Recovering COVID-19 Costs Where Section 3610 of the CARES Act Does Not Apply

Stephanie M. Harden

The financial relief offered to contractors under Section 3610 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) is limited to contractors who: 1) cannot perform work at their approved sites due to site closures, and 2) cannot telework. For contractors that do not meet these two conditions, the traditional Request for Equitable Adjustment (“REA”) and claims processes are still available and may permit recovery of some cost increases due to COVID-19.

Below we provide a brief refresher of key considerations for contractors considering COVID-related REAs or claims. Of course, the particular facts and terms of each contract will ultimately determine whether cost increases are recoverable.

What Types of Costs May Be Recovered?

Costs stemming from COVID-19 may be recoverable under several Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) clauses:

  • The Changes Clause (g., FAR 52.243-1): A wide array of costs may fall under the Changes clause, such as costs stemming from government direction to alter or stagger work hours, provide additional personnel, use more costly procedures, use procedures requiring additional training for personnel, provide personal protective equipment, or perform additional cleanings. A recent Department of Defense Memorandum is instructive as to how such costs are likely to be viewed, advising that contracting officers should consider whether such costs are “reasonable to protect the health and safety of contract employees as part of the performance of the contract.”
  • The Stop Work Order Clause (FAR 52.242-15): Costs stemming from the government’s direction to stop work will generally be recoverable under this clause. As discussed in our previous blog post, this may include the cost of “idle time” where employees are unable to access work sites, potentially providing some relief to contractors who are not covered by Section 3610 of the­ CARES­­ Act. Arguably, this clause should cover situations in which employees cannot work due to government-required quarantine procedures or government-caused delays, even if the work site is technically open—though this remains an open issue.
  • The Government Delay of Work Clause (FAR 52.242-17): Where the government causes a delay, the costs stemming from such a delay, such as increased material costs, may be recoverable under this clause.

Notably, while the Excusable Delays clause (e.g., FAR 52.249-14) excuses a contractor’s failure to perform for reasons including “epidemics” and “quarantine restrictions,” this clause does not provide financial relief, but rather, provides a basis for excusing what might otherwise give rise to a termination for default.

What Is the Difference between an Equitable Adjustment and a Claim?

A claim is a formal written demand subject to the detailed procedures set forth in the Contract Disputes Act (“CDA”). Once a claim is made, the Contracting Officer must issue a final decision within 60 days (or, for claims over $100,000, provide a firm date by which a final decision will be issued), which may be appealed to the Boards of Contract Appeals or the Court of Federal Claims. Claims must include a “sum certain”—i.e., the amount of damages being claimed—and claims of $100,000 or more must be certified by the contractor as current and accurate.

An REA is generally considered less adversarial than a claim and is not subject to a formal disputes process. There is no set timeline for resolution of an REA; however, if an REA is not resolved satisfactorily, it can be converted into a claim.

In the context of COVID-related costs, there are advantages and disadvantages of both options.  The less formal REA process provides agencies more leeway as they work to coordinate internally on how to address costs relating to COVID-19, which may ultimately be to the benefit of contractors. However, the claims process puts the government “on the clock” and, thus, may result in a faster response. Note that contractors are entitled to interest that accrues while a claim is pending, but not while an REA is pending. As for legal costs, they are allowable when incurred to support an REA, but are unallowable when incurred in support of a claim.

Timing Considerations

Whether a contractor ultimately submits a request for equitable adjustment or claim, it must notify its Contracting Officer of the delay, disruption, or right to an adjustment, with different deadlines depending upon which clause applies. For example:

  • FAR 52.242-15 (Stop Work Order Clause) requires contractors to assert their right to an adjustment within 30 days after the end of the period of work stoppage;
  • FAR 52.242-17 (Government Delay of Work) requires contractors to notify the Contracting Officer within 20 days of the act or failure to act giving rise to the delay; the contractor must also assert the amount of the claim in writing as soon as practicable after the termination of the delay or interruption, but not later than the day of final payment under the contract; and,
  • FAR 52.243-1 (Changes) requires the contractor to assert its right to an adjustment within 30 days from the date of receipt of a written change order. There is an exception “if the Contracting Officer decides that the facts justify it,” where the request is made before final payment of the contract.

