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Hal focuses his practice on complex construction law and government contract matters, including bid protests, administration counseling, compliance, claims and disputes. He represents prime and subcontractors in litigation before the Government Accountability Office (GAO), boards of contract appeals, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and federal district courts nationwide.

 

Breaking into federal government contracting can be daunting. There are ever-changing compliance obligations to consider and complex bidding and proposal submission requirements to navigate. An entire industry of sales consultants, proposal writers, and lobbyists promising to help tap into the $600 Billion plus federal marketplace are only a Google search away. Engaging the services from one of these firms is generally allowed, but there are restrictions. This post deals with one of those restrictions—the Covenant Against Contingent Fees (FAR 52.203-5) which restricts how government contractors pay third-party sales agents.
Continue Reading “Vernon’s got prospects. He’s bona fide.” — Understanding the Covenant Against Contingent Fees

A unique aspect of doing business with the federal government is the built-in limits on a contractor’s right to assign the contract or the right to payment under the contract to third parties. The Anti-Assignment Act (41 U.S.C. § 6305) prohibits the transfer of a government contract or interest in a government contract to a third party. An assignment of a contract in violation of this law voids the contract except for the Government’s right to pursue a breach of contract remedies. What’s a contractor to do when it is acquired/merged with another firm, is restructured, or goes through a variety of other types of corporate transaction? The Federal Acquisition Regulations recognize that firms involved in government contracts get bought and sold from time to time and includes procedures for the novation of contracts in certain situations to avoid a potential violation of the Anti-Assignment Act.
Continue Reading Novation Agreements Under Federal Contracts

Sorting through domestic preference requirements applicable to government contracts is no simple task. Different agencies like the DOD, FTA, FAA, FHWA, have their own rules applicable to certain programs. Exceptions from those rules can differ when a small business is making the offer. And the rules are subject to change. With the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s (“Federal Circuit”) decision in Acetris Health LLC v. United States (Fed. Cir. 2/10/2020), the situation is now a little more complicated. The same product may be “U.S. made” for government contracts purposes but considered foreign origin for customs and international trade purposes which triggers US customs duties and tariffs.
Continue Reading Federal Circuit weighs in on Trade Agreements Act compliance and the meaning of “manufacture”

We’ve all heard the expression that those who deal with the Government must turn square corners. This is because the Government has a broad array of tools at its disposal to motivate, coax, and cajole contractors and federal grant recipients to play by the rules. Those tools include harsh measures such as criminal prosecution and civil false claims act enforcement on the one hand and poor CPARS ratings on the other. A seemingly less severe administrative option available to the Government is suspension and debarment. However, any entity that has been suspended or debarred knows that these measures can prove harsh and disruptive. While the numbers of suspensions and debarments have declined from the all-time high in 2011, there is still significant activity. In its FY 2018 report, the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee reported 2444 referrals, 480 suspensions, 1542 proposed debarments, and 1334 debarments. The number of referrals for suspension and debarment in FY 2018 is almost exactly the same as the number of GAO bid protests filed that year.

What is Suspension and Debarment?

Like any consumer, the Government has inherent authority to pick with whom it will do business. Not everyone makes the cut. Suspension and debarment are the Government’s tool to avoid entities it views as a high risk for poor performance, fraud, waste, and abuse. Suspension and debarment preclude a business entity or individual from contracting with the Government or from receiving grants, loans, loan guarantees or other forms of assistance from the Government.  A suspension is a temporary exclusion when the Government determines immediate action is necessary pending the completion of an investigation or legal proceeding. A debarment is an exclusion for a defined, reasonable period of time—often three years.
Continue Reading A primer on Suspension and Debarment

The spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) remains unclear, but its impacts are already being felt. Supply chains are being disrupted and companies are implementing preventative measures to protect their employees. Many businesses have already suspended non-essential travel, encouraged remote working arrangements, and advised employees to follow the Centers for Disease Control risk-reduction strategies. Given these delays and disruptions, it’s logical to wonder:  Are delays or impacts related to the Coronavirus an excusable delay?

The answer is yes, if you can prove it. Below we outline the standard contract clauses dealing with delays from epidemics and discuss how courts have interpreted those clauses in the past when contractors claimed their delays should be excused due to an epidemic.
Continue Reading Is Coronavirus an excusable delay?

