September 23, 1992
TO THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE AGENCIES AND DEPARTMENTS
SUBJECT: Inherently Governmental Functions
Not all functions may be performed by contractors, however. Just as it is clear that certain functions, such as the command of combat troops, may not be contracted, it is also clear that other functions, such as building maintenance and food services, may be contracted. The difficulty is in determining which of these services that fall between these extremes may be acquired by contract. Agencies have occasionally relied on contractors to perform certain functions in such a way as to raise questions about whether Government policy is being created by private persons. Also, from time to time questions have arisen regarding the extent to which de facto control over contract performance has been transferred to contractors. This policy letter provides an illustrative list of functions, that are, as a matter of policy, inherently governmental (see Appendix A)(, and articulates the practical and policy considerations that underlie such determinations (see [[section]] 7).
As stated in [[section]] 9, however, this policy letter does not purport to specify which functions are, as a legal matter, inherently governmental, or to define the factors used in making such legal determination. Thus, the fact that a function is listed in Appendix A, or a factor is set forth in [[section]] 7(b), does not necessarily mean that the function is inherently governmental as a legal matter or that the factor would be relevant in making the legal determination.
An inherently governmental function involves, among other things, the interpretation and execution of the laws of the United States so as to:
(a) bind the United States to take or not to take some action by contract, policy, regulation, authorization, order, or otherwise;
(b) determine, protect, and advance its economic, political, territorial, property, or other interests by military or diplomatic action, civil or criminal judicial proceedings, contract management, or otherwise;
(c) significantly affect the life, liberty, or property of private persons;
(d) commission, appoint, direct, or control officers of employees of the United States; or
(e) exert ultimate control over the acquisition, use, or disposition of the property, real or personal, tangible or intangible, of the United States, including the collection, control, or disbursement of appropriated and other Federal funds.
Inherently governmental functions do not normally include gathering information for or providing advice, opinions, recommendations, or ideas to Government officials. They also do not include functions that are primarily ministerial and internal in nature, such as building security; mail operations; operation of cafeterias; housekeeping; facilities operations and maintenance, warehouse operations, motor vehicle fleet management and operations, or other routine electrical or mechanical services.
The detailed list of examples of commercial activities found as an attachment to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Cir. No. A-76 is an authoritative, nonexclusive list of functions that are not inherently governmental functions. These functions therefore may be contracted.
(a) Accountability. It is the policy of the Executive Branch to ensure that Government action is taken as a result of informed, independent judgments made by Government officials who are ultimate accountable to the President. When the Government uses service contracts, such informed, independent judgment is ensured by:
(2) providing greater scrutiny and an appropriate enhanced degree of management oversight (see subsection 7(f)) when contracting for functions that are not inherently governmental but closely support the performance of inherently governmental functions (see Appendix B);
(3) ensuring, in using the products of those contracts, that any final agency action complies with the laws and policies of the United States and reflects the independent conclusions of agency officials and not those of contractors who may have interests that are not in concert with the public interest, and who may be beyond the reach of management controls otherwise applicable to public employees; and
(4) ensuring that reasonable identification of contractors and contractor work products is made whenever there is a risk that the public, Congress, or other persons outside of the Government might confuse them with Government officials or with Government work products, respectively.
(b) OMB Circular No. A-76. This policy letter does not purport to supersede or otherwise effect any change in OMB Circular No. A-76, Performance of Commercial Activities.
(c) Drafting of Congressional testimony, responses to Congressional correspondence, and agency responses to audit reports from an Inspector General, the General Accounting Office, or other Federal audit entity. While the approval of a Government document is an inherently governmental function, its drafting is not necessarily such a function. Accordingly, in most situations the drafting of a document, or portions thereof, may be contracted, and the agency should review and revise the draft document, to the extent necessary, to ensure that the final document expresses the agency's views and advances the public interest. However, even though the drafting function is not necessarily an inherently government function, it may be inappropriate, for various reasons, for a private party to draft a document in particular circumstances. Because of the appearance of private influence with respect to documents that are prepared for Congress or for law enforcement or oversight agencies and that may be particularly sensitive, contractors are not to be used for the drafting of Congressional testimony; responses to Congressional correspondence; or agency responses to audit reports from an Inspector General, the General Accounting Office, or other Federal audit entity.