Claims are also subject to a six-year statute of limitations.

As COVID-19 issues permeate virtually all aspects of commerce nationally and internationally, we stand ready to help. Blank Rome’s Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) Task Force includes interdisciplinary resources across every business sector.

COVID-19 Disruptions and Work Stoppages: A Q&A for Federal Contractors

Justin A. Chiarodo and Stephanie M. Harden

Coronavirus COVID-19 is rapidly disrupting the performance of federal government contracts across all sectors, leaving contractors and subcontractors with more questions than answers on how to structure their operations. In the following Q&A, we address some of the top issues contractors are currently facing.

      1. The Government has closed my work site, precluding my employees from performing their work. If I continue to pay the employees, can I recover those costs?

If your employees cannot perform their work because the work site is closed (and telework is not an option due to the nature of the work), this may be construed as an actual or constructive stop work order. As with a government shutdown, contractors facing this scenario may be entitled to an equitable adjustment to account for idle employee time because they are expected to be ready to perform as soon as the Government reopens facilities.

A March 20 Memorandum from Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert (“Weichert Memorandum”) confirms that equitable adjustments may be appropriate if the requested costs are reasonable. Specifically, the Weichert Memorandum advises that such requests “should be considered on a case-by-case basis” and that agencies may consider such factors as “whether it is beneficial to keep skilled professionals or key personnel in a mobile ready state for activities the agency deems critical to national security or other high priorities (e.g., national security professionals, skilled scientists).” Continue reading “COVID-19 Disruptions and Work Stoppages: A Q&A for Federal Contractors”

What Contractors Should Know about DOJ’s Revised Guidance on Evaluations of Corporate Compliance

Brian S. Gocial and Stephanie M. Harden

As government contractors know well, a robust compliance program can be critical—both in preventing, detecting, and resolving compliance problems and in working with agencies and/or the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to resolve compliance issues when they arise. Though DOJ has previously issued guidance on how it evaluates corporate compliance programs, on April 30, 2019, it greatly expanded upon its earlier guidance with a lengthy new guidance document. The document is notable for its emphasis not just on the design of compliance programs, but also on their effectiveness in practice. The document is a useful benchmark for contractors to evaluate their compliance programs, as well as to demonstrate their affirmative responsibility to agencies when facing agency-level investigations.

The guidance document focuses on three central questions:

  1. Is the corporation’s compliance program well designed?
  2. Is the corporation’s compliance program implemented effectively?
  3. Does the compliance program actually work in practice?

The following outline provides a summary of the various factors DOJ discusses in connection with each of these questions—and more information on each topic can be found here.

Contractors should assess how their own compliance programs measure up against these factors: Continue reading “What Contractors Should Know about DOJ’s Revised Guidance on Evaluations of Corporate Compliance”

Breaking Camp(ie): Supreme Court Sends Gilead FCA Case Back for Likely Dismissal, Postponing Escobar’s Return

Justin A. Chiarodo and Stephanie M. Harden

The Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) bombshell statement last month that it would seek dismissal of the Gilead False Claims Act (“FCA”) suit—a qui tam suit alleging misrepresentations and concealments regarding active ingredient sources and quality for HIV medications—surprised many in the government contracts community. Though DOJ had signaled earlier last year in the so-called “Granston memo” that it may seek dismissal of certain FCA cases, the fact that DOJ sought to do so while a case was on appeal to the Supreme Court—and without consulting relators—was unexpected. Continue reading “Breaking Camp(ie): Supreme Court Sends Gilead FCA Case Back for Likely Dismissal, Postponing Escobar’s Return”

Disaster Relief Contracting: How to Avoid the Pitfalls

Justin A. Chiarodo and Stephanie M. Harden

Hurricane Harvey’s damage to Texas and other areas is virtually unprecedented and is already estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars. And Hurricane Irma, hurtling towards Florida, could likewise cause catastrophic damage. Though every disaster presents unique recovery challenges, a common theme in disaster relief efforts is the key role of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (“FEMA”) and a federal law known as the Stafford Act. Contractors eager to assist with relief and rebuilding efforts should pay close attention to the legal landscape underpinning the public funding behind disaster relief efforts, particularly given the scrutiny these efforts will receive in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Continue reading “Disaster Relief Contracting: How to Avoid the Pitfalls”

