Flow-Down Clauses: Best Practices

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Merle M. DeLancey Jr. and Amanda C. DeLaPerriere 

Federal government contractors and subcontractors often struggle with flow-down clauses. Fundamentally, prime and subcontractors squabble over flow-down clauses because they involve assumption of risk. A prime contractor has committed to comply with all of the clauses in its prime contract. To the extent a prime contractor does not flow down a clause to its subcontractor, the prime contractor assumes the risk of any subcontractor non-compliance. This is because, if a contracting officer identifies regulatory non-compliance, the government only looks to the party with which it has privity to enforce compliance: the prime contractor. If the prime contractor has not flowed down the applicable clause to its subcontractor, the prime contractor is responsible for its subcontractor’s non-compliance. If the clause has been flowed down, the prime contractor can enforce compliance upon its subcontractor. From a subcontractor perspective, the more flow-down clauses it accepts from its prime contractor, the more compliance risk it assumes.

As a result, prime contractors seek to flow down as many FAR clauses as possible—well beyond the mandatory flow downs discussed below. Subcontractors, meanwhile, seek to keep flow-down clauses to a minimum. Subcontractors must analyze when it is appropriate and productive to resist non-mandatory flow-down clauses, and sometimes the answers to these questions may not be straightforward. Below we address the mandatory flow-down clauses for commercial subcontracts with commercial and non-commercial prime contractors, how subcontractors can handle irrelevant clauses, and best flow-down practices for prime contractors and subcontractors.

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