The implications of the audit provisions contained in construction agreements between owners and contractors owners extend far beyond post-completion bean counting, and can affect multiple aspects of a project, from project administration to relationships with key subcontractors. It is critically important that contractors give audits the attention they deserve by taking the following four steps. First, invest the time to negotiate the audit provisions that ultimately appear in contracts with the owner. Second, ensure that the project team and the owner’s project auditors engage in timely communication during construction. Third, make certain that post-completion audit administration is prompt and complete. And finally, carefully draft adequate “flow-down” provisions with subcontractors and vendors so that they understand and comply with their contractual obligations, as well as the expectations of the contractor and owner. All four aspects are critical, and if not addressed effectively can undermine the profitability of the contract, and contractors’ business relationships with both upstream and downstream parties.
At the outset of contract negotiations, a contractor must completely understand the owner’s audit process expectations. An owner’s understanding of the audit process and its potential pitfalls depends on their own experience, as well as the knowledge of their personnel, including internal audit members and external auditors. Negotiations, which like the audit itself need not be adversarial, can be educational for both the owner and any representatives involved.