COVID-Related Audits and the DCAA’s New Audit Direction

Merle M. DeLancey Jr. and Craig Stetson*

This is the third in a series of posts regarding what we believe will be an onslaught of government investigations and audits of COVID relief funds and contracting. Previously, we identified likely categories of programs, contracts, and companies the government might investigate or audit. Below, we discuss the Defense Contract Audit Agency’s (“DCAA”) current direction, interests, and initiatives related to contractors’ receipt of COVID relief funds and the impact an uncertain business environment may have on government contract pricing and costing forecasts.

COVID Relief Funds

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) funding opportunities come with unique government contract compliance requirements and financial reporting obligations. The funding is not “free” and may result in financial consequences to unwary contractors. DCAA knows this and will be conducting audits to test contractors’ compliance with unique relief fund requirements. Contractors unaware of these accounting and reporting requirements risk DCAA questioning or denying costs.

In January 2021, DCAA issued an audit alert to its regional offices pertaining to COVID relief legislation and regulation.[1] The audit alert includes frequently asked questions and answers (“FAQs”) concerning contractors’ request or receipt of COVID relief funding. Originally released last summer, the FAQs have been revised and expanded several times. The FAQs telegraph DCAA’s position on various instances where COVID relief funding intersects with or impacts government contract cost accounting and compliance.

Continue reading “COVID-Related Audits and the DCAA’s New Audit Direction”

Pivoting & Positioning Small Businesses for Dynamic (Full & Open) Growth

Dean S. Nordlinger*

Recently, I hosted the second session of Blank Rome’s new on-demand webinar series, “Strategically Speaking,” with featured guests Gilbert Dussek of Gunnison Consulting Group and Kevin Robbins of Blue Delta Capital Partners about the key issues that growing government contracts firms face in their business life cycle as they transform from small to “other-than-small” businesses. You are invited to watch the recording on demand here; I hope you find it helpful and informative.

Dussek has been a successful high-level operator on both large and small govcon platforms and in 2019 became CEO of Gunnison, a leader in software development, data analytics, and enterprise system testing for leading government customers. Robbins has served multiple roles as a consultant to and an owner/investor in govcon companies and is a co-founder of Blue Delta, a growth capital firm focused on the U.S. federal government services marketplace, particularly technology-enabled solutions and services companies.

Our session includes an informative and helpful discussion focused on:

  • Reviewing Blue Delta’s and Gunnison’s decision to team up:
    • Factors that went into Blue Delta’s decision to invest in Gunnison; and
    • The driving and differentiating attributes that Blue Delta looks for in “investable” target companies
  • Strategically growing from an SBSA to full & open govcon company:
    • Building, scouting, and acquiring talent; and
    • Competitively bidding on and winning, or acquiring, F&O contracts
  • Identifying and filtering acquisition targets and structuring acquisitions:
    • The roles of company culture, chemistry (of personnel), and vision; and
    • Sourcing and valuing target companies
  • Describing Gunnison-Blue Delta’s corporate growth strategy:
    • How Blue Delta thinks about portfolio company construction; and
    • Gunnison’s near-term and long-term visions and plans

*Dean Nordlinger is a partner in our Corporate practice whose new “Strategically Speaking” webinar series includes discussions with a variety of seasoned professionals and subject matter experts about critical and challenging issues that government contractors and other companies (and business owners) face throughout their life cycle.

The Likely Targets of COVID-Related Audits and Investigations

Merle M. DeLancey Jr. and Craig Stetson*

This is the second in a series of posts regarding what we believe will be an onslaught of government investigations and audits of COVID relief funds and contracting. Previously, we identified the government offices that will be conducting the investigations and performing the audits. Below, we identify three categories of programs, contracts, and companies we believe are more likely to be investigated or audited.

Programs/Contracts

The first group of companies ripe for audits are those accepting COVID relief funding and contractors performing large COVID-specific contracts, as well as contractors performing traditional government contracts that entail certain COVID-related twists impacting performance.

