Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit articulated limits to the government’s ability to rely on the waiver doctrine to enforce Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) provisions of questionable legality, and, in so doing, cast doubt on the government’s “heads we win, tails you lose” approach to measuring the cost impact of simultaneous changes to a contractor’s cost accounting practices.
In The Boeing Company v. United States, 2019-2148 (Aug. 10, 2020), the Federal Circuit rejected the government’s argument that Boeing’s claim—which was based on an apparent conflict between (1) a statutory provision limiting the costs the government may recover for cost accounting practice changes to the aggregate increased cost to the government, and (2) a FAR provision under which the government’s recovery considers only the changes that increase costs to the government, and disregards changes that decrease costs to the government—was waived because Boeing did not raise the issue prior to contract award. Continue reading “Government Reliance on Waiver Argument to Keep Price Adjustment Windfall Fails”
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.
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.
A recent Federal Circuit decision has sustained an expansive judicial reading of what constitutes an expressly unallowable cost under FAR Part 31. This decision, reached in the context of lobbying expenses, provides the potential for expansive precedent for future disputes regarding what expenses constitute expressly unallowable costs. Including expressly unallowable costs in submissions to the government can result in penalties up to two times the amount of the disallowed cost. Taking into account this decision as well as the Defense Contract Audit Agency’s (“DCAA”) expressly unallowable cost guidance released earlier this year, contractors should review their policies and procedures for identifying and excluding unallowable costs from invoices and proposals on government contracts, and consider whether to broaden their policies. Continue reading “Federal Circuit Maintains That Contractors Must Read between the Lines to Determine Expressly Unallowable Costs”
According to a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) report, the Defense Contract Audit Agency (“DCAA”) and the Defense Contract Management Agency (“DCMA”) have taken certain steps to improve the contractor business system (“CBS”) review process and are forecasting that CBS reviews will increase significantly over the next four years. Contractor business systems include a contractor’s accounting, earned value management, estimating, purchasing, material management, and property management systems. These systems require contractors to maintain internal controls that, as GAO noted, “act as the first line of defense against fraud, waste and abuse of federal funding.” Given their importance, the renewed focus on ensuring CBS reviews are conducted in a timely and consistent manner is not surprising, and contractors should prepare for a new wave of audit activity. Continue reading “Renewed Focus on Contractor Business System Reviews”
On July 1, 2018, the threshold for obtaining certified cost and pricing data increases substantially from $750,000 to two million dollars. The change was authorized by the Department of Defense pursuant to a class deviation, pending official rulemaking and publication in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”). The class deviation implements Section 811 of the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) for Fiscal Year 2018, which raised the certified pricing threshold contained in the Truthful Cost or Pricing Data Act (still commonly referred to as “TINA” based on the former name of the relevant statute, the Truth in Negotiations Act). The Civilian Agency Acquisition Council recently followed suit, advising other federal agencies that they “may authorize a class deviation to implement the threshold change.” In addition to the increase under the NDAA, the TINA threshold is also subject to adjustment every five years to keep pace with inflation. See 41 U.S.C. § 1908. The last adjustment for inflation, made in 2015, raised the threshold by $50,000. Continue reading “Certified Cost and Pricing Data Thresholds to Increase July 1, 2018”
With yet another government shutdown looming, contractors face a number of uncertainties and challenges that warrant close attention—regardless of whether a shutdown takes place or how long it lasts. Among other challenges, contractors may face a lack of incremental funding; the inability to enter into new contracts or contract modifications; closed government facilities; furloughed government employees; delayed payments; increased indirect costs; and unexercised and deferred contract options. Below we offer six suggestions to help address key areas impacted by a shutdown, including contract funding, internal and external communications, recordkeeping, and deadlines. Continue reading “Government Contractor Shutdown Advisory”
The National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) for Fiscal Year 2018 was signed into law on December 12, 2017, and authorizes a topline national defense budget of $700 billion. While the 2018 NDAA makes a number of changes to Department of Defense (“DOD”) policy and programs, in this article we explain five major changes to acquisition policy and how they will impact the way companies do business with DOD. Continue reading “New Year’s Resolutions: Top 5 Consequential Changes in the 2018 NDAA”
Pension and other post-retirement benefit expenses have long constituted a substantial obligation on the part of contractors under cost-type contracts and are often the subject to disputes with the government as to the calculation and allowability of such costs. While court and board decisions regarding pension-related disputes have tended to be a mixed bag, the decisions have more often sided with the government. However, the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals’ (“ASBCA” or “Board”) July 13, 2017, decision in Northrop Grumman Corp., ASBCA No. 60190, may signal a more favorable trend for contractors in connection with such issues. In this case, Northrop filed a claim for $253 million in retiree health benefits over an 11-year period from 1995 to 2006, which the Defense Contract Management Agency (“DCMA”) disallowed because Northrop used an outdated accounting practice for accruing such costs under the relevant Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) cost accounting requirements. Continue reading “ASBCA Grants $253 Million Northrop Post-Retirement Benefits Claim”
Last month, the General Services Administration (“GSA”) finalized a rule marking what the agency describes as the most significant development to its Schedules program in over two decades. The rule completely changes how GSA will analyze vendor pricing for products and services.
Under the rule, vendors will eventually be required to submit monthly transactional data reports with information related to orders and prices under certain GSA Schedule contracts and other vehicles. Along with the implementation of the new Transactional Data Reporting (“TDR”) requirement, GSA will relieve vendors from two preexisting compliance burdens—eliminating the Commercial Sales Practices (“CSP”) and Price Reductions Clause (“PRC”) reporting requirements when vendors begin submitting transactional data.
While vendors should welcome the relief provided from the elimination of two burdensome regulations, the shift to TDR will not be without cost and risk; and, the eventual efficiencies promised by GSA remain to be seen. Indeed, the impact of the change will likely extend beyond compliance burdens, with potential effects varying from the nature of False Claims Act suits to the potential publication of competitive information.