(a) The exercise of discretion. While inherently governmental functions necessarily involve the exercise of substantial discretion, not every exercise of discretion is evidence that such a function is involved. Rather, the use of discretion must have the effect of committing the Federal Government to a course of action when two or more alternative courses of action exist (e.g., purchasing a minicomputer than a mainframe computer, hiring a statistician rather than an economist, supporting proposed legislation rather than opposing economist, supporting proposed legislation rather than opposing it, devoting more resources to prosecuting one type of criminal case than another, awarding a contract to one firm rather than another, adopting one policy rather than another, and so forth).
A contract may thus properly be awarded where the contractor does not have the authority to decide on the course of action to be pursued but is rather tasked to develop options to inform an agency decision maker, or to develop or expand decisions already made by Federal officials. Moreover, the mere fact that decisions are made by the contractors in performing his or her duties (e.g., how to allocate the contractor's own or subcontract resources, what techniques and procedures to employ, whether and whom to consult, what research alternatives to explore given the scope of the contract, what conclusions to emphasize, how frequently to test) is not determinative of whether he or she is performing an inherently government function.
(b) Totality of the circumstances. Determining whether a function is an inherently governmental function often is difficult and depends upon an analysis of the factors of the case. Such analysis involves consideration of a number of factors, and the presence or absence of any one is not in itself determinative of the issue. Nor will the same emphasis necessarily be placed on any one factor at different times, due to the changing nature of the Government's requirements.
The following factors should be considered when deciding whether award of a contract might effect, or the performance of a contract has effected, a transfer of official responsibility:
(2) The degree to which official discretion is or would be limited, i.e., whether the contractor's involvement in agency functions is or would be so extensive or his or her work product is so far advanced toward completion that the agency's ability to develop and consider options other than those provided by the contractor is restricted.
(3) In claims adjudication and related services,
(ii) the degree to which contractor activities may involve wide-ranging interpretations of complex, ambiguous case law and other legal authorities, as opposed to being circumscribed by detailed laws, regulations, and procedures.
(iii) the degree to which matters for decision by the contractor involve recurring fact patterns or unique fact patterns; and
(iv) The contractor's discretion to determine an appropriate award or penalty.
(4) The contractor's ability to take action that will significantly and directly affect the life, liberty, or property of individual members of the public, including the likelihood of the contractor's need to resort to force in support of a police or judicial function; whether force, especially deadly force, is more likely to be initiated by the contractor or by some other person; and the degree to which force may have to be exercised in public or relatively uncontrolled areas. (Note that contracting for guard, convoy security, and plant protection services, armed or unarmed, is not proscribed by these policies.)
(5) The availability of special agency authorities and the appropriateness of their application to the situation at hand, such as the power to deputize private persons.
(6) Whether the function in question is already being performed by private persons, and the circumstances under which it is being performed by them.
(c) Finality of agency determinations. Whether or not a function is an inherently governmental function, for purposes of this policy letter, is a matter for agency determination. However, agency decisions that a function is or is not an inherently governmental function may be reviewed, and, if necessary, modified by appropriate OMB officials.
(d) Preaward responsibilities. Whether a function being considered for performance by contract is an inherently governmental function is an issue to be addressed prior to issuance of the solicitation.
(e) Post-award responsibilities. After award, even when a contract does not involve performance of an inherently governmental function, agencies must take steps to protect the public interest by playing an active, informed role in contract administration. This ensures that contractors comply with the terms of the contract and that Government policies, rather than private ones, are implemented. Such participation should be appropriate to the nature of the contract, and should leave no doubt that the contract is under the control of Government officials. This does not relieve contractors of their performance responsibilities under the contract. Nor does this responsibility to administer the contract require Government officials to exercise such control over contractor activities to convert the contract, or portion thereof, to a personal service contract.
