The FAR appears to be fairly silent on NTP issues. I can only find references to the Government issuing the NTP, not the Contracting Officer. Can a COR/COTR issue and sign an NTP?
Correct, the FAR and DFARS is mostly silent on providing any definition for "Notice to Proceed" and/or who has authority to communicate it. There are many reasons for that; one of them being the fact most contracts specify the period of performance and identify a start date with the notice of award, given by the contracting officer. In practical application however, many service and construction contracts get awarded without tying the period of performance to a specific calendar date and thus necessitating the requirement to issue a notice to proceed.
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In almost all instances, a COR/COTR would only be authorized to issue a notice to proceed (NTP) if the Contracting Officer (KO) specifically designated this to the COR in the designation letter or some other form of formal correspondence or communication. A COR issuing a NTP "without the signature or knowledge of the..." KO may impact the scope (under the "constructive change" doctrine) of the contract depending on the specific facts and circumstances involved. This is one of the reasons we strongly stress in all DAU COR related courseware that the COR should know what their roles, responsibilities and authorities are prior to directing the contractor in any manner. If there is any doubt, the COR should discuss with the KO.
A discussion of scope and the constructive change doctrine is beyond the range of this question, but involves contract law terms such as: acceleration, interference, superior knowledge, etc.