Perhaps the greatest risk in a federal construction project is the risk of the unknown.  This is especially true in the case of a fixed price project where the majority of the risk is on the contractor who has agreed to do the job for a fixed price, which generally includes all known and unknown risks of performance.  This narrative, however, has some relief in that the parties understand that there will, at times, be truly unforeseeable circumstances that even the most prudent contractor could not have reasonably prepared for.

Accordingly, all fixed-price construction contracts with the federal government include Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) 52.236- , the Differing Site Conditions (“DSC”) Clause, which provides for an equitable adjustment of the cost and time required for construction when (1) subsurface or latent physical conditions at the site differ materially from those indicated in the contract, or (2) unknown physical conditions at the site of an unusual nature differ materially from those ordinarily encountered, and the contractor meets specified notice requirements.  The DSC Clause seeks to reduce and/or eliminate bidding contingencies by shifting the risk of qualified unanticipated subsurface conditions to the government.

The Two Types of Differing Site Conditions

The DSC Clause contains two distinct types of DSCs.  The first, known as a Type I DSC, covers unexpected natural or man-made conditions that materially differ from conditions indicated in the specific contract.  The second, known as a Type II DSC, covers unexpected natural or man-made conditions that materially differ from conditions normally expected in similar work.  Unexpected natural conditions can include things such as unexpected subsoil composition, while man-made conditions can include things such as unknown utility lines.  One note to be aware of is that weather and acts of God that take place during performance of a contract do not constitute DSCs. 
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Customers will frequently want you to complete performance sooner than may be required by the contract.  When presented with such a dilemma, contractors face the challenge of keeping the customer happy while performing the work in a manner that will meet specifications and the contractor’s business expectations.  To navigate this process effectively, it is important

Many politically charged issues are likely to steal the headlines during the confirmation hearings for President Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh.  However, one issue unlikely to make headlines is the impact that Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation may have on the doctrine that gives “controlling weight” to the way government agencies interpret their own regulations — known as the Auer Deference doctrine.

Given the composition of the Supreme Court, recent Judicial attempts to re-examine the doctrine, and Judge Kavanaugh’s previous statements, Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation signals the probability of the Supreme Court’s eventual overturning of the Auer Doctrine  — which would be good news for government contractors.

What is Auer Deference?

Auer deference (also referred to as Seminole Rock deference) is a principle of administrative law that requires courts to give “controlling weight” to the way government agencies interpret their own regulations, even where the agency’s interpretation is not “the best” reading of the text in question. Developed from the U.S. Supreme Court’s holdings in Auer v. Robbins, 519 U. S. 452 (1997) and Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co., 325 U.S. 410 (1945), the doctrine mandates that courts credit the agency’s interpretation as controlling as long as it is not “plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.”

This obviously puts a thumb on the scale for agencies in the context of contract disputes or bid protests tied to certain regulatory interpretations. It can be particularly harmful to contractors when the agency has altered its interpretation during the performance or procurement of a contract, or worse, during the course of litigation. Unlike agencies whose procurements rely on interpretation of the FAR, agencies that draft and enforce their own regulations (such as the Small Business Administration) are sometimes empowered under Aeur to alter their interpretation to suit the agencies’ needs on a case-to-case basis.
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Contractors frequently claim that owners have breached the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, largely as an alternative to more specific claims for constructive change or breach. These good faith and fair dealing claims are difficult to recover on, largely because courts and the boards have required a breach of the implied duty

Liquidated damages are useful tools for parties to allocate risk at the beginning of a contract.  A liquidated damages clause allocates the risk of a contract being completed late.  For a liquidated damages clause to apply, the damages must be approximately the damages likely to be incurred by the assessing party and the damages must be reasonably uncertain at the time of contracting.  While a liquidated damages clause could be used on any type of contract with a deliverable, it is most commonly seen in construction contracts.  In that case, for every day the contractor is late in finishing the project, the owner can assess liquidated damages rather than calculating the actual damages on a day-by-day basis.

While the concept seems straightforward (1 day late = $X in damages), assessing liquidated damages can escalate in complexity.  In the recent case of American International Contractors, assessing liquidated damages required not one but three project aspects that would impact the project’s completion date.  ASBCA Nos. 60948, 61166.  In this case, the Army Corps of Engineers contracted with American International Contractors, Inc. (“AICI”) to contract for the “United Kingdom Maritime Component Command (UKMCC) Development, Mina Salman Port, NSA II, Kingdom of Bahrain.”  The project provided for the construction of two facilities among other items.  The two facilities had to be completed by Mar 7, 2015 and April 6, 2015.  Both facilities were completed late with eight days and 28 days of liquidated damages assessed, respectively.  After AICI had demobilized from the site, the Army Corps requested a proposal from AICI to perform various work in one of the new facilities.  Rather than issuing a new contract, the contracting officer issued a unilateral modification to the construction contract line item for the new facility whereby AICI would perform the new scope in the new facility.  In the modification, the contract stated “[t]he Period of Performance has increased … for a period of two-hundred-thirty-two (232) days from the effective date of this modification of March 11, 2016. … This Period of Performance covers work under this modification only, not for the overall contract.” 
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While FAR 52.242-14 (the “Suspension of Work Clause”) and FAR 52.242-15 (the “Stop-Work Order Clause”) both allow a contracting officer to require a contractor to stop all, or any part, of the work at the Government’s convenience, they contain some key differences that prudent contractors should know to protect their interests when contracting with the Government.  The two clauses contain differences in relation to allowable damages, when claims must be presented, the time of suspension or work interruption, and what must be proved to recover damages.

