One of the biggest differences between federal government and commercial contracting is that certain clauses may be incorporated by reference (and hence controlling) in a federal contract even if the clause was not expressly included in the contract by the parties.  In a departure from the general principle that contracts should only reflect the bargain made by the parties, and hence courts should not read provisions into a contract that are not there, federal government contracts take a different approach because of the public policy considerations that underlie every federal contract that ultimately is being performed on behalf of the taxpayer.  In this regard, when it comes to government contracts, the courts will on occasion apply the so-called Christian doctrine (taken from L. Christian & Assocs. v. United States, 312 F.2d 418 (Ct. Cl. 1963)) to determine whether a provision should be read into a government contract because not doing so would frustrate important policy considerations for either the protection of the government or the contractor.  While the application of the Christian doctrine has only been applied to certain contract clauses, a recent decision has now added the Miller Act’s bonding provisions to the list of clauses that has been held to be incorporated by reference into a government contract.

In this regard, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently held, in K-Con, Inc. v. Secretary of Army, that bonding requirements under the Miller Act apply to federal government construction contracts, even when the bonding provisions were not part of the contract. C.A. No. 2017-2254, 2018 WL 5780251 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 5, 2018). The Miller Act, as implemented at Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 28.102-1, requires that before any contract of more than $150,000 is awarded for the construction, alteration, or repair of any public building or public work of the federal government, a person must furnish to the government, performance and payment bonds, which become binding when the contract is awarded. 40 U.S.C. §§ 3131(b). 
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Every manufacturing contract, including construction contracts, with the government contains a myriad of terms and conditions and other requirements, including the numerous provisions set forth in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) that are often incorporated expressly or by reference into the contract.  Understandably, contractors focus on the contract’s specifications, schedule, terms for payment, and certifications

So-called “sovereign acts” may soon affect the performance of a wide swath of government contracts by shielding the federal government from the fallout of President Trump’s newest tariffs. The sovereign acts doctrine is rarely discussed, but it can have a profound impact on contract profitability.

While a contractor might normally be granted additional compensation when

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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The federal regulations and procurement framework for design-build project delivery concerning direct government procurements, and indirect federal projects where the government provides funding but does not procure the construction, has been in place for the past twenty-two years (The Clinger-Cohen Act passed in 1996, part of Federal Acquisition Regulation at subpart 36.300 et seq.)  Design-build

It seems like a yearly ritual.  The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee (“SASC”) drafts and passes a version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) that includes reforms aimed at curtailing bid protests, while the House Armed Services Committee (“HASC”) drafts and passes a version of the NDAA that omits these bid protest reforms.  Every year, the majority of the reforms in Senate are eliminated during the conference committee process.  However, the FY2019 NDAA appears to be headed towards a break in this yearly ritual.

On June 5, 2018, the SASC introduced its version of the FY2019 NDAA to the Senate.  For the first time in several years, the SASC’s proposed version of the FY2019 NDAA does not contain any major reforms to limit bid protests.  The SASC’s proposed FY2019 NDAA (Section 811) contains only a few provisions aimed at bid protests, neither of which would limit bid protests.  Both provisions appear to be related to findings in RAND’s 2018 report of DoD bid protests:


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Back when Congress passed the FY2017 NDAA, they included a provision (Section 1822) requiring SBA to create a pilot program to provide opportunities for qualified subcontractors to obtain past performance ratings. Specifically, Congress mandated that SBA create a 3-year pilot program whereby small business concerns without a past performance rating as a

For years bid protest filings at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have been done by e-mail (or even fax, mail or hand delivery).  In January 2014, Congress directed GAO to establish a electronic filing and document dissemination system (not unlike the PACER system used by federal courts), and authorized GAO to charge a filing

As we previously discussed, when Congress passed the FY 2018 NDAA it required the Department of Defense (“DoD”) to issue regulations providing for enhanced post-award debriefing rights on certain DoD procurements.  Specifically, Congress mandated enhanced content requirements, a follow-up question process, and corresponding changes to the time to file a bid protest at GAO with a suspension of performance of the protested contract (a “CICA stay“):

  • Enhanced Content Requirements:  While protecting the confidential and proprietary information of other offerors, the debriefing shall include, at a minimum, the agency’s written source selection award determination, redacted to protect the confidential and proprietary information of other offerors.  These enhanced content requirements apply to “required” debriefings if (1) the contract award exceeds $100M, or (2) the contract award exceeds $10M and the contractor requesting the debriefing is a small business or nontraditional contractor who request such disclosure.
  • Follow-up Question Process:  Disappointed offeror would be allowed the opportunity for follow-up questions within two business days of receiving a post-award debriefing to be answered in writing by the agency within five business days.
  • Time to file protest at GAO and obtain a CICA stay:  The debriefing would not be considered concluded, and the five day post-debriefing period pertaining to when a protest needs to be filed to invoke a CICA stay would not commence, until the day the agency delivers its written responses to the disappointed offeror’s follow-up questions.

The enhanced content requirements were to be implemented through DFARS regulatory changes, which DoD has until June 2018 to issue.  On the other hand, the follow-up question process, and corresponding changes to the time to file a bid protest at GAO with a CICA stay, are already reflected in statutory changes (10 U.S.C. 2305(a)(5) and 31 U.S.C. 3553(d)(4)).  Still, changes to the DFARS were expected to implement the follow-up question process.  But this week, in advance of changes to the DFARS, DoD issued Class Deviation 2018-O0011 – Enhanced Postaward Debriefing Rights, which provides for the immediate implementation of the follow-up question process (and corresponding changes to the time to file a protest at GAO and obtain a CICA stay):
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Cooperative Agreements” are legal instruments that facilitate the transfer of something of value from federal executive agencies to states, local governments, and private recipients for a public purpose or benefit.

Cooperative Agreements are distinct from traditional procurement contracts and thus are not subject to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Like Other Transaction Authority, this approach provides agencies greater freedom to craft the terms of an agreement around new or innovative endeavors. For example, the FDA uses this freedom to advance food safety with states by funding implementation of food safety rules. As the Federal contracting landscape becomes increasingly complex, Cooperative Agreements represent an opportunity for some contractors to pivot to a more streamlined federal funding mechanism.
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