DCAA Relations, Department of Defense News, Incurred Cost Proposals

Bales Testifies Before House, Industry refers to DCAA as a “Collection Agency”

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

My Highlights:

  1. The Risk Assessment program for incurred cost proposal audits will continue.
  2. Outside CPA firms doing audits of incurred cost proposals are a bad idea because they are not qualified and lack governmental authority.
  3. She opposes proposed legislation requiring GS-14 managers to be CPAs because CPA skills do not translate to government contracting work (Yes, we are going to have fun with that one).
  4. She opposes proposed legislation requiring incurred costs proposal audits to be completed within one year of adequate submission because this would eliminate the efficiency of doing multiyear audits.

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”

 

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The Good and the Bad — All in the Same Audit

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:

  1. Supporting Material Overhead rate
  2. DCAA auditor independence
  3. DCAA’s right to change their mind in subsequent audits
  4. Tax vs. Book on depreciation issues
  5. Bonuses
  6. Accrued Costs crossing fiscal year
  7. Unapproved subcontractors
  8. An excellent example of DCAA properly developing findings.
  9. Documenting consultants work product

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.

 

Developing Findings

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.

Documenting Consultants Work Product.

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.

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The Line Between Simplicity and Woops!

The  Armed Services Board of Contract Appeal is STILL 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:

  1. Supporting Material Overhead rate
  2. DCAA auditor independence
  3.  

    DCAA’s right to change their mind in subsequent audits

  4. Tax vs. Book on depreciation issues
  5. Bonuses
  6. Accrued Costs crossing fiscal year
  7. Unapproved subcontractors
  8. An excellent example of DCAA properly developing findings.
  9. Documenting consultants work product

The scratched out areas were discussed in previous articles. Today, I am going to talk about depreciation. Again, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

Depreciation

Depreciation and its evil sister Amortization often result in contractor upset stomachs and a desire to find a nice quiet spot somewhere where accountants can be beaten with long thin sticks. Tax and GAAP rules often differ significantly and can result in reconciling differences the contractor must track. To further add to this complexity, many accelerated tax depreciation methods are available for defined periods or under special conditions due to political decisions to impact the economy. Some depreciation methods are even restricted to certain neighborhoods (Okay, enterprise zones).

Too many contractors avoid this complexity and stick with a simple universal method for both tax and their financial (GAAP) books. This can cost the contractor real money but allows these individuals to sleep better.

TSI appears to have been one of those contractors who tried to keep tax and financial accounting together. Up until the year in question (2007), they depreciated their assets on a multiyear basis but in 2007 they ‘expensed’ out $26,198 in computer equipment of which $18,840 went onto the tax return as capital assets and expensed under Section 179. They claimed the full amount on the incurred cost submission.

TSI came up with an after-the-fact argument that reasonably argued some of the costs were not capital costs (short life), but admitted that not all of the costs fell into this category and could not identify the different equipment.

The Board took notice that TSI did not have any depreciation polices in 2007 or the previous years. In absence of contractor policies, the Board relied on consistency and noted that previous to 2007 the contractor utilized multiyear depreciation. As a result, TSI lost most of the 26k it expensed on the incurred cost proposal.

Depreciation policies and procedures are not specifically addressed in DCAA’s preaward audit program or in the government’s SF 1408. This is another excellent reason why contractors should adopt comprehensive policies and procedures and move past what DCAA looks at initially. The only real FAR restriction for small contractors, as noted by the Board, is not to charge the government more than is found on your financial books.

Depreciation Lessons

  1. Depreciate Often and Wisely – Contractors should take advantage of tax benefits allowed and should set up systems that allow the differences between tax and GAAP to track easily by utilizing memorandum or reversing journal entries as a simple example. Many software programs offer to track this difference with little effort. This leads to the second point.
  2. Policies and Procedures Protect and Explain – It is not just about compliance, excellent policies and procedures serve as a roadmap allowing a contractor to see where they have been (current policy and procedure) and figure out where they want to be (adapted policy and procedures). To phrase this in a way many of my engineering clients will appreciate: How can you begin to discuss modifications to a design without the current specification sitting in front of you? Policies and Procedures are your business specifications.
  1. Excellent Policies and Procedures are Dynamic – Want to adapt accelerated depreciation? Look at your needs, GAAP, and other compliance issues and move forward. Just do not forget to include the changes on your Schedule M.

One final note, the Board, as is typical, ordered the government and TSI to recalculate the rates based on the Board’s decision. I wonder if there will be arguments on the allowable 2007 depreciation, given the lack of governing policies and procedures? I imagine they will eventually agree on the method used in previous years, but the DCAA may have question about those now that the light is focused on the issue. I am also curious if DCAA proposed disallowing ALL of the 2007 depreciation and the Board caught this.