In deciding whether Government officials have lost or might lose control of the administration of a contract, the following are relevant considerations: the degree to which agencies have effective management procedures and policies that enable meaningful oversight of contractor performance, the resources available for such oversight, the actual practice of the agency regarding oversight, the duration of the contract, and the complexity of the tasks to be performed.
(f) Management controls. When functions described in Appendix B are involved, additional management attention to the terms of the contract and the manner of performance is necessary. How close the scrutiny or how extensive or stringent the management controls need to be is for agencies to determine. Examples of additional control measures that might be employed are:
(2) establishing audit plans for periodic review of contracts by Government auditors;
(3) conducting preaward conflict of interest reviews to ensure contract performance in accordance with objective standards and contract specifications;
(4) physically separating contractor personnel from Government personnel at the worksite; and
(5) requiring contractors to (a) submit reports that contain recommendations and that explain and rank policy or action alternatives, if any, (b) describe what procedures they used to arrive at their recommendations, (c) summarize the substance of their deliberations, (d) report any dissenting views, (e) list sources relied upon, and/or (f) otherwise make clear the methods and considerations upon which their recommendations are based.
(g) Identification of contractor personnel and acknowledgment of contractor participation. Contractor personnel attending meetings, answering Government telephones, and working in other situations where their contractor status is not obvious to third parties must be required to identify themselves as such to avoid creating an impression in the minds of members of the public or the Congress that they are Government officials, unless, in the judgment of the agency, no harm can come from failing to identify themselves. All documents or reports produced by contractors are to be suitably marked as contractor products.
(h) Degree of reliance The extent of reliance on service contractors is not by itself a cause for concern. Agencies must, however, have a sufficient number of trained and experienced staff to manage Government programs properly. The greater the degree of reliance on contractors the greater the need for oversight by agencies. What number of Government officials is needed to oversee a particular contract is a management decision to be made after analysis of a number of factors. These include, among others, the scope of the activity in question; the technical complexity of the project or its components; the technical capability, numbers, and workload of Federal oversight officials; the inspection techniques available; and the importance of the activity. Current contract administration resources shall not be determinative. The most efficient and cost effective approach shall be utilized.
(b) Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council. Pursuant to subsections 6(a) and 25(f) of the OFPP Act, as amended, 41 U.S.C. [[section]][[section]] 405(a) and 421(f), the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council shall ensure that the policies established herein are incorporated in the FAR within 210 days from the date this policy letter is published in the Federal Register. Issuance of final regulations within this 210-day period shall be considered issuance "in a timely manner" as prescribed in 41 U.S.C. [[section]] 405(b).
(c) Contracting officers. When requirements are developed, when solicitations are drafted, and when contracts are being performed, contracting officers are to ensure:
(2) that functions to be contracted that are not listed in Appendix A, and that do not closely resemble them, are not inherently governmental functions according to the totality of the circumstances test in subsection 7(b), above;
(3) that the terms and the manner of performance of any contract involving functions listed in Appendix B of this letter are subject to adequate scrutiny and oversight in accordance with subsection 7(f), above; and
(4) that all other contractible functions are properly managed in accordance with subsection 7(e), above.
Allan V. Burman
The following is an illustrative list of functions considered to be inherently governmental functions: (footnote: With respect to the actual drafting of Congressional testimony, of responses to Congressional correspondence, and of agency responses to audit reports from the Inspector General, the General Accounting Office, or other Federal audit entity, see special provisions in subsection 6(c) of the text of the policy letter)
(a) determining what supplies or services are to be acquired by the Government (although an agency may give contractors authority to acquire supplies at prices within specified ranges and subject to other reasonable conditions deemed appropriate by the agency);
(b) participating as a voting member on any source selection boards;
(c) approval of any contractual documents, to include documents defining requirements, incentive plans, and evaluation criteria;
(d) awarding contracts;
(e) administering contracts (including ordering changes in contract performance or contract quantities, taking action based on evaluations of contractor performance, and accepting or rejecting contractor products or services);
(f) terminating contracts; and
(g) determining whether contract costs are reasonable, allocable, and allowable.
