When drafting small business joint venture agreements, the devil is in the details. A template JV agreement—like the one from the Small Business Administration—may not guarantee a JV’s eligibility for a contract award. The details of the agreement, like which contracts the JV will pursue and what each side will contribute, are critical.

Even if approved, a generic JV agreement may not survive a protest.

In CVE Protest of Veterans Contracting, Inc., the SBA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals sustained a protest challenging a JV’s status as a service-disabled veteran-owned small business because its JV agreement was too generic to establish the JV’s eligibility as an SDVOSB. The JV in that case (CRNTC) was a joint venture between CR Nationwide, LLC (the SDVOSB partner) and Trumble Construction, Inc.

The Department of Veterans Affairs approved CRNTC’s SDVOSB status for a period of three years in June 2018. The approval was based on the JV agreement between CR Nationwide and Trumble, which made CR Nationwide the majority owner. But the JV agreement did not identify any particular solicitation that CRNTC would pursue or otherwise outline what each partner would contribute to the JV. The agreement specified that the parties would identify the contract and scope of work at a later date and would set those out in a jointly executed statement that would be submitted to the relevant contracting authority.

Six months later, CRNTC submitted a bid in response to an SDVOSB set-aside IFB for a construction project at the VA medical center in Cleveland, Ohio. The VA selected CRNTC as the apparent awardee in March 2019, and an unsuccessful bidder, Veterans Contracting, Inc., protested the award and challenged CRNTC’s status as an SDVOSB.

In its response to the protest CRNTC attached a copy of its JV agreement and highlighted the fact that its majority owner, CR Nationwide, was an SDVOSB. That was not enough for the Office of Hearings and Appeals. OHA reopened the record and required CRNTC to provide additional evidence to establish its eligibility as an SDVOSB. It highlighted the fact that CRNTC’s JV agreement did not specify the contributions of CR Nationwide and Trumble, and there was no evidence of a jointly executed statement outlining their contributions, like the JV agreement had contemplated.

Details after award do not necessarily prove the JV’s eligibility prior to award.

CRNTC subsequently provided OHA with a copy of the VA’s letter approving CR Nationwide as an SDVOSB. It also provided a document showing an apparent breakdown of work for the solicitation at issue, but the document was unsigned and undated. The VA’s contracting officer separately informed OHA that she did not receive a jointly-executed statement outlining what scopes of work CR Nationwide and Trumble would provide for the IFB’s scope of work.

OHA concluded that this evidence was not sufficient to prove that CRNTC was an SDVOSB either on the date that it submitted its bid, or the date when it was awarded the contract (eligibility on both dates is required). Because the JV agreement was prepared months earlier and did not even mention the IFB at issue, OHA concluded that it did not satisfy the SBA requirements of itemizing the resources each JV partner would contribute and specifying each partner’s responsibilities for contract negotiation, source of labor, and contract performance. The lack of a contemporaneous jointly executed statement addressing each party’s contribution also meant that CRNTC could not show that CR Nationwide (the SDVOSB partner) was actually performing 40% of the work, as required under SBA’s regulations.

OHA also refused to consider the “breakdown” document that CRNTC submitted during the protest. It noted that CRNTC’s eligibility had to be determined at the time it submitted its bid (December 2018) and when it received award (March 2019). The unsigned and undated “breakdown” document had no bearing on CRNTC’s eligibility on those dates because the document appeared to have been created only after OHA reopened the record and asked CRNTC to provide additional evidence of its eligibility.

Determine each party’s specific contribution before submitting a proposal.

In our experience, the factual situation from this case is fairly common. Eager to establish a new relationship, partners often rush to sign a template JV agreement before they have identified how or what they will do together. As a result, the JV agreement often does little more than identify the partners and ensure that the small business partner will be the majority owner. Although that may be sufficient for preliminary size or status approval, any resulting contract award could still be at risk. In order to prove the JV’s eligibility, attention to detail is required. The parties should be sure to clearly outline their respective contributions and responsibilities for a particular procurement before they submit their bid and receive award of the contract.


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The General Services Administration estimates the size of the federal market for commercial products to be about $50 billion a year. Manufacturers and distributors of commercial products have seen GSA’s multiple award schedule contracts as a good way to way to access federal customers. But a GSA schedule contract does not guarantee sales and the process of obtaining and adhering to such a contract presents its own headaches.

Soon there will be a better way.

Section 846 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2018 establishes a program that will allow federal agencies to purchase commercially available off-the-shelf (COTS) items through commercial e-commerce portals that are currently available only to the private sector. As long as the procurement is under the new $250,000 Simplified Acquisition Threshold, COTS products (not services) will be available for purchase Government-wide, presumably without additional competition and without a lengthy list of FAR clauses incorporated by reference.