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DCMA Criticized for not Following DCAA Recommendations on Incurred Cost Proposal Audits.

One again proving that the contractor should defend costs BEFORE DCAA makes its findings official.

 

http://www.dodig.mil/pubs/report_summary.cfm?id=7287&utm_source=DoD+IG+Email+Update+-+Reports+and+Testimonies&utm_campaign=e02c5e6e40-DoD_IG_Reports&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3a17f8681e-e02c5e6e40-277174597

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Very, Vary, Variance

Let us take a break from the Technology Services, Inc (TSI) case and talk about a continuing flaw in most small government contractor’s accounting system: tracking variances, specifically those associated with cost type contracts and the associated indirect costs.

Simply put, the variance is the amount the government owes you because your rates ran higher than your billing rates or the amount you owe the government because your rates ran lower than the billing rates.

DCAA’s Information for Contractors discusses the subject in Enclosure 5.

  1. Provisional Billing Rates.
  2. FAR 42.704 provides the CO (or cognizant Federal agency official) or auditor responsible for establishing the final indirect cost rates also shall be responsible for determining the billing rates. The Government allows interim payments, if authorized by the contract, during contract performance by progress payments for fixed-price contracts, or by public voucher for cost-type contracts. Reimbursement of indirect costs for these payments is generally made through billing rates that are established to approximately equal the expected final indirect cost rates for the contractor’s fiscal period, as adjusted for any unallowable costs. These billing rates are used for interim reimbursement purposes until settlement is reached on final rates after the end of the contractor’s fiscal year. Billing rates may be prospectively or retroactively revised by mutual agreement, at either the Government’s or contractor’s request, to prevent substantial overpayment or underpayment. Once the final rates are established, an adjustment is made for any variance between the billing and final rates.
  3. Upon receipt of the certified final indirect cost rate proposal, FAR 42.704(e) provides that the Government and the contractor may mutually agree to revise billing rates to reflect the certified proposed indirect cost rates. The proposed indirect rates will be adjusted to reflect historically disallowed amounts from prior audits until the proposal has been audited and settled. The historical decrement will be determined by either the CO or the auditor responsible for determining final indirect cost rates. If billed costs exceed claimed costs, the contractor must appropriately adjust the next voucher or remit or otherwise credit the Government for the difference.

This government publication points to one of the critical knowledge areas for small business government contractors. If you keep your books and accordingly run your business like the IRS wants their information, your will probably go out of business. If you do the same with regards to DCAA, you will almost certainly go out of business.

The IRS wants to collect information in a manner that makes it easier to assess your tax liability and collect the taxes. They simply have no interest in how your business is doing, your success or failure is not within their job description. DCAA enjoys a theoretical interest in a contractor’s success as it assumes that the contractor’s work is necessary to the government, but their institutional focus has been on the contractor’s expenses in terms of allocability and allowability. Profitability, to DCAA, is, at best, out of their scope of work. At worst, contractor profits can be a focus of suspicion for DCAA.

And variances have a direct impact on profitability and the ability of the contractor to succeed and prosper. Here are a couple examples from my work over the years:

A couple of decades ago, a contractor I worked with secured a $10,000,000 contract with the government and managed to talk them into a $5,000,000 advance payment on the contract. Almost unheard of, even back in those days.

Unfortunately, the owner died tragically just after receiving the advance payment. The company made the IRS happy and paid the taxes on the $5,000,000 and recorded the “revenue” on the books. Properly, the company should have booked the advance payment as Deferred Revenue, a liability, and the money should only have hit revenue as it was earned. This is an excellent example of how you fill out your tax return often should have no influence on how you manage your business.

I am sure you can guess, the contractor spent a lot of the money before they even began serious work on the contract and struggled for a couple of years to do the work without any new money for the work.

In another example going the other way, a client of mine brought me in to work some audit issues on a $27,000,000 contract. As I looked everything over, I asked about any variances and they assured me there were no variances. I looked at the billing for the five years and could not see any variance billing, and asked to take a look at one year to check. After some resistance, they agreed and I found they underbilled the government about $75,000 in the sample year. That justified taking a look at all five years and the amount grew to approximately $900,000 never billed to the government.

The latter one annoyed me a bit as this contractor paid me to help create their policies and procedures. These policies and procedures called on the contractor to track the variance on a monthly basis. Obviously this did not happen.