Deficient Administrative Record Leads Federal Court to Vacate 15-Year Debarment

Justin A. Chiarodo and Stephanie M. Harden

A recent federal court decision vacating a staggering 15-year debarment based on shortcomings in the administrative record offers a glimmer of hope to contractors facing exclusion from federal programs, and reinforces the importance that any final debarment decision be based on a fulsome record—particularly in “fact-based” debarments where there are disputed material facts. The big takeaway for contractors facing an exclusion is to ensure that the administrative record on which a debarment decision is based reflects all information showing why an exclusion is unwarranted (or unnecessary) to protect the Government.

Continue reading “Deficient Administrative Record Leads Federal Court to Vacate 15-Year Debarment”

How Is Your Domestic Preference Compliance? President Trump Signals More Scrutiny of “Buy American, Hire American” Practices

Justin A. Chiarodo and Stephanie M. Harden

President Trump signed an Executive Order yesterday, marking another step forward in his promotion of “Buy American” and “Hire American” policies. The Executive Order focuses on two areas: cracking down abuse of the H-1B guest worker program and promoting the purchase of American products in federal procurements. We tackle in this post the “Buy American” portion of the Executive Order, which is of particular importance to federal contractors. Continue reading “How Is Your Domestic Preference Compliance? President Trump Signals More Scrutiny of “Buy American, Hire American” Practices”

President Trump Rolls Back Obama-Era Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Rule

Stephanie M. Harden and Alexander H. Berman

On Monday, March 27, President Trump exercised his authority under the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”) to nullify the Obama-era Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Rule, which was promulgated pursuant to President Obama’s 2014 Executive Order 13673. The rollback, which has been much anticipated by the contracting community, is part of a push by the Trump administration and the 115th Congress to scale back a number of contracting regulations that were put into effect under the Obama administration (for more on this topic, see our prior post here).

President Trump’s March 27th signing of the resolution—which effectively removes the rule from the books—follows the passage of a joint disapproval of the rule by the House and Senate. Though the rule’s reporting requirements and arbitration prohibitions had already been blocked in October 2016 by a district judge in the Eastern District of Texas, the CRA resolution, now bearing a Presidential signature, fully nullifies the entire rule and all of its requirements on federal contractors—including its paycheck transparency provisions, which were previously left intact by the court in Texas. Indeed, pursuant to the CRA, a rule that is nullified using this process “shall be treated as though such rule had never taken effect.” 5 U.S.C. § 801(f). Continue reading “President Trump Rolls Back Obama-Era Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Rule”

Five Things Government Contractors Should Keep in Mind about Political Activities this Election Season

Justin Chiarodo and Stephanie M. Harden 

ChiarodoJ+ZechmannSThe 2016 election season is unlike any other in recent memory. But like elections past and yet to come, political contributions and lobbying remain a mainstay of the political process. This is particularly true in the federal government contracting community, which is heavily influenced by executive and legislative action (and inaction). Though we can expect the unexpected in the three months leading up to the election, we offer below five fundamental “do’s and don’ts” that government contractors should keep in mind to guide their political activities. Continue reading “Five Things Government Contractors Should Keep in Mind about Political Activities this Election Season”

Human Trafficking Regulations to be Updated to Define “Recruitment Fees”

Justin A. Chiarodo and Stephanie M. Harden

Justin A. Chiarodo Stephanie Marie ZechmannIn the latest regulatory action targeted at human trafficking, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Councils (“FAR Councils”) on May 11, 2016 issued a proposed rule to include a sweeping new definition of the term “recruitment fees.” The proposed definition would cover nearly any conceivable charge related to recruiting, hiring, and onboarding of employees, no matter the location of the employee, the skill level of the job, or customary business practices in the industry. Contractors should pay close attention, given that the rule also makes them responsible for recruitment fees collected by third parties, including subcontractors at all tiers, recruiters, and staffing firms.

Recognizing the far-reaching consequences the rule will have, the FAR Councils have flagged key open questions for contractors to comment upon. Given the potential sweeping change, contractors should think carefully about how the proposed rule will impact their hiring practices. Continue reading “Human Trafficking Regulations to be Updated to Define “Recruitment Fees””