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Thursday, August 3, 2023

Risk Analysis and Provisional Indirect Rates In Government Contracting

Previous discussion has addressed FAR and CAS Compliant business systems for small enterprises undertaking federal government contracting:

Establishing FAR and CAS Compliant Business System

DCAA Audits and Small Business Job Cost Accounting Systems

Chapter 51 of the free book, 'Small Business Federal Government Contracting' contains an explanation and examples of a forward pricing budget plan from which provisional rates are established and negotiated with the government. Under "Management Factors" the book goes on to explain that it is not always possible to execute the plan as anticipated.

Programs and projects will come and go, entering and leaving the business base sometimes earlier and sometimes later than planned. Expenses do not always materialize as anticipated. For these reasons actual experience in terms of indirect rates may differ (+or -) from provisional rates.

There are three important points to remember regarding provisional bidding and billing rates:

1. Provisional rates are utilized for both pricing and billing and billed rates must be reconciled to actual rates at contract closeout for cost type contracts.

2. Provisional rates are audited by DCAA and negotiated with Administrative Contracting Officers. They are the baseline frame of reference for the government in reviewing cost proposals and billings until the contractor asks for a change. Provisional rates are used for billing existing contracts and for pricing new work. Provisional rates are approved by the government on an interim basis or they would not be "Provisional" by definition. A constant frame of reference is the actual running rate being experienced by a contractor as opposed to the current provisional rate.  The difference must be reconciled on cost type contracts at contract closeout. 

3. A request for change to provisional rates must be supported by data regarding actual running rate experience and may start a series of questions by DCAA or contracting activities regarding what sort of management corrective action is planned for differences between provisional and actual running rates (particularly if a provisional rate increase is proposed under time and material or cost type contracts or prices for outstanding proposals are increased due to rate changes prior to negotiation).

There are no industry average indirect rates in federal government contracting because there are wide swings due to many factors. Company indirect rates are managed based on the competition, the market and the funding availability of the customer. Site-unique indirect rates inside government facilities are always lower than company site operation rates because the government is paying a portion of the expenses (facilities occupancy, heat, light, etc.) on work occurring inside a government facility.

Assuming a small business pays roughly the same on the open market for labor, material and ODC as the competition, and has to offer the same fringe benefits to retain employees, the remaining overhead and G and A rate expenses are principal drivers in winning new business and have the most potential to lose a job, cause funding difficulties on an existing program or be responsible for a loss on projects negotiated at fixed rates.

Below are examples of a risk analysis thought process when evaluating whether or not to make a provisional rate change:


One could say that it may be a poor time to change a provisional rate when there are several FFP proposals outstanding and in negotiation or a major competition is coming up.

On the other hand if there is a wide unfavorable variance between the current actual running rate experience and the existing provisional rate and the future forecasted base and expenses do not show improvement, perhaps the rate should change to avoid signing up to prospective losses or ambitious funding profiles that may mislead a customer.


One could say that it is a good time to change a provisional rate if several cost plus and T&M contracts are pending closeout and there is a wide disparity between billed cost and actual cost due to rates. In fact, if the government is going to owe you money at closeout, the issue should be broached as soon as possible to the contract funding authorities to insure there are enough funds on the programs to cover the final bills.

Conversely, if you will owe the government money at closeout your forecasts should project the anticipated drop in final contract pricing that will be settled in the closeout actions with the government.

For most companies a provisional rate change comes about at the end of the calendar year and the beginning of the new calendar year. Accountable personnel perform a bottoms-up projection of the anticipated business base and associated expenses by cost center. The company then submits the results to DCAA to get them approved for the new year as revised provisional rates.

Nothing mandates a specific date for a provisional rate review. DCAA audits proposals and contract closeouts, fixed price progress billings and cost-plus and time and material billings. During those audits there may be questions regarding the comparison between bidding and billing and actual running rates.

The company takes the action for provisional rate changes by requesting them from the government as a function of an annual budgeting cycle or business developments. DCAA approves them.

Throughout, the data is very company private and closely held. No other company, to include prime contractors has the right to your rates and rate supporting data. When necessary they will see only fully loaded labor, material and ODC.

The term provisional implies subject to change and approved on an interim basis by DCAA. Provisional rate changes for billing and pricing can occur more often than annually if the business is changing on a volatile basis with work coming and going from the business base in an unplanned manner and expenses increasing or decreasing with economic changes.

I have seen some corporations that had several changes a year. It is a management call, but DCAA reserves the right to review and approve each one.

A provisional rate change is a delicate matter and should be approved by a management level of the company where authority to effect cost change resides (usually the CEO and CFO).

Management must make rate change decisions based on company-unique product and service lines, work location, forecasts, customer demands, competitive factors and contract status. It is a job that should be undertaken by executives who get paid for balancing such factors and who are accountable for successful outcomes from decision results.

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