Does the mere existence of a deadly epidemic entitle a contractor to monetary relief when it experiences cost increases stemming from that epidemic? Not without Government direction, ruled the Federal Circuit in affirming a decision of the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (“CBCA”) in Pernix Serka JV.
The facts of Pernix Serka are striking: a contractor repeatedly requests guidance for dealing with a major health crisis, the Government refuses to provide guidance, and the contractor is unable to recoup the additional costs it incurs in order to proceed with performance because the Government provided no guidance.
This timely ruling sheds light on strategies contractors should consider for recouping costs stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. We provide a roadmap below for navigating these issues in light of Pernix Serka JV.
The 2014 Ebola Crisis
Pernix Serka was in the midst of performing a contract in Sierra Leone when a deadly Ebola outbreak struck the country in 2014. Pernix Serka diligently sought guidance from the Contracting Officer on its State Department (“DOS”) contract, but the Government refused to weigh in on whether it should temporarily shut down its work on the contract. Ultimately, Pernix Serka decided to temporarily withdraw its personnel, which the Government then characterized as Pernix Serka’s “unilateral” decision. When Pernix Serka sought advice on whether and when to resume work, the Government went so far as to say that “DOS will not provide any instructions or directions” regarding whether and when to return to the work site. The contractor ultimately decided to resume performance, but incurred additional costs when it decided to contract for medical facilities and services on the project site.
Until recently, it was well-accepted that a violation of the False Claims Act (“FCA”) occurs only when there is a misrepresentation that is objectively false. Four circuits—the Fourth, Seventh, Tenth and Eleventh—had adopted this “objective falsity” standard. In March 2020, however, the Third and Ninth Circuits issued decisions departing from this view, holding that objective falsity is not required and “legal falsity” can suffice. These decisions created a stark circuit split with profound implications for government contractors, and there is now a pending petition to the Supreme Court to address and clarify the matter.
First, a refresher: The FCA does not define “false or fraudulent,” leaving courts to look to common law to interpret what constitutes a “false” claim. Many circuits had found that a representation must be objectively false to qualify as a false claim, meaning that a false claim cannot arise where there is a genuine dispute and a claim is alleged to be false based on a subjective assessment. The Third Circuit was among those endorsing this view, holding that under the FCA “a statement is ‘false’ when it is objectively untrue,” United States ex rel. Thomas v. Siemens AG, 593 F. App’x 139, 143 (3d Cir. 2014), and that “expressions of opinion, scientific judgments or statements as to conclusions which reasonable minds may differ cannot be false.” United States ex rel. Hill v. Univ. of Med. & Dentistry of N.J., 448 F. App’x 314, 316 (3d Cir. 2011). Continue reading “What Qualifies as a “False” Claim? Supreme Court May Clarify”
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act provides more than a trillion dollars in relief to both small and large businesses in the form of loans, grants and tax credits, designed to quickly stabilize the economy during the ongoing crisis.
But this is not free money: The CARES Act also includes a robust oversight and enforcement regime to enable the government to combat fraud, waste and abuse. Experience shows that when this much government money is being spent, there will be investigations and enforcement actions.
The CARES Act is complex with evolving regulatory guidelines, and this increases the potential for missteps by companies trying to take advantage of the program’s benefits while navigating program requirements. How can companies manage this uncertainty and reduce the risk of becoming an enforcement target?
We offer 12 suggested steps.
To read the full article that was published in Law360 on May 11, 2020, please click here.
The Air Force utilities privatization program has realized significant savings for the government, while also encountering some regulatory growing pains. Recent project accomplishments include saving $19.3 million in natural gas costs per year at a $1.1 million transaction cost, reducing water consumption by 28 percent, and reducing electric system outages by almost 40 percent. The program has saved the Air Force an estimated $520 million over the 50-year life cycle of projects, compared to continued government ownership.
With the current Department of Defense focus on energy security, this is good news. But the program still faces some open issues in the areas of labor standards and terminations that will need to be resolved in the future.
On June 16, 2016, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Kingdomware Technologies, Inc. v. United States, available here, holding that the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 (the “Veterans Act of 2006”) requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) to conduct a “Rule of Two” analysis before a contract award. The unanimous decision, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, holds that the Veterans Act of 2006 “unambiguously requires” the VA to use the Rule of Two before awarding a contract under competitive procedures even when the VA will otherwise meet its annual minimum small business contracting goals.
