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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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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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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Submitted by Husch Blackwell Associate Kayt Kopen

Federal contractors will soon need to update their Equal Employment Opportunity policies and their Affirmative Action Plans. According to an announcement by DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, federal contracts and subcontracts awarded or modified after April 8, 2015, must include new contract language prohibiting discrimination

The Severin doctrine restricts the ability of prime contractors to hold the government responsible for costs incurred by subcontractors. It is often of limited practical effect because it can usually be avoided by contract. Liquidation agreements, sponsorship agreements, pass-through agreements, and other similar agreements often include a conditional release that limits the subcontractor’s recovery to the amount that the prime contractor recovers from the government. With this protection, prime contractors are often willing to pursue subcontractor claims on a pass-through basis.

As we discussed in part one of this post, the Severin doctrine is nevertheless a recurring issue in federal contracts. Here we address two recent cases that explore the application of the Severin doctrine when the rights of the prime contractor and subcontractor are not expressed in a written agreement.

No subcontract at all

The decision in Parsons-UXB Joint Venture, ASBCA No. 56481, 13-1 BCA ¶ 35,378 (Aug. 1, 2013) [pdf] addresses the application of the Severin doctrine when there is no written subcontract. Parsons and UXB formed a joint venture to complete a Navy project to restore the Hawaiian island of Kaho’olawe, which had been used as a weapons range. The JV was “unpopulated,” meaning that employees of Parsons and UXB did all the work even though the JV formally held the contract. There were no subcontracts in place between the JV and either Parsons or UXB. When a dispute developed over costs incurred on the project and the JV brought the case to the Armed Services Board, the Navy cited the Severin doctrine. Without a subcontract, the Navy asserted that the JV could not be liable for costs incurred by Parsons or UXB and therefore could not pursue claims on their behalf.


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Rochester, New York (1943)

Subcontracting is often the best way to complete a complex project. A subcontractor may have technical expertise, equipment, or human resources that are unavailable to the prime contractor. But assigning work to one or more lower-tier parties carries with it a certain amount of risk. One of the challenges is allocating liability for changes in the scope of work, delays, and other inefficiencies that increase a subcontractor’s cost or time for performance. Today we look at how the allocation of this risk is affected by the Severin doctrine.

The Severin doctrine takes its name from the decision in Severin v. United States, 99 Ct. Cl. 435 (1943). Severin employed a subcontractor on a contract to build a post office in Rochester, New York. As a result of construction delays, Severin sought to recover $702 on behalf of its subcontractor.

The Court of Claims (now the Court of Federal Claims) gave two reasons for rejecting the claim. First, the court held that the subcontractor could not sue on its own because it had no contract directly with the government. The government had waived its sovereign immunity only for its direct contractual agreements.

Second, the court held that Severin could not pursue a claim on the subcontractor’s behalf because Severin itself could not be held liable for the same damages under its subcontract agreement.

A strict application of the Severin doctrine would increase risks for both prime contractors and subcontractors and would hamper the efficient resolution of claims. It would restrict the use of no-damage-for-delay clauses and other risk-shifting clauses that have widely been seen as effective. But in practice, the Severin doctrine has not been strictly enforced.


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You’ve heard by now that the Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Marine Constr. Co. v. United States District Court, No. 12-929 (U.S. Dec. 3, 2013) is a strong endorsement of a contractor’s right to choose the forum that will resolve disputes with subcontractors. We discuss the Court’s decision in an earlier post.

So you know that you can have a forum selection clause. But Atlantic Marine doesn’t answer the hard question, which is this—

How do you write a forum selection clause that will be reliably and economically enforced—without an expensive trip through the court system, perhaps even all the way to the Supreme Court?

Here are some basic points on drafting a forum selection clause, drawn from some of the dozens of reported court cases addressing them—


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The United States Defense Department has published a final cybersecurity regulation concerning unclassified “controlled technical information.” See 78 Fed. Reg. 69,273 (Nov. 18, 2013) [pdf]. The objective of the regulation is to require contractors to maintain “adequate security” on unclassified information systems on which CTI may reside or transit and to implement detailed reporting requirements for “cyber incidents.” The final rule is narrower than the proposed regulation, which sought to safeguard unclassified DoD information generally.  See 76 Fed. Reg. 38,089 (June 29, 2011) [pdf].

Definition of CTI

The final rule includes a new DFARS provision (DFARS 204.7300) and a DFARS contract clause (DFARS 252.204.7012), which impose new security measures and reporting requirements on contractors and subcontractors whose work involves unclassified “controlled technical information resident on or transiting through contractor information systems.”

The rule broadly defines CTI as “technical information with military or space application that is subject to controls on the access, use, reproduction, modification, performance, display, release, disclosure, or dissemination.”  DFARS 204.7301.

The term “technical information” is further defined to mean “recorded information, regardless of the form or method of the recording, of a scientific or technical nature . . . .” See DFARS 252.227-7013. Examples of technical information include research and engineering data, engineering drawings and associated lists, specifications, standards, process sheets, manuals, technical reports, technical orders, catalog-item identifications, data sets, studies and analyses and related information, and computer software executable code and source code.

While this is a broad definition, comments on the new rule limit its application to information requiring controls pursuant to DoD Instruction 5230.24 [pdf] and DoD Directive 5230.25 [pdf]. Contractors should not have to devote resources simply to the task of determining whether information is CTI or not.


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The Contract Disputes Act gives prime contractors a straightforward procedure for resolving claims against the federal government. But there is no mandatory approach to resolving disputes between contractors and subcontractors. Private parties may agree to arbitrate their disputes or designate a specific court to hear them. They may identify the applicable law, provide for the recovery of attorney’s fees, and prescribe any number of other details.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Marine Constr. Co. v. United States District Court for Western District of Texas, No. 12-929 (U.S. Dec. 3, 2013), holds that forum selection clauses in subcontracts on federal projects are enforceable. In this first blog post of a two-part series, we discuss the decision in Atlantic Marine and the limits of the Supreme Court’s analysis. In the subsequent one, we will discuss the use of subcontract dispute resolution clauses more broadly.


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Under the OFCCP’s final rule announced on August 27, 2013, federal contractors and subcontractors that meet the applicability criteria will be required to meet new goals for hiring protected veterans and individuals with disabilities. For veterans, the new “benchmark” is based on the percentage of veterans in the civilian labor force (currently 8 percent) or another figure that reflects the contractor’s unique hiring