Does the officer who will eventually command a ship or other hardware have some special role in the dispute resolution process, such as acting as an arbitrator in disputes with a contractor helping to build the ship or project?
Contracting authority is required to settle contractual disputes for the government. Neither the Commanding Officer (CO) nor the Prospective Commanding Office (PCO) are Contracting Officers and as such do not have contracting authority.
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Contracting Officers are authorized to obligate the government contractually and may enter into, administer, or terminate contracts and make related determinations and findings. (see FAR 1.602-1)
Pursuant to FAR 33.210, Contracting officers are also authorized, within any specific limitations of their warrants, to decide or resolve all claims arising under or relating to a contract subject to the Disputes statute. They are also authorized to use ADR procedures to resolve claims.
So, while the Contracting Officer may value and solicit their input in settling claims due to their experience and position as the CO or PCO, they have no authority to resolve or settle contractual disputes or claims for the government.