Under the program, GSA will enter into “multiple contracts” with “multiple e-commerce portal providers.” To the maximum extent possible, the Government will adopt and adhere to standard terms and conditions established by the e-commerce portals themselves.


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Small business status impacts government contractors in several ways. Set-aside procurements and financial assistance programs are available for small businesses. Small business status is important for those seeking to meet the goals and commitments set forth in their small business subcontracting plans. Looming over all determinations of small business size status is the concept of affiliation. If the Small Business Administration finds that two business concerns are “affiliates” (one controls or has the power to control the other or a third party controls or has the power to control both), a business may no longer be a “small business.”

Affiliation determinations are likewise essential for pharmaceutical companies seeking to have the Food and Drug Administration waive the user fee for reviewing a new human drug application. Under § 736(d)(4) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. § 379h(d)(4), a small business is entitled to a waiver of the prescription drug user fee when the business meets three criteria:

  1. The business must employ fewer than 500 persons, including employees of its affiliates.
  2. The business does not have a drug product that has been approved under a human drug application and introduced or delivered for introduction into interstate commerce.
  3. The application must be the first human drug application, within the meaning of the FD&C Act, that a company or its affiliate submits to the Food and Drug Administration for review.


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Contractors interested in the application of FOIA Exemption 4 should take note of the Ninth Circuit’s decision in American Small Business League v. Dep’t of Defense, No. 15-15120 (9th Cir. Jan. 6, 2017). The issue in the case was whether a declaration submitted by a Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation employee was sufficient to show the competitive harm necessary to withhold small business subcontracting data obtained from Sikorsky. The Sikorsky declaration was short, but it identified Sikorsky’s competitors and asserted that its small business subcontracting data could be used to gain a competitive advantage.

Soldiers conduct air assault operations on the deck of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command's Logistical Support Vessel-2, the Harold C. Clinger off the coast of Honolulu, Jan. 11, 2016. The soldiers are assigned to the 25th Infantry Division.
Army photo by Sgt. Jon Heinrich

In a November 2014 order, the District Court found the declaration too vague. It lacked “reasonably specific detail” as to the likelihood of competitive injury. It did not show how information found in the subcontracting plan would be “likely to cause substantial competitive injury.” Proof of competitive harm was based only on the fact that a Sikorsky competitor “could” use Sikorsky’s data to cause harm. In the words of District Judge William Alsup, “[t]hat is not enough to grant summary judgment for the agency.” The District Court ordered the government to produce Sikorsky’s master subcontracting plan, subject only to appeal.


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Earlier this year we wrote about the final regulation consolidating most of the Federal Small Business Mentor-Protégé program under one office at the Small Business Administration. See 81 Fed. Reg. 48558 (July 25, 2016). The regulation expands the popular Mentor-Protégé program and should provide significant benefits to many more large and small companies. You can read our original post here.

One of the questions raised in comments on the draft regulation was how the SBA would cope with the expected significant increase in its workload. Accuracy and turn-around time are important elements of the SBA’s review role. In the final regulation, SBA generally addressed those concerns by promising to find new and improved ways to deliver the service. They committed to take one step at a time and scale up as needed.

It has now been five months since the final rule was published. We asked SBA Mentor-Protégé Director Holly Schick for a progress report on the transition. Director Schick says that the SBA has moved steadily if incrementally, to ramp-up the program.


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The Supreme Court’s June 2016 decision in Kingdomware Techs., Inc. v. United States, No. 14-916 (June 16, 2016), may significantly impact the meaning of the term “government contract” for years to come.

The case centered on a project for the Department of Veteran Affairs. When VA continually fell behind in achieving its three percent goal for contracting with service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses, Congress enacted the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006. See 38 U.S.C. §§ 8127 & 8128. The Act includes a mandatory set-aside provision that requires competition to be restricted to veteran-owned small businesses if the government contracting officer reasonably expects that at least two such businesses will submit offers and that the “award can be made at a fair and reasonable price that offers best value to the United States.” This is an iteration of the well-known “Rule of Two.”

When it published regulations implementing this statutory requirement, VA took the position that the set-aside requirements in § 8127 “do not apply to [Federal Supply Schedule] task or delivery orders.”  74 Fed. Reg. 64619, 64624 (2009). The Kingdomware case posed a direct challenge to this interpretation.


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Under a final rule published on July 25, 2016, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Mentor-Protégé Program is now open to all small businesses. See 81 Fed. Reg. 48558 (July 25, 2016). This significant expansion can be expected to provide real benefits to small businesses, large businesses, and government agencies. The revamped program will no doubt increase the popularity of mentor-protégé agreements among companies seeking federal contracts for goods, services, and construction. With more small-business ventures available to compete, it may also increase the number of contract opportunities actually set aside for small business.