Companies accepting COVID relief funds are likely at the top of auditors’ lists for several reasons. First, because of the magnitude of funds at issue. Second, due to the complex and ambiguous eligibility, use, and reporting requirements. For example, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) and supplemental legislation appropriated funds to reimburse eligible healthcare providers for healthcare-related expenses or lost revenues attributable to COVID. Receipt of funds was easy. Most recipients’ funds were automatically deposited into their bank accounts. But healthcare provider recipients have not yet been required to file reports attesting to the proper utilization of the relief funds. Relief funds recipients in other non-healthcare industries may also be affected. Certain monies received under the CARES Act also involve ongoing and downstream reporting requirements by companies regarding statutory limitations on compensation paid to certain employees and the receipt of a variety of potential tax credits. Thus, recipients’ use of funds has not been tested, and it is unlikely that all usage has been in compliance with the ambiguous requirements and multiple rounds of agency guidance and interpretations.

Continue reading “The Likely Targets of COVID-Related Audits and Investigations”

Will Federal Contractors Be Required to Certify Employee COVID Vaccinations?

Albert B. Krachman and Brooke T. Iley

Do not be surprised if, before the end of 2021, the federal government begins requiring contractors to certify or represent that their employees have received COVID vaccinations. The federal government has long conditioned contract awards on contractor compliance with emerging social policy mandates. This practice dates backs to the 1960s, when collateral social policy clauses began appearing in federal contracts. The National Emergency created by COVID-19 would appear ripe for a similar federal government action in federal contracting.

Several factors are converging in the United States which signal the potential for a COVID vaccine Certification or Representation. First, the supply issue should be mostly resolved by June 30, 2021. The Biden administration has committed to make enough vaccines available for every adult in the country by the end of May 2021. Second, the administration has been extremely active in making procurement law changes to conform to its policy objectives. Crafting an Executive Order on COVID Vaccines for federal contractor employees is clearly within the administration’s wheelhouse and target zone. Third, as reported in the March 8, 2021, Wall Street Journal, the largest employers in the country, across all sectors, are already engaged in large scale efforts to vaccinate their own employees. Fourth, while the law in this area is still evolving, the prevailing view is that, with certain exceptions, private employers are legally permitted to mandate their employees receive COVID vaccinations as a condition of continuing employment, subject to a variety of considerations related to employee legal, medical, and workplace accommodations. Finally, the federal government might find a federal contractor vaccine mandate a helpful leverage point in the evolving conflict with those states choosing to disregard COVID protections.

Continue reading “Will Federal Contractors Be Required to Certify Employee COVID Vaccinations?”

COVID Audits and Investigations: The Enforcers

Merle M. DeLancey Jr. and Craig Stetson*

This is the first in a series of blog posts concerning the audits and investigations related to the contracts and grants awarded, and relief funds provided, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of February 2021, pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), which created the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) and supplemental funding such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the United States government has made available an estimated four trillion dollars in relief funds to businesses and individuals, and the Biden administration is proposing roughly two trillion dollars more.

In addition to the relief funds, the Government has easily awarded more than billions in pandemic-related contracts for everything from vaccines to PPE to hand sanitizers. These levels of funding and spending are unprecedented and have been made at breakneck speed (for the government). Based on these factors and lessons from the past, audits of relief recipients and contractors to confirm appropriate use of government funds are inevitable. And the government has said as much. Of course, if an audit reveals potential wrongdoing or malfeasance, relief recipients and contractors should expect follow-on investigations and enforcement activity.

This first post identifies the myriad of entities that are or will be reviewing—and potentially investigating—relief recipient and contractor representations made to obtain, and subsequent use of, government funds.

Continue reading “COVID Audits and Investigations: The Enforcers”

What Could a DHHS Secretary Becerra Mean for the Pharmaceutical Industry?

Jay P. Lessler, John M. Clerici, and Merle M. DeLancey Jr.







President-elect Biden plans to nominate California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”). The current Administration has frustrated the pharmaceutical industry with numerous Executive Orders and proposed rules and regulations trying to impact drug pricing. DHHS’s interim final rule implementing a Most Favored Nations Model (i.e., an international pricing index) for reimbursement of certain Medicare Part B drugs is the most recent example.