(a) collection of fees, fines, penalties, costs or other charges from visitors to or patrons of mess halls, post or base exchange concessions, national parks, and similar entities or activities, or from other persons, where the amount to be collected is easily calculated or predetermined and the funds collected can be easily controlled using standard cash management techniques, and
(b) routine voucher and invoice examination.
The following list is of services and actions that are not considered to be inherently governmental functions. However, they may approach being in that category because of the way in which the contractor performs the contract or the manner in which the government administers contractor performance. When contracting for such services and actions, agencies should be fully aware of the terms of the contract, contractor performance, and contract administration to ensure that appropriate agency control is preserved.
This is an illustrative listing, and is not intended to promote or discourage the use of the following types of contractor services:
AGENCY:Office of Management and Budget, Executive Office of the President, Office of Federal Procurement Policy.
ACTION:Policy Letter on Inherently Governmental Functions.
The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) publishes today the final version of a policy letter providing guidance to Executive Departments and agencies on (1) what functions are inherently governmental functions that must only be performed by Government officers and employees and (2) what contractible functions so closely support Government officers and employees in their performance of inherently governmental functions that the terms and performance of those contracts require closer scrutiny from Federal officials. This policy letter has been developed because executive agencies, members of Congress, the General Accounting Office, and the public have from time to time either requested guidance regarding, or inquired about, the propriety of awarding contracts for certain types of functions or administering contracts in certain ways. Previous guidance on this issue has also not been as detailed as that which we now provide.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Richard A. Ong, Deputy Association Administrator, Office of Federal Procurement Policy, 725 17th Street, NW---Suite 9001, Washington, DC 20503 (202) 395-7209. To obtain a copy of this policy letter, please call OMB's Publication Office at (202) 395-7332.
Comments received. We received 34 comments in response to our proposed policy letter published in the Federal Register on December 16, 1991 (56 Fed. Reg. 65279): eight from industry or trade groups, four from private individuals, two from employee organizations, one from a Federally funded research and development center, and 19 from Government agencies.
Previous guidance on these matters that has been available to the Executive Branch has not been detailed and sometimes Federal agencies have permitted contractors to perform functions that should be performed by Government personnel. We now provide more detailed guidance.
Thus, we do not cover in detail in this policy letter such matters as cost effectiveness of contracting for services, conflicts of interest of service contractors, and management of service contracts. These issues are dealt with in OMB Circular No. A-76, Performance of Commercial Activities, August 4, 1983 (under revision); OFPP Policy Letter 89-1, Conflict of interest Policies Applicable to Consultants, 54 Fed. Reg. 51,805 (December 18, 1989); OFPP Memorandum for Agency Senior Procurement Executives, Government-Wide Guidance on Contract Administration (March 15, 1991); OFPP Policy Letter 91-2, Service Contracting, 56 Fed. Reg. 15110 (April 15, 1991); proposed OFPP Policy Letter 91-___, Past Performance Information, 56 Fed. Reg. 63988 (December 6, 1991); and proposed OFPP Policy Letter 92-____, Management of Service Contracting, 56 Fed. Reg. 66091 (December 20, 1991).
We have altered the form of the original Circular A-76 definition of an inherently governmental function in the interest of clarity. Specific examples cited in the original A-76 definition have been incorporated into Appendix A and a list of the general principles underlying the selection of the functions listed in that appendix has been added in their stead.
The terms "function" and "activity" as used in this policy letter and Circular A-76, respectively, are interchangeable.
