Contract Administration

Federal agencies and contractors are working hard to address the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, work must stop. In others, the work will increase or change dramatically. While contractors should look to contracting officers for guidance with respect to specific contracts, agency-wide guidance documents are beginning to shed light on the government’s expectations. We will be using this blog entry to collect and share agency guidance on performance of government contracts during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Department of Defense—

Department of the Army—

  • Planning for Potential Novel Coronavirus Impacts (Mar. 12, 2020). Encourages increased communication, notes that contracting officers do not bear the responsibility to determine whether the excuse of COVID—19 applies, outlines causes for performance delays that are excusable and FAR provisions that excuse performance delays, and clarifies situations in which compensation is an option.


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In response to the growing Coronavirus pandemic, President Trump announced that the federal government will invoke the Defense Production Act to obtain necessary medical equipment and supplies from private industry. In this post we address some of the most frequently-asked questions about the DPA.

What is the Defense Production Act?

Originally conceived during the Korean War, the DPA allows the President to divert goods and supplies from civilian use to promote the national defense. This authority is not limited to sourcing aircraft parts or ammunition, or to supporting active military operations. The text of the Act expressly extends to matters involving “national economic security and national public health or safety.”

The Defense Priorities and Allocations System regulations in 15 C.F.R. Part 700 implement the Defense Production Act. The DPAS regulations provide detail about how the government will issue rated orders and what contractors and commercial suppliers must do to respond.

How does the government prioritize orders for specific supplies?

The government specifies the relative priority for specific supplies by issuing a “rated order,” which may be designated “DX” or “DO.” A DX order has the highest priority. It must be fulfilled before any other DO or unrated order. A DO rated order must be fulfilled before an unrated order. A rated order must be fulfilled first, even if it means the contractor must divert items already in process or ready for delivery under another contract.
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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.
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Under the Christian Doctrine, prime contractors face the risk of having a court or a board of contract appeals read a clause into their contracts, even if it was omitted from the contract that they signed. In this entry we discuss whether the Christian Doctrine applies to subcontractors.

The Christian Doctrine is almost certainly inapplicable to subcontractors. For the reasons why, consider the decision in Energy Labs, Inc. v. Edwards Engineering, Inc., (N.D. Ill. June 2, 2015). A subcontractor contracted to manufacture and deliver HVAC systems for the Chicago Transit Authority. In its own contract, the prime contractor certified that the HVAC system would comply with the Buy America Act. But the prime contractor failed to flow the requirement down to the HVAC manufacturer, which planned to manufacture the units in Mexico. After learning that the plan to manufacture the units in Mexico would not meet the Buy America requirement, the prime contractor canceled the order and purchased the units from another manufacturer.

The original manufacturer sued for breach of contract. In its motion to dismiss, the prime contractor made two arguments. The subcontract was “illegal” because it omitted the Buy America requirement. Or it was legal only because the Christian Doctrine meant that the Buy America requirement was read into the subcontract by operation of law. The court rejected both arguments. There was nothing “illegal” about the prime’s failure to include a Buy America requirement in the subcontract. And there was no basis to read the requirement into the subcontract through the Christian Doctrine. “The Christian doctrine . . . was intended to apply to contracts between the federal government and government contractors, not to subcontracts.”

This result is consistent with our experience.
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Every year or so, the U.S. Postal Service changes the standard Terms and Conditions that apply to its newly awarded Highway Contract Route (HCR) and Contract Delivery Service (CDS) contacts. When this occurs, the new terms only apply to newly awarded contracts–existing contracts are unaffected and retain the same terms as when awarded.

But this year, the Postal Service has sought to apply new Terms and Conditions to existing CDS contracts as well as newly awarded ones. In an email to its CDS contractors, the Postal Service asked them to sign, without any “alterations or additions,” a contract modification that incorporated the new terms. If the contractor did not so, the Postal Service’s email threatened contract termination:

“Because of the Postal Service’s interest in maintaining consistency across its many CDS contracts, please note that a failure to respond to this correspondence … may lead the Postal Service to consider termination of the subject contract.”

After receiving this email, many contractors asked me: “Can the Postal Service really do this?” In my opinion, several legal arguments, if upheld, would make the resulting modification unenforceable. For example, the modification might fail for lack of consideration, because it gave the Postal Service what it wanted without giving anything that contractors valued in return. And it might fail for violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, because it seeks to recapture benefits that were foreclosed at the time of contract award. But I think the best argument against its enforceability is based on the legal theory of coercion and duress. Normally, this is a difficult argument to make, but here the elements seem apparent from the Postal Service’s email itself.
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Iran sanctions lifted as part of the Iran Nuclear Deal went back into effect today, November 5, 2018. Companies seeking or performing US government contracts should take this opportunity to confirm that none of their international vendors, suppliers, and subcontractors are on the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list.

The standard form construction contract documents published by the American Institute of Architects are used widely throughout the construction industry. With assistance from federal agencies, the AIA created specific construction contract documents, such as the B-108-2009, to address the unique nature of federally-funded and insured projects. This year the AIA issued its once-a-decade revisions

In Joe Tex’s song about unrequited love, the Southern Soul singer belts out, “I gotcha, never shoulda promised to me.” Joe Tex may have thought this approach is the right one for romantic disappointment, but parties to a contract have a different set of obligations.

A lawsuit by Washington State contractor Nova Contracting should serve as an alert to owners dealing with the assessment of a contractor’s performance. Nova’s lawsuit came about because of the owner’s termination of the contract. Nova claimed the owner was using a “gotcha” review process for its submittals that was designed to prevent performance. The trial court agreed with the owner.

Culvert_with_a_dropNova appealed and the court of appeals found sufficient questions of fact to send the dispute back to the trial court. The opinion offers insight into fair dealing and good faith in the performance of construction contracts. Nova Contracting, Inc. v. City of Olympia, No. 48644-0-II (Wash Ct. App. Apr. 18, 2017).
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Every government contract contains implied duties, such as the duty to cooperate and the duty of good faith and fair dealing. Such implied duties generally prohibit one party from interfering with the other’s performance or taking actions that undermine the other’s expected benefit of the bargain.

Implied duties offer important protections when an issue is not clearly addressed in the text of the agreement. But courts have been reluctant to apply them in a way that overrides express contract language. A party generally does not breach the duty of good faith and fair dealing, for example, simply by exercising a right that is expressly provided in the contract.

But the government does not have carte blanche. Even if there is express language that gives the government a certain right, the government cannot exercise that right unreasonably or in a way that interferes with the contractor’s performance. In Agility Public Warehousing Company KSCP v. Mattis, No. 2016-1265 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 4, 2017), for example, the Federal Circuit explained that the government can breach the duty of good faith and fair dealing even if its conduct is otherwise consistent with the express terms of a contract.

Airmen serve dinner in the field in a mobile kitchen trailer during Global Medic 13 on Fort McCoy, Wis., July 16, 2013. The food service specialists are assigned to the 940th Force Support Squadron, Beale Air Force Base, Calif.
Source: DOD Image Library


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U.S. Air Force and Honduran doctors work together to remove a diseased gallbladder from a patient at the Doctor Salvador Paredes Hospital in Trujillo, Honduras, July 2, 2015.The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, Pub. L. No. 114-328 (Dec. 23, 2016), introduces major changes to the Defense Department healthcare program known as TRICARE. By this time next year, we’ll see a new program to contain the cost of prescription drugs at retail pharmacies, contractual incentives for improving the quality of healthcare and