and procedures, and accounting structure.
DCAA recommended approval of an accounting system is a positive assertion on their part that the contractor’s accounting system is adequate for government contracting purposes. This is done by the auditor signing the SF 1408.
Some consultants sign the SF1408 and argue that this is the contractor’s privilege. I absolutely believe this is contrary to the regulation and it also takes away the DCAA signature accepting your accounting system and the positive assurance I am talking about.
I would argue that if it is covered by the SF 1408, the contractor and the government is provided assurance by DCAA that the system, to include policies and procedures is adequate.
For example, section 2(c) of the SF 1408 addresses allocation method.:
“A logical and consistent method for the allocation of indirect costs to intermediate and final cost objectives. (A contract is final cost objective.).”
There is a critical grammar mistake on the government’s part (is it “A contract is a final cost objective” or “A contract is the final cost objective”?).
Grammar question aside, an approved SF 1408 is an approval of the contractor’s allocation method (Total Cost Input, Value Added, or otherwise). DCAA should not subsequently object to the contractor’s allocation method unless there is a change (SRG or internal).
The SF 1408 is not comprehensive even if your policies and procedures are. Unfortunately, this does not mean that, as part of the process, when you send DCAA your hundred-page accounting policies and procedures you can assume they are all approved. I would only assume the ones covered by the SF 1408 are.
The best example of this are bonuses, which are not addressed in the SF 1408.
TSI believed they addressed the issue with DCAA. Their bonus plan was new to the year that was the subject of the audit findings and the appeals case. Before the submission they started a discussion on the bonus plan with DCAA :
“Mr. Fletcher testified that he met with DCAA auditor Marie Pepin for approximately two hours on 28 February 2008 to discuss the ICP for FY 2007 that would be submitted later in 2008, and raised the executive bonus plan with her during this discussion (tr. 2/121-22). According to Mr. Fletcher, Ms. Pepin said words to the effect of “this looks good to me,” and then they moved on to other subjects (tr. 2/123). We find, as a matter of fact, that this discussion was relatively short and superficial in nature and did not constitute any representation that the government gave final approval to the bonus plan as proposed or executed.”
I wonder if the court would have thought differently if TSI had employed my recommended procedures and followed up the meeting with an email documenting the agreement and attaching the plan?
If TSI had sent that email, we might have had a good case for deciding when and how DCAA can change its mind, even if DCAA ignored the email.
 I am going to refer to proposed findings based on statute, regulation or GAAP as “SRG” for the rest of this article.
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