Other contractors I worked with over the years discovered during the preparation of their Incurred Cost Proposal that they owed the government tens of thousands of dollars they did not anticipate. Another former client never had a variance, his books somehow tied exactly to the billing rate year after year. It is a bit more innocent than it sounds. He actually thought he was contractually obligated to spend to that amount exactly.

And of course I have to mention the major accounting firm that called an emergency conference call because they did not understand why the rates on the incurred cost proposals differed from the billing rates.

Tracking variances is cost accounting 101. No one should be surprised by a variance. Contractors should track the variance on each contract each month. You calculate the variance (actual vs. billed) for the month and post the difference to the balance sheet. If you the variance is up one month and down the next, this method will show the contract-to-date total each month. Putting the variance on the books of record and reporting it on the balance sheet formalizes the process, making it a routine item to discuss at those monthly finance meetings.

After writing the first draft of this article this morning I reviewed standard report from one the popular government contracting system and discovered, to my great annoyance, that the variance was reported as an increase of profits!!!!  How do you explain this to your boss when you have to pay the money back? Maybe it is a setup issue, sigh….

There is some disagreement about where on the balance sheet to post the variance. I prefer to post the balances to an accounts receivable account (“CPFF Variance”) and the offset is to “CPFF Variance Revenue”. Some contractors use an inventory method, posting the variance to an inventory Work in Progress account on the balance sheet and posting the other side to a Cost of Goods Sold account.

Either way, you know where you are each month and there are no surprises.

What do you do if you are caught by surprise? Depending on your circumstances, there are some legitimate methods for addressing variances starting with a thorough analysis of allocability, allowability, and costs.

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A Shot Across the Bow?

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:

  1. Supporting Material Overhead rate
  2. DCAA auditor independence
  3. DCAA’s right to change their mind in subsequent audits
  4. Tax vs. Book on depreciation issues
  5. Bonuses
  6. Accrued Costs crossing fiscal year
  7. Unapproved subcontractors
  8. An excellent example of DCAA properly developing findings.
  9. Documenting consultants work product

The scratched out areas were discussed in previous articles. Today, I am going to talk about DCAA auditor independence. Again, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

DCAA Auditor Independence

CPA ethics drove me insane for years before I took the exam and the subsequent ethics exam. I often compare the profession’s complicated ethics rule to the Pharisees described in the New Testament. But beyond the esoteric ethic issues surrounding the audit of the town’s only bank by the town’s only CPA who is a customer of the bank, I want to focus on a couple of simple clear issues regarding DCAA auditor independence.

First, there is the general issue of questioning DCAA’s very ability to be independent. DCAA works for the government, often they work directly for the contractor’s “customer” DCMA. DCAA actually advertises their job as not finding the truth but finding “unallowable” tax dollars.  From a common sense point, not a great argument for independence. As a comparison, I do not see the IRS’s primary focus on recovering tax dollars. The focus there seems a little more skewed toward finding the facts (truth).

While I may question DCAA’s institutional ability to be independent, I acknowledge they are granted this assumption of independence by statute. While DCAA in fact, may not be independent, such independence is assumed in order for the government to protect tax payers.

Some of the alternative’s may be worse. I have argued that the government hiring of outside CPA firms to conduct incurred cost proposal audits as destroying even the institutional illusion of independence. The outside CPA firms are contractors looking to keep the contract while, for good or bad, DCAA auditors enjoy some job security and thus a bit more independence. I even referred to the CPA firm contractors as “contractors” in management responses. Outside CPA firms are even more strongly motivated than DCAA to find “unallowable” costs on behalf of their actual customer.

Again, while moaning about the possible illusionary independence of DCAA, I accept it as an institution. This brings us to the second level of auditor independence: those cases where individual auditors, offices, branches, or even the institution abandon the illusionary independence and act in an unethical manner. There are those rare occasions when an auditor is “on a witch hunt” for the contractor, or at least the contractor comes to believe this.

The issue is discussed in several paragraphs of the TSI opinion on both the actual opinion and the dissenting opinion. The following paragraph gets to the heart of the matter:

TSI advances two somewhat related factual allegations that are relevant to its course of conduct legal theory, which we will discuss shortly: first, that the DCAA auditor who performed the initial work on the FY 2007 ICP audit was, for some unstated reason, biased against TSI; and second, that the DCAA had been much easier on it in past audits (app. br. at 3-5; app. reply br. at 10-11). In testimony presented by TSI, Mr. Fletcher, its CFO, characterized the first DCAA auditor, Ms. Waller, as having been “on a witch hunt” (tr. 2/165). Moreover, as discussed above, there was ample evidence of friction between Ms. Waller and TSI and early indications from TSI that it did not believe that it would get a “fair” audit from Ms. Waller. Nevertheless, the evidence also demonstrates that the preliminary work performed by Ms. Waller was not the end of the story, given the change in questioned costs demonstrated most clearly by Tables 1, 2, and 3 above. Moreover, the ACO credibly testified that her decisions regarding which costs to question were made independently (tr. 1/251 ), which is consistent with the back-and-forth which she attempted with TSI prior to issuing her COFD. We need not delve into these circumstances any further due to the fact that TSI, itself, has “concede[ d]” that its claim that the COFD should be set aside due to lack of auditor independence “cannot be sustained” (app. br. at 3).

 

Off the top of my head, I do not recall an incident where I concluded that a DCAA auditor’s personal bias interfered with an audit, but there were many occasions where the contractor thought so and I understood how they came to this belief. To be frank, I believe contractors take personally an auditor’s professional incompetence and see this incompetence as a witch hunt. Professional competence is not simply technical but also encompasses behavior with the audit subject, and not all DCAA auditors show a mastery of this area and some of them experience a strong reaction when a contractor questions their actions or requests.

All of this simply reminds us that DCAA auditors are human beings working, in my opinion, in a less than ideal envrioment. They are asked to function as independent auditors in a instution that places enormous value on finding contractor errors. I do believe the vast majority of them rise above this pressure.

Another example of where it appears personal is when we remember that DCAA auditors are thrust out on audits with a great deal of authority and not always the experience, knowledge, or support, to exercise that power in the best way possible. DCAA is working hard to address this issue, but the last crisis took a serious toll on the agency’s institutional knowledge. I remember a young DCAA auditor threatening me with a fraud referral because he concluded that a working trial balance was an instrument to defraud the government. Many such auditors are now supervisors.

There are many findings of auditor incompetence, even serious allegations of DCAA malpractice, but I believe it is rarely, if ever, personal.

What is interesting about the TSI case is that all three of the judges were willing to look at evidence of bias. That is a warning shot across the bow of the ship DCAA.

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Material Overhead Rate — Off and On

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:

  1. Supporting Material Overhead rate
  2. DCAA Auditor independence
  3. DCAA’s right to change their mind in subsequent audits
  4. Tax vs. Book on depreciation issues
  5. Bonuses
  6. Accrued Costs crossing fiscal year
  7. Unapproved subcontractors
  8. An excellent example of DCAA properly developing findings.
  9. Documenting consultants work product

I talked about unapproved contractors in the last article and today I am going to look at item one: Supporting Material Overhead rate. Again, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

The material overhead rate did not actually end up as part of this case only because the second DCAA auditor did not pursue it. TSI proposed a material overhead rate of 1.05% that the first DCAA auditor recommended be 100% disallowed while the second auditor accepted the rate. TSI alleged that the first auditor “had it in” for them and we will discuss the minimal discussion on DCAA auditor independence later.

Almost all of this article is speculative on my part and should not be taken to represent what actually occurred, but when I got the page where the initial DCAA auditor rejected all of the material overhead rate I thought “Crap, that has been a long time coming”. When I saw that DCAA backed off in the second stab at the audit, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought, “Not this time”.

Two Sides of the Circle or Contractors with Multiple Government Bosses

It is important to remember that government contractors circle around two extremes of government compliance. On one side, there is the programs staff and their associated contracting officers. These are the guys who issue the RFP, decide you are the guy they want, and issue the contract in coordination with DCMA.

On the other side of the circle is DCAA which looks at the contractor’s costs and business systems then recommends actions to DCMA based on their audit work.

A government contractor needs to make both sides as happy as possible, and I would argue that Material Overhead Rates is one of the bizarre evolutions within government contracting that arose to make this hope of making both sides (programs and compliance) happy a reality. The concept exists in established cost accounting practice but is not as universal as many RFPs would imply.

Just Where Do We Put that Pesky G&A?

The FAR, CAS, and DCAA are strong on contractors allocating general and administrative (G&A) costs utilizing a method labeled Total Cost Input (TCI). TCI allocates G&A costs over all other costs (direct (to include materials and subcontractors), overhead, fringe and so on). CAS actually states “A total cost input base is generally acceptable as an appropriate measure of total activity of a business unit”.

Thus TCI is automatically accepted as a valid way of allocating G&A by everyone. Everyone except the government people on the other side of the circle (programs and their branch contracting officers). It often seems a majority of them think burdening travel, materials, subcontractors, and materials with a G&A rate is an outrageous and immoral act. Addressing this indignation over the years, it is clear to me that many of the associated program people (including buyers) look at this allocation as a mark-up not an allocation of actual allowable indirect costs.