Numerous pundits suggested that pharmaceutical companies manufacturing vaccines and other drugs to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic waited until after the November election to announce their progress. The rationale was that the companies would prefer working with a Biden Administration rather than suffer through four more years of acrimony with the Trump Administration. The Becerra announcement, however, could indicate the pharmaceutical industry is not yet out of the woods. Continue reading “What Could a DHHS Secretary Becerra Mean for the Pharmaceutical Industry?”

An Early Holiday Present? CARES Act Section 3610 Extension through Dec. 11th Included in House Version of Continuing Resolution

Stephanie M. Harden

Stephanie Harden's Headshot PhotoA top-of-mind issue for contractors right now is whether Section 3610 of the CARES Act will expire on September 30, as it is currently set to do. As discussed here and here, Section 3610 authorizes reimbursement of certain contractors who are unable to access their work sites and unable to telework during the pandemic—a critical stopgap designed to keep contractor workforces in a “ready state.”

On September 22, the House of Representatives passed a Continuing Resolution that would fund the government through December 11, 2020, and included in the Continuing Resolution an extension of Section 3610 through that same date. Whether the Senate will approve the Continuing Resolution remains to be seen, but we are cautiously optimistic that Section 3610 will be extended in light of the House’s support.

Of course, as we previously discussed here, there are other potential bases of recovery for contractors beyond Section 3610. However, each basis comes with its own set of limitations, and, thus, the sweeping relief provided through Section 3610 remains critically important. Section 3610, in turn, comes with its own limitations—including that there is no dedicated funding behind it, it is discretionary, it only provides relief for a subset of costs stemming from the pandemic, and, even if extended, it will remain a temporary measure.

We will continue to monitor this important topic and provide updates as they occur.

KBR Subcontractor’s “Delay” Costs Rejected as Unreasonable by Federal Circuit, No Remand to Cure Defects

Stephanie M. Harden

Stephanie Harden's Headshot PhotoIn a September 1, 2020, ruling, the Federal Circuit addressed the reasonableness of subcontractor costs stemming from a government-caused delay under KBR’s LOGCAP contract in Iraq. This decision is important for contractors across all industries given the expected flood of COVID-19-related claims involving government-caused delays and/or idle time. The decision provides new guidance on what contractors must show to demonstrate the reasonableness of subcontractor costs.

The case involved a KBR subcontract to First Kuwaiti Co. of Kuwait (“First Kuwaiti”) to transport trailers into Iraq. The dissent (Judge Newman) explains the operational significance of expeditiously delivering these trailers: soldiers were sleeping in “abandoned schools, . . . tents, vehicles, the ground, or any other place soldiers could put a sleeping bag.” The Army tasked KBR with delivering more than 18,000 trailers to multiple locations in Iraq by Christmas 2003, a deadline which was important for both morale and tactical reasons. KBR, in turn, subcontracted to First Kuwaiti. Continue reading “KBR Subcontractor’s “Delay” Costs Rejected as Unreasonable by Federal Circuit, No Remand to Cure Defects”

Executive Order Regarding Domestic Production and Purchase of Essential Medicines: A Lot to Unpack and More Than Meets the Eye

Merle M. DeLancey Jr. and John M. Clerici 

On August 6, 2020, President Trump issued another Executive Order (“EO”) that will likely have dramatic and long-lasting effects on the pharmaceutical industry.[1] The impact of the EO may be far greater than currently anticipated. It is well-considered, well drafted, and structured in a way that is likely to survive if there is a change in Administration. The EO will have a greater and immediate impact on Medical Counter Measures (“MCMs”) for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats, and emerging infectious diseases than on Essential Medicines. The inclusion of Critical Inputs (i.e., active pharmaceutical ingredients (“API”)) and starting materials potentially makes the impact far reaching, especially when coupled with the significant funding from the federal government to support onshoring efforts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue reading “Executive Order Regarding Domestic Production and Purchase of Essential Medicines: A Lot to Unpack and More Than Meets the Eye”

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

Stephanie M. Harden

Stephanie Harden's Headshot PhotoThe 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.