Q: Can a Federal agency hire a vendor to do something the agency isn't allowed to do?

If a Federal agency feels it is in the best interest of the government to take an action, but it is not authorized to take such action, is it legal for the agency to hire a contractor to perform that action? If the agency feels it would be in the best interest of the nation, but the action would be an unauthorized action for the agency, may it award a grant or enter a cooperative agreement for such action?

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Consumer Law Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA

A: In the United States, federal agencies operate within the bounds of statutory authority and regulations. They cannot take actions that are not authorized by law or regulation, even if they believe it may be in the best interest of the government or the nation. If an agency wishes to undertake an action that is outside its authorized scope, it typically must seek legislative or regulatory changes to expand its authority.

However, federal agencies do have the ability to contract with vendors or award grants and cooperative agreements for specific purposes within their authorized scope of activities. These contracts and agreements must align with the agency's statutory authority and be consistent with applicable laws and regulations. Federal agencies must adhere to a competitive and transparent process when awarding contracts and grants to ensure that taxpayer funds are used appropriately and that vendors or grantees are qualified to perform the required work.

In summary, while federal agencies cannot engage in unauthorized actions, they can contract with vendors or award grants and cooperative agreements within their authorized scope to achieve their missions and goals in the best interest of the government and the nation. Any actions taken by the agency or its contractors must comply with applicable laws and regulations.

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