As federal contractors may be aware, the general rule when performing a contract for the federal government is that only the contracting officer (“CO”) can bind the government. Often, the CO delegates responsibility to a contracting officer’s representative (“COR”). While in some cases a COR may be able to bind the federal government, the contract may limit that ability exclusively to the CO.
Important for our clients, it is the responsibility of the contractor to determine whether the COR can legally bind the federal government when ordering changes to the scope of work.  This is true even when a COR possesses apparent authority to order changes to the work, and when the project is almost exclusively overseen by COR’s. 
A recent case highlights the dangers of a contractor relying on the orders of a COR when performing work outside the scope of a contract. In Baistar Mechanical Inc., a contractor was awarded a maintenance and snow removal contract with the federal government. The contract expressly stated that only the CO had contracting authority regarding additional or changed work.  However, Baistar, the contractor, argued it was directed by the contracting officer’s representatives to perform work outside of the contract.