The same commenter above suggested that we add a new Appendix C, containing a nonexclusive list of functions that are commercial activities hat should be contracted. We have not adopted this suggestion because the scheme proposed is the same one we have implicitly adopted. The proposed Appendix C is nothing more than the list of examples of commercial activities found as an Attachment to Circular A-76. We do not believe it is necessary to incorporate that A-76 attachment in this policy letter. The fact that we have not provided this Appendix C thus should not be construed as narrowing the scope of functions that have been contracted in the past. Nonetheless, we have added language to [[section]] 5 to clarify the relationship between Circular A-76 and this policy letter on this point.
Another commenter stated that the relationship between this policy letter and Circular A-76 is unclear. This policy letter is to be the exclusive source of guidance on what constitutes, as a matter of policy, an inherently governmental function.
Another commenter questioned whether subsection 12(g) of Appendix A pertaining to the determination of whether contract costs are reasonable, allocable, and allowable proscribes the use of contract audit services. It does not. The decision on what costs are reasonable, allocable, and allowable is ultimately a Government decision, but that decision may be based on recommendations made by contract auditors. Certified public accountants, for example, only render "opinions" and contracts sometimes provide that audit reports are advisory only. Moreover, the use of contract auditors has been authorized by Congress, as noted above.
We have addressed the element of discretion in subsection 7(a) to convey the idea that the mere existence of the element of discretion is not determinative of whether, as a matter of policy, an inherently governmental function is involved. Moreover, it is useful to observe that a study hat has a tremendous impact is not per se a bad thing. A study may have that effect because of its great merit. We should be concerned, however, when a study is allowed to proceed to the point where alternative views, solutions, research, or conclusions, and so forth, cannot realistically be included or taken into account. In this case, the contractor has in effect made all important decisions. Section 7(b)(c) addresses this issue.
(a) Complexity and oversight. One commenter questioned the inclusion of [[paragraph]] 7(d)(2) of the proposed policy letter relating to the complexity of the task to be performed. Upon consideration, we conclude that complexity is better considered in conjunction with the provision that was at 7(d)(12) relating to oversight procedures, resources, and practices. We have amended paragraph 12 accordingly and moved it, as well as the provision in former [[paragraph]] 7(d)(4) relating to the duration of the contract, to new subsection 7(e), Post-award responsibilities. This was done to remove questions relating to contract oversight from the "totality of the circumstances" test. It is important to understand that, if an agency has inadequate oversight procedures or poor oversight practices, the underlying function of any agency contract affected by these deficiencies is not thereby transformed into an inherently governmental function. As the totality test focuses on the nature of the function in question and as there can be a transfer of oversight responsibility even if the underlying function is contractible, the issue of de facto transfer of control should therefore be dealt with elsewhere. (Note that a transfer of contract management responsibility to the contractor is explicitly not permitted by Appendix A, subsection 12(e).)
(b) Ultimate user of contractor work product. Several commenters questioned the inclusion of this factor at [[paragraph]] 7(d)(3) of the proposed policy letter. We agree it should be taken out. Who will use the contractor's work product is important and this has bearing on how much management attention to give to the contract, but it doesn't say anything about the nature of the underlying function or the adequacy of agency contract administration.
(c) Review of contractor action. The same commenter questions the advisability of including a factor (new [[paragraph]] 7(b)(5)) that relates to the finality of any contractor's adjudication of any claim and the type of agency review of contractor adjudications. We see no problem with agencies' providing for contractor adjudication of claims so long as citizens know that they have a right of recourse to agency decisionmakers if they are dissatisfied with the decisions of the contractor. (Note, however, that certain kinds of hearings may still not be eligible of any person for a security clearance, or hearings involving actions that affect matters of personal reputation or eligibility to participate in Government programs. See Appendix A, [[section]] 14.)
Thus, we distinguish between on the one hand, holding hearings and making recommendations and, on the other, retaining the authority to issue the final adjudicatory decision. Contractors may perform the former functions so long as there is adequate oversight, agencies retain the authority to issue the final decision, and the public has a right to insist that the agency make the final decision, if it so desires. This is easier to understand if one views the contractor's action as more of a advisory action than one that binds the claimant with only limited opportunities to change the result before the agency. Note that in the absence of an appeal by a claimant, the agency need not rule on each contractor decision or ruling. It should of course, inspect or sample contractor decisions or rulings from time to time to ensure that contractors comply with agency guidelines and procedures.