A contractor not aware of which of these clauses is in play could unknowingly submit an untimely or invalid claim.

The Suspension of Work Clause:

The FAR requires that the Suspension of Work Clause be inserted in fixed-price construction and architect-engineer contracts.  The Suspension of Work Clause allows the Contracting Officer to order the Contractor “to suspend, delay, or interrupt all of any part of the work…for the period of time that the Contracting Officer determines appropriate for the convenience of the Government.”  Even if a Suspension Order is not given, if the conduct of the government forces the Contractor to interrupt or cease its work, that conduct may be treated as a “constructive suspension,” affording the Contractor the same rights under the Clause.  The four-part test for recovery under the Suspension of Work Clause is as follows: (1) the resulting delay was for an unreasonable period of time, (2) the delay was proximately caused by the Government’s actions, (3) the delay resulted in some injury to the Contractor, and (4) there is no delay concurrent with the suspension that is the fault of the Contractor.

For directed suspensions, a claim, in an amount stated, must be asserted in writing as soon as practicable after the suspension, delay, or interruption, but not later than the date of final payment under the Contract.  In the case of a constructive suspension under the Suspension of Work Clause, the Contractor may submit a written claim for added costs, exclusive of profit, incurred within 20 days of notice that the work is suspended, delayed, or interrupted for an unreasonable period of time by (1) an act of the Contracting Officer, or (2) by the Contracting Officer’s failure to act within the time specified in the contract.  However, courts have indicated that this notice requirements may be liberally construed.  See Hoel-Steffen Const. Co. v. U.S., 197 Ct.Cl. 561, 570-571 (1972); K-Con Bldg. Sys., Inc. v. U.S., 115 Fed. Cl. 558, 573 (2014). In addition, no allowance for delay is permitted to the extent performance would have been delayed by any other cause. 
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Often times the most difficult part of the government contract claims process is checking all the procedural “boxes” of a certified claim.  Failure to file a claim within six years of accrual, request a contracting officer’s final decision, or include a wet ink signature are just a few of the procedural technicalities required by the Contract Disputes Act (“CDA”) that can get a claim kicked out before the Board ever has a chance to get to the merits.  Another significant procedural requirement under the CDA is that, for claims of more than $100,000, the claimant must provide a certification that certifies (among other things) that the claim is supported by accurate and complete data and the amount requested accurately reflects the contract adjustment for which the claimant believes the government is liable.

In Mayberry Enterprises, LLC v. Department of Energy, CBCA 5961 (March 13, 2018), the contractor appealed the denial of its uncertified claim seeking costs and excusable delay related to late payments, contract modifications and government-caused delays for a total of $529,895.59.  The contractor submitted three invoices to the government, each requesting a “category” of damages:

  • $87,990 – for suspension of work and late payment issues.
  • $41,000 – retained funds.
  • $400,905 – mobilization, prepatory, surfacing, design and other miscellaneous costs for extra work.


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When do agency Boards of Contract Appeals have jurisdiction to hear a federal contract dispute under the Contract Disputes Act (CDA) when the dispute is with a surety that issued a bond on the project?  Answering this question is key to avoiding a government motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

Typically, if a surety is forced to step in to take over for a contractor, both the terms of the bond and principles of equity allow the surety subrogation rights, which entitle the surety to the contract rights of the obligor (contractor). This includes the right to pursue payment from the government for work performed, and for overpayments to the contractor.
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On May 1, 2018, Oles Morrison partner Adam Lasky will be on a panel discussing “Tips for Avoiding Litigation on Federal Construction Projects,” together with Paul Varela (Varela, Lee, Metz & Guarino), Neil O’Donnell (Rogers, Joseph O’Donnell, PC), and Jennifer Fiore (Dunlap Fiore, LLC), at the AGC Federal Contractors Conference 2018.  Adam

In a recent decision, NOAA Maryland, LLC v. General Services Administration, the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (“CBCA”) looked to “extrinsic” evidence outside the contract to interpret whether the government was required to pay real estate taxes.  This case provides a reminder to contractors that while the CBCA is reluctant to look beyond the