The Military Housing Privatization Initiative was intended to address the availability and adequacy of housing for military service members and their families. As a result of the MHPI, approximately 99 percent of military family housing in the United States is now operated and maintained by private developers. MHPI developers have recently been the target of litigation seeking to hold them responsible for mold and other environmental contamination. Plaintiffs are not only seeking damages for personal injury. They are seeking class certification. In one case they are seeking injunctive relief that would require changes to how the MHPI project is managed.

In this post, we provide some background on the MHPI program, the environmental contamination litigation filed so far, and some perspective on the legal issues presented in these cases. We explain why MHPI developers have a basis to assert derivative sovereign immunity and why the federal enclave doctrine presents an obstacle to some state law claims. We also point out why plaintiffs may face insurmountable hurdles in achieving certification to proceed in a class action.
Continue Reading How MHPI developers can defend against class actions for environmental contamination

On July 15, 2019, President Trump signed Executive Order 13881 addressing domestic preferences in government procurement. Unlike Executive Order 13788 (April 18, 2017) and Executive Order 13858 (Jan. 31, 2019), which had no substantive effect on existing domestic preference statutes and regulations, this one does.

EO 13881 calls for the FAR Council to make two significant changes to FAR clauses implementing the Buy American Act. The first increases the domestic content requirements for items to comply with the Buy American Act. The second increases the price preference for domestic products.
Continue Reading Big changes to the Buy American Act are coming—will they matter?

We have previously written about the Department of Labor’s effort to expand the scope of its regulatory and enforcement jurisdiction over government contractors against the wishes of Congress and even fellow federal agencies. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down an attempt by the DOL to significantly expand the Davis-Bacon Act to apply to the construction of a Public-Private Partnership project. The Davis-Bacon Act requires that contractors on federal and DC government construction projects pay prevailing wages and fringe benefits to the workers on such projects. DOL sought to apply the Act to CityCenterDC, which is a mixed-use development on the site of the DC Convention Center. This project includes 60 retail stores, various private offices, approximately 700 residential units, and a 370-room luxury hotel. 
Continue Reading DC Circuit rules that the Davis-Bacon Act does not apply to Public-Private Partnership project

You read the agency’s solicitation and realize the specifications are written around a competitor’s product and your product does not qualify. You alert the government to the issue to no avail. Where do you turn?  This can be the ideal situation to lodge a pre-award protest of the specifications.

What is a pre-award protest?

A pre-award specification protest challenges the agency’s description of the requirements contained in a solicitation or the ground rules under which the agency intends to conduct the procurement. Under the Competition in Contracting Act, a contracting agency is generally required to specify its needs and solicit offers in a manner that will achieve full and open competition, so that all responsible sources are permitted to compete. An agency generally may include restrictive provisions or conditions in its solicitations only to the extent necessary to satisfy the agency’s needs. 10 U.S.C. § 2305(a)(1)(A); 41 U.S.C. § 3306(a)(2)(B). When an agency’s solicitation contains restrictions that prevent a potential bidder from competing, potential bidders can protest that the solicitation improperly restricts competition.

Prevailing on this type of protest can be difficult because it requires the protestor to demonstrate that an agency acted unreasonably in describing its requirements, which is an area over which agencies are granted broad discretion. But the equities of such a challenge can be in the favor of the protestor because the protest seeks to expand competition, which ultimately should benefit the agency. The GAO recently sustained a pre-award protest of a Department of Veterans Affairs procurement for sterile foam dressings because the agency was unable to provide a reasonable explanation for a restrictive absorbency specification in its solicitation.
Continue Reading A primer on pre-award protests of federal procurements

President Obama signed an Executive Order raising the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors on February 12, 2014. Our earlier entry on the issue discusses how a higher minimum wage will affect current contractors. It looks like more waiting will be required before the true impact will be known.

The Executive Order calls for the Secretary of Labor and the FAR Council to draft regulations and contract provisions implementing the new minimum wage and to publish them later this year. But the Executive Order also includes some useful guidance.

Here are the key takeaways—Continue Reading Obama’s Executive Order on the new federal contractor minimum wage