The ability for a Government contractor to secure fair resolution of a contract dispute is essential for maintaining a vibrant competitive marketplace for federal contracts. The perceived fairness of the contract dispute resolution process is influential on contractor participation. S. Rep. No. 95-1118, at 4 (1978) (“The way potential contractors view the disputes-resolving system influences how, whether, and at what prices they compete for Government contract business.”). Yet even after passage of the Contract Disputes Act of 1978, it is often difficult for a contractor to secure a review of a claim on the merits due to a barrage of procedural and jurisdictional hurdles. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has cleared some of the thicket in recent years by reiterating its commonsense approach to evaluating the sufficiency of claims, finding that if a submission meets the requirements of a claim, it may be heard on the merits, even if it was not originally styled as a claim.
This Feature Comment discusses this recent guidance, including the Federal Circuit’s treatment of the difficult question of which contractor submissions may be treated as valid claims under the CDA, even if not styled as such in the first instance. We then offer practical guidance for contractors navigating these issues.
Welcome back to our “Lifecycle of a Claim” series. This series explores the Contract Disputes Act claims process, with practical guidance stemming from recent case law every step of the way. Click the subscribe button on the right to get timely updates right in your inbox!
Click here to read our first post (covering Steps 1 and 2 of the infographic). This post focuses on Steps 3 and 4 of this process: submitting a request for equitable adjustment (“REA”) and negotiating the REA with the contracting officer.
Terminology Defined: What Is the Difference between an REA and a Claim?
There are two primary methods for pursuing a contract adjustment following a change: submitting an REA or filing a claim.
REA: A request (rather than a demand) to negotiate with the contracting officer to adjust the contract for price, time, or other terms. There is no FAR definition of an REA but generally an REA does not expressly or implicitly request a contracting officer’s final decision (“COFD”) or contain the FAR 33.207(a) certification.
Claim: A “written demand or written assertion by one of the contracting parties seeking, as a matter of right, the payment of money in a sum certain, the adjustment or interpretation of contract terms, or other relief arising under or relating to the contract.” FAR 2.101; FAR 52.233-1(c).
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.