The attention-grabbing headline from the Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) annually released statistics on False Claims Act (“FCA”) settlements and judgments is that the government recovered more than $5.6 billion from FCA cases in fiscal year (“FY”) 2021. While this is the second largest annual recovery in FCA history and the largest since 2014, procurement fraud cases represented a substantially smaller percentage of the total recoveries than in years past. Healthcare resolutions dominated, accounting for more than five billion of the $5.6 billion in settlements and judgments. In previous years, healthcare matters have accounted for closer to two-thirds of the total recoveries, making last year’s outsized healthcare figure—driven by the blockbuster opioid settlements of late 2020—an outlier.
Beyond the top-line dollar figures, the report shows that FCA activity continues at a healthy, if not fully robust, pace. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact qui tam filings; the number of new whistleblower suits dropped to 598 in FY 2021, a ten-year low. The number of DOJ-initiated matters remains higher than the near-term average, particularly in healthcare, but also in Department of Defense (“DOD”)-related cases. Contractors, healthcare providers, and others—especially those who received federal funding through pandemic aid programs—can anticipate that FCA investigations and resolutions will play out over the next several years.
On October 6, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced a new Civil Cyber-Fraud Initiative to pursue cybersecurity fraud matters using the enforcement mechanisms of the False Claims Act (“FCA”).
This initiative follows DOJ’s four-month effort to review its cybersecurity strategy and reflects the government’s increased focus on contractor data security. Led by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, Fraud Section—i.e., the DOJ Section responsible for investigating and litigating FCA matters—the initiative targets government contractors and grant recipients that “put U.S. information or systems at risk” by “knowingly”:
providing deficient cybersecurity products or services;
misrepresenting the company’s cybersecurity practices or protocols; or
violating their obligations to monitor and report cybersecurity incidents and breaches.
We discuss the cybersecurity landscape preceding the new initiative, possible impacts and focus areas of the initiative, and how contractors should prepare for potential enforcement.
To read the full client alert, please visit our website.
A Blank Rome government contracts team obtained relief for Qbase LLC in a protest before the U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) involving the Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) failure to award a $4.5 billion IT support contract to Qbase, a computer-related services and consulting provider.
The GAO concluded that the DOJ’s determination of which contract proposal provided the best value to the government was unreasonable because the DOJ failed to meaningfully consider the price of the proposals. Moreover, in its assessment of the proposals’ technical merit, instead of performing the required qualitative assessment of each offeror’s technical proposal, the DOJ unreasonably based its determination on a mechanical comparison of adjectival ratings (“very good,” “satisfactory”) between the offerors. In its decision, the GAO stated, “In sum, the agency’s best-value determination is unreasonable because the agency performed a mechanical tradeoff analysis that failed to meaningfully consider price and resulted in the exclusion of technically acceptable proposals from consideration for award.” The GAO sustained the protest, recommended that the DOJ conduct a new best-value analysis giving proper weight to pricing, and awarded Qbase its attorneys’ fees.
The Seventh Circuit’s recent decision in U.S. ex rel. CIMZNHCA, LLC v. UCB, Inc. widens the Circuit split on the standard of review applicable when the government seeks to dismiss a qui tam case under the False Claims Act (“FCA”). The FCA, 31 U.S.C. § 3730(c)(2)(A), provides that the government may dismiss a qui tam case without the relator’s consent if the relator is given notice and an opportunity to be heard. Although the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has increasingly exercised its dismissal authority since issuance of the “Granston Memo” in January 2018—which encouraged DOJ attorneys to consider seeking dismissal if in the best interests of the government—as the Seventh Circuit noted, the FCA does not indicate “how, if at all,” courts are “to review the government’s decision to dismiss.” Circuit Courts have taken divergent views in answering that question.
Circuit Court Decisions
The D.C. Circuit, in Swift v. United States, 318 F.3d 250 (D.C. Cir. 2003), decided that the government has an “unfettered right” to dismiss based on the Executive branch’s “historical prerogative” to decline to prosecute a case. The Ninth Circuit, in U.S. ex rel. Sequoia Orange Co. v. Baird-Neece Packing Corp., 151 F.3d 1139 (9th Cir. 1998), and the Tenth Circuit in Ridenour v. KaiserHill Co., LLC, 397 F.3d 925 (10th Cir. 2005), imposed a rational-relation test: the government must establish a rational relation between dismissal and the accomplishment of a valid government purpose. If the government satisfies this test, the burden shifts to relator to show that dismissal is fraudulent, arbitrary and capricious, or illegal. So far, the Supreme Court has declined to step in, denying certiorari in April 2020 in United States ex rel. Schneider v. JP Morgan Chase Bank on the question of whether the government’s dismissal decisions constitute an “unreviewable exercise of prosecutorial authority.” Now, however, the Seventh Circuit has articulated a new standard, relying on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a) governing voluntary dismissals by plaintiffs. Continue reading “Seventh Circuit Weighs in on Government Dismissal Authority under the FCA”
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:
Is the corporation’s compliance program well designed?
Is the corporation’s compliance program implemented effectively?
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.
The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) recently released its annual fraud statistics for FY 2018. The statistics reveal that False Claims Act (“FCA”) recoveries reached their lowest level since FY 2009. However, although total recoveries are down, this decrease is more a by-product of a down year in major health care and financial services recoveries, and we think it is too early to view these numbers as reflecting a sea change in enforcement.
The annual statistics published by DOJ on December 21, 2018 demonstrate that the Government recovered a total of $2.88 billion in qui tam and non-qui tam FCA judgments and settlements in FY 2018. This represents the lowest amount recovered since FY 2009, when the Government recovered nearly $2.47 billion. It also demonstrates a short-term trend in declining recovery. FY 2018 was the second straight year in which fraud recovery decreased. However, recent comments by the Trump administration’s nominee for U.S Attorney General likely indicate that no affirmative decision to decrease FCA actions will occur in the next few years. Continue reading “What DOJ’s FY 2018 False Claims Act Recovery Statistics Reveal”
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.