Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Help Wanted" Advertising Costs

FAR Part 31 addresses advertising costs in two areas. In FAR 31.205-1 (Public Relations and Advertising Costs) advertising is generally unallowable. There are a few listed exceptions but generally, most advertising is unallowable. However, over in FAR 31.205-34 (Recruitment Costs), the cost of "help wanted" advertising is specifically allowable as long as it meets certain criteria. Some companies are unaware of the "help wanted" exception to advertising costs and categorize it and all other advertising as unallowable. Others leave "help wanted" advertising costs in their proposals, billings, and incurred cost submissions without understanding the specific allowability criteria. That is not good because it opens the possibility of being penalized for claiming unallowable costs.

According to FAR 31.205-34 "help wanted" advertising is allowable unless it
  1. Does not describe specific positions or classes of positions, or
  2. Includes materials that is not relevant for recruitment purposes, such as extensive illustrations or descriptions of the company's products or capabilities
So, for example, advertising aimed at building a backlog of resumes, rather than filling specific job openings would be unallowable. So would the cost of glossy ads in trade journals that only tangentially reference job openings (e.g. "come join our team" or "for employment information, call...").

Generally, if you limit "help wanted" advertising to the following information, you should be safe:
  • Description of the position(s) being offered.
  • Description of the compensation and fringe benefits.
  • Qualifications of the applicant(s).
  • Opportunities for advancement.
  • Brief description of the company and its work.
  • Pertinent illustrations, conservative in size, that do not evidence promotion of the sale of the contractor's products or fostering of its image.
  • Name of the company, conservatively presented in relation to the other information in the advertisement.

Concerning "help wanted" advertising, DCAA has added "reasonableness" criteria to the guidance it offers its auditors when reviewing those costs.  
Advertising which is excessive in relation to the number and importance of the positions, or in relation to the practices of the industry, is unreasonable and therefore unallowable. Inherent in any such determination is not only the size of a particular advertisement in a publication, but also the length and frequency of recruitment advertising in all media (including radio and television). Consideration must also be given to the effectiveness of the advertising program in terms of responses by qualified personnel and the number of hires. This is an area in which technical assistance from the administrative contracting officer can be most useful.
This "reasonableness" criteria does not come from the recruitment cost principle. It is inferred from other guidelines that require costs charged to Government contracts to be reasonable. The guidance is highly subjective but contractors are not likely to encounter this level of scrutiny unless the costs were very significant.

Prior to 1999, cost of "help-wanted" advertising designed to pirate employees away from other Government contractors was unallowable. Also prior to 1999, the cost of color advertising was unallowable but black and white was okay. 

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