I will give you two recent examples. One was a final four major accounting firm auditing a client’s incurred cost proposal on a DOE contract. The supervisor auditor entered my office at the client site (I was there supporting the audit) and spent a lot of time arguing that allocating G&A on a subcontract was unethical (his words) since the subcontract contained its own G&A and this meant the government was being charged twice.

Obviously he did not enjoy a great deal of experience with value added taxes, and I responded by asserting that was the subcontractor’s G&A and not the prime’s (my client). The two could simply not be compared. A G&A rate is not arbitrary and represents an allocation of legitimate indirect expenses, expenses of both the subcontractor and the prime contractor. It is not a ‘profit’.

He then argued that the allocated G&A simply stood out of proportion to the base cost. It takes a great deal more G&A to administer direct labor than cut a check to a subcontractor. I actually thought this a much stronger argument, but he was still out of his league. I reminded him that the prime is responsible for the subcontractor and it is never as simple as cutting a check.

He still argued on and on about the injustice of the allocation. I finally made two additional points that finally closed the argument. First, all allocation methods are ultimately subjective and arbitrary. Second, please leave my office and come back with a statutory or regulatory basis that supported his argument.

The second example involved an Army contracting officer complaining that because their contract with the contractor was about half materials and the Air Force’s contract was all services, the Army was receiving an inequitable allocation of G&A. I responded by stating that the inequity could only be applied on a government wide level and not a branch level.

The thought behind these arguments and the countless other times I encounter them, is that a dollar spent on direct materials, subcontractors, and even travel, should not receive the same amount of G&A as direct labor. To approach from a different angle, given a G&A rate of 10% it is unfair to burden $500,000 of material costs with $50,000 of G&A.

One way I attempt to explain this to the program’s side is by trying to tie them into the whole picture:

“Okay, if a contractor has $75,000 in direct labor, $25,000 in subcontractor costs with $10,000 in allowable G&A, we have to allocate the $10,000.  The government is legally obligated to pay for the $10,000. Total Cost Input gives $7,500 to the labor costs and $2,500 to the subcontractor costs. How would you do it?”

Too often I get a response such as “I do not know, but that is too much on the subcontractor”.

The Program People Come Up with an Idea

This, I believe led to the development of “Material Overhead Rate”, “Subcontractor Handling Rate” and other similar line items on various RFPs approximately fifteen years ago. These line items are intended to relieve materials and subcontractors of G&A costs while acknowledge there are indirect costs associated with these direct cost elements.

Problem solved?

The number one question I get from contractors working on these RFPs is “What rate do we use?” or “How do we calculate this rate?” In other words, how do contractors separate out from G&A the part of G&A associated with subcontractors or materials. The base is defined, but how do you populate the pool? How do we justify a 3% Material Overhead Rate with a separate 10% G&A rate?

If you want a glimpse at the potential can or worms these rates may open look at questions 12 -21 on the “Contractor Forward Pricing Rate Proposal Adequacy Checklist” under DFARS 215.403-5.

Again, this is supposition on my part, but I wonder if the first DCAA auditor asked TSI for just such documentation, the justification for creation and operation of the Materials Overhead rate. I am guessing she decided it was inadequate. I am also guessing the second DCAA auditor understood the complexity of this issue and decided to focus valuable time elsewhere.

Material Overhead and Subcontracting Handling are legitimate cost accounting objectives The challenges in developing and maintaining the rate are reduced for larger contractors where the size and frequency of activity makes it easier to allocate and define such allocations.

Small business contractors face greater challenges developing, implementing, and defending these rates. If you can identify time spent on handling materials on a specific contract, is this Material Overhead or Direct Labor? The same is true of the time spent reviewing a subcontractor invoice. Even if you feel comfortable with the methodology you develop there is no guarantee DCAA will not question it this year or next year (which is another issue raised in this case that we will address later).

This is one of those rare occasions where I will not share some of my approaches for addressing this issue among small business contractors. I prefer to share these on a case by case basis with DCAA if required. They are ethical and defensible, but vary from contractor to contractor.

Some RFPs appear to acknowledge some of these complexities and replace Material Overhead Rate with Material Overhead Fee. Take them at their word and treat it as a fee, a request not to burden materials or subcontractors with G&A while compensating contractors for the acknowledged costs involved in administrating those costs (materials and subcontractors). Do not include it in your rate proposal.

That is until some bright DCAA auditor wonders if the fee should be included in the base….

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