(d) Limited or extinguishing discretion. The same commenter noted that our speaking in terms of contractor limiting or extinguishing discretion in former [[paragraph]] 7(d)(5) could mistakenly create the impression that some of the Government's authority can be exercised by a contractor. The policy letter attempts to clarify this issue at subsection 7(a).
(e) Public perception. Several commenters questioned the inclusion of this factor at [[paragraph]] 7(d)(11) of the proposed policy letter, believing that public perception is too ambiguous a concept. We agree. A function can probably be analyzed in the light of other factors listed without the need to resort to the concept of perceptions. Appendix A of the policy letter is itself an up-to-date listing that already takes into account the factor of public perceptions. The paragraph has been deleted.
(f) Laws applicable to the Civil Service. Several commenters questioned the inclusion of this factor at [[paragraph]] 7(d)(123) of the proposed policy letter. We agree and have deleted this factor. The consideration listed may be relevant to what good contract management should require by way of contract conditions, but they don't say anything about the nature of the function or the adequacy of agency contract administration practices.
(g) Record keeping requirements. One commenter found the meaning of paragraph 8(d)(15) of the proposed policy letter unclear. This factor was included to cover situations such as a contractor's providing a aircraft-related training. If the contractor proves to be incompetent or negligent, the fact that the contractor did maintain or was required to maintain records of who was trained permits corrective action to be taken, such as locating improperly trained students and requiring retraining. If records are not maintained, the Government cannot exercise ultimate control because it cannot correct any errors. Nonetheless, the provision appears to have only limited application and has been deleted.
Whatever the reason for using service contracts to accomplish agency missions, it is important to understand that agency use of the function must not be an inherently government function, and if it is not, the agency must be able to exercise effective oversight of any contract awarded. We make clear that management of a contract is just as important as deciding whether the contract may properly be awarded in the first place.
Our policy letter is limited in scope and does not focus on why agencies use service contracts. Rather we are concerned that service contracts, when used, are used only when contractors may perform the functions in question and when agencies have the resources to manage the contracts. It is true that agencies have sometimes contracted functions that we have listed in the policy letter as inherently governmental functions, and it is true that they have sometimes failed to recognize that they were not exercising effective oversight over nongovernmental functions that had been contracted. Nonetheless, effective corrective action has been taken by the agencies in the past when oversight problems were identified.
Additional problems in this area will probably arise in the future. Even the General Accounting Office recognized the difficulty in defining inherently government functions and providing guidance to agencies on the subject. Are Service Contractors Performing Inherently Governmental Functions?, GAO/GGD-92-11, November 1991, p. 3. We have every reason to expect, however, that because our guidance is much more detailed than anything that was available to agencies in the past there will be fewer instances of problems in this area. We thus disagree strongly with the commenter that the policy letter is a mere exhortation to better management.
The concept of work "historically performed" by civil servants is not useful because a function may have been performed by civil servants in the past for reasons other than the belief that the function was inherently governmental. In fact, the premise of Circular No. A-76 is that many functions historically performed by Government employees can more appropriately be performed by the private sector.
We believe that competition is the most powerful force available to keep costs down, even though there may be instances where this will not be so. In such instances, determinations shall be made in accordance with Circular No. A-76.
Measurement of the short-term and long-term costs of reliance on contractors versus officials is an aspect of cost effectiveness of service contracts and need not be dealt with here. Similarly, the efficacy of the Superfund and savings and loan programs is a matter beyond the scope of this policy letter.
So far as the practical meaning of the concept of public service is concerned, this policy letter attempts to identify those functions that, as a matter of policy, should only be performed by Government officials and those that may be performed by service contractors. If our taxonomy and analytical methods are sound, our policy letter should define what public service entails in terms of the functions that officials must perform for the foreseeable future.
Allan V. Burman
Date: September 23, 1992
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