Contributed by Husch Blackwell Associate Thomas J. Rath

It makes sense to require contractors seeking reimbursement of costs they incur in the performance of a government contract to show that the costs were reasonable. According to the latest decision addressing KBR’s effort to recoup costs incurred to support the United States military in Iraq, the rule is no different for work performed in a warzone. Without additional proof of reasonableness, the Court of Federal Claims concluded that $37 million may be too much for a dining facility needed to feed and protect 6,000 American soldiers. See Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. v. United States, Nos. 09-428C & 09-578C (Fed. Cl. Sept. 27, 2012).

The decision arises from KBR’s claims