Kingdomware Technologies, Inc. is a veteran-owned small business (“VOSB”) that filed suit after unsuccessfully bidding for a VA emergency-notification services contract that was eventually awarded to a non-VOSB via the Federal Supply Schedule (“FSS”). In its protest to the Government Accountability Office, and subsequent suits in the Federal Circuit, Kingdomware argued that the VA violated the Veterans Act of 2006 by failing to award the contract to a VOSB because it did not award the contract based on the mandatory Rule of Two provision. The Rule of Two states that the VA “shall award” contracts to VOSBs when there is a “reasonable expectation” that two VOSBs will submit bids “at a fair and reasonable price that offers the best value to the United States.” Continue reading “Supreme Court Affirms Small Business Preference Requirement in Veterans Affairs Contracts in Kingdomware Technologies, Inc. v. United States“
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is setting its sights on individual accountability for corporate wrongdoing. That is the message that DOJ has been promoting following the recent internal memorandum issued by Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates titled “Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing” (the Yates Memo), which relates to DOJ’s practices in conducting corporate investigations. Although the idea of holding individuals accountable for corporate wrongdoing is not new, the Yates Memo’s relative focus on individuals as part of corporate investigations suggests more scrutiny of individuals in civil and criminal investigations. This focus complements a well-documented increase in the suspension and debarment of individuals in recent years, and reinforces the heightened risks that business owners, executives, managers, and employees face throughout the government contracting community.
As the federal government and contracting community near the end of a year filled with headline-grabbing cyber incidents, the Department of Defense (DoD) has recently issued interim cybersecurity and cloud computing regulations that amend the DFARS and impose important new information safeguarding, reporting, and cloud computing requirements. These are major changes that impact all DoD contractors, and if your company holds DoD contracts you should carefully review these new requirements and assess them as part of your broader corporate cybersecurity strategy.
This alert highlights the key requirements in the Interim Rule (available here).
Information Safeguarding and Cybersecurity Reporting
The Interim Rule expands DoD’s cybersecurity safeguarding and reporting requirements, including the types of information covered by the requirements, governing standards, and triggering events. Up until now, many of DoD’s cybersecurity requirements applied to select groups of defense contractors—those deemed “operationally critical” under the 2015 NDAA or “cleared defense contractors” under the 2013 NDAA, and contractors handling “unclassified controlled technical information,” or “UCTI,” under the DFARS. Continue reading “What DoD Contractors Need to Know: New Changes to Cybersecurity and Cloud Computing Regulations”
With Congress quickly approaching a September 30 funding deadline with no adequate spending measures in place, and the Office of Management and Budget now directing agencies to prepare contingency plans, the possibility of a government shutdown is becoming increasingly likely. Unfortunately, government contractors faced these challenges just two short years ago during a 16-day shutdown. 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. This alert highlights steps government contractors can take to protect their business interests in the event of a shutdown.
Review Your Contracts
Reviewing your contracts is good advice in all times, but particularly so when facing a shutdown. Several key areas are worth reviewing before a shutdown. First, contractors should consider the amount and type of contract funding for each contract. A shutdown will affect incrementally funded contracts more than fully funded contracts. Though exceptions may apply, the funding for incrementally funded contracts may lapse in the event of a shutdown, which could cause the contract work to come to a halt. Fully funded contracts may be impacted by furloughed employees, facility closures, or other unexpected costs. Second, the place of contract performance may affect the ongoing work on a contract if the contractor is performing at a government facility. Many government facilities will close during a shutdown and furloughed employees or limited hours may affect those government facilities that do remain open. Third, the period of contract performance may affect a contract in that the government cannot exercise options and contract extensions during a shutdown. Fourth, the statement of work could also affect how the shutdown applies to a contract. For instance, national security and emergency preparedness contracts are much more likely to be funded during a shutdown than facility maintenance work. Nonetheless, even those exempt contracts may still be affected if the statement of work requires contractors or projects to interact with furloughed employees. Continue reading “Déjà Vu All Over Again: Six Tips to Prepare for a Government Shutdown”
Buckle up: In his last term, President Obama has unleashed a flurry of Executive Orders and Presidential Memoranda that promise sweeping changes for government contractors and their employees. Below, we outline some of the major recent workplace initiatives that create new restrictions and requirements for government contractors, describe their effects, and suggest what to do about them.
The “Blacklisting” Order
On July 31, 2014, President Obama signed Executive Order (E.O. 13673) “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces,” known as the “Blacklisting” Order, which instructs contracting officers to make responsibility determinations for procurements over $500,000 based on a subjective review of federal contractors’ compliance with 14 federal and equivalent state labor, employment, and safety laws. The Department of Labor’s proposed guidance and the FAR Council’s proposed regulations would create an online database for agencies to track contractors’ violations, which could provide a basis for suspension and debarment procedures. Continue reading “New Legal Landmines for Government Contractors”