Origin of SBA’s 8(a) Mentor-Protégé Program

The Mentor-Protégé Program was authorized by Congress in 1991 as a pilot program to help certain small businesses compete for Defense Department contracts. By 1998, the SBA was administering a program to help socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses. These businesses were called “8(a) companies” because the program was authorized by section 8(a) of the Small Business Act. Qualified companies acting as mentors provided technical, managerial, and financial assistance to help 8(a) companies compete for federal contracts.

By 2011, roughly 1,000 participating mentor-protégé joint ventures held federal contracts, with about half of those monitored by the SBA. Twelve other participating agencies oversee and administer the other half of existing mentor-protégé participants. Each agency has its own rules and monitoring program.
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Six years from accrual. Three years from discovery. And never longer than ten years.

Despite the statutory language imposing time limits on the government’s pursuit of False Claims Act violations, courts continue to bend over backwards to give the government more time to assert them. The decision in United States ex rel. Sansbury v. LB&B Associates, Inc., No. 07-251 (D.D.C. July 16, 2014) [pdf] allowed the government a total of 14 years from the date of the first alleged false claim.

We hope that the Supreme Court will restore some sanity to the enforcement of the FCA limitations period in its decision in Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Carter, No. 12-1497. We discuss the issues in that case in an earlier post. But we still have to wait a while for that. Argument in the Carter case is scheduled for January 13, 2015.

[UPDATE: On May 26, 2015, the Supreme Court reversed the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Carter and held that the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act is limited to criminal offenses. Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. v. Carter, No 12-1497 (U.S. May 26, 2015) [pdf]. Our discussion of the Carter decision is available here.]

The FCA limitations and tolling framework

Sansbury is an unusual case that is based on the intricacies of the FCA’s limitations and relation-back provisions. Before getting into the facts of the case and the holding, here’s a breakdown of those provisions.

According to the text of the False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. § 3731(b)), the limitations period applicable to civil FCA actions is the later of:  (1) 6 years after the date on which the violation is committed; or (2) 3 years after the date when the material facts giving rise to the cause of action are known or reasonably should have been known by the U.S. official responsible for acting on FCA violations (i.e. DOJ official), but in no event more than 10 years after the date on which the violation is committed.

But these may not be real deadlines. Even without the tolling that that may be available under the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act, the government may get several additional years to make a decision on whether to intervene in a whistleblower’s qui tam suit. If the whistleblower’s original action is timely under § 3731(b), the government’s intervention complaint “relates back” to the date of the initial complaint. Even if the government takes three years to file its intervention complaint, it is deemed to have been filed on the date of the original suit. The relation back provision appears in 31 U.S.C. § 3731(c).


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Posted by Husch Blackwell Associate David Newman

The Small Business Administration is continuing the task of implementing several regulatory changes required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (NDAA) [pdf]. One such change occurred on May 7th when the SBA published an interim final rule (RIN 3245-AG55) [pdf] enacting section 1697 of the NDAA and amending 13 CFR 127.503 [pdf]. The interim final rule removes  the statutory cap on set-aside contracts for Women Owned Small Businesses (WOSB) and Economically Disadvantaged Women Owned Small Businesses (EDWOSBs).


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Posted by Husch Blackwell Associate David Newman

Congress continues to promote opportunities for small business contractors to do business with the federal government. It also continues to increase the penalties for those taking unfair advantage of small business opportunities. Here is a look at the most recent set of carrots and sticks, which appear in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013.

1. Subcontracts with “similarly situated” small businesses

Section 1651 of the 2013 NDAA provides a new exception to the small business subcontracting cap, which restricts small businesses from subcontracting more than 50 percent of the amount paid under a services contract. With the passage of NDAA, the amount paid under any subcontract with a small business concern that has the same small business status as the prime contractor is excluded from the small business subcontracting cap. The term “similarly situated entities” includes service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses, HUBZone small businesses, women-owned small businesses, and economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses.

This provision also changes the method for calculating the 50-percent subcontracting cap. Previously, the subcontracting limits in FAR 52.219-14 counted only direct labor costs. Under section 1651, “amount paid” under a subcontract, including labor, material, and other direct costs, is used to determine the 50-percent subcontracting cap. This is a strong incentive for small business prime contractors to award subcontracts to similarly situated small businesses. The old formula continues to govern subcontracting limitations for construction contracts, but the NDAA directs the SBA to establish similar limitations on construction contracts.

The penalty for violating the subcontracting cap is the greater of $500,000 or the dollar amount expended over the cap. The “amount expended” clause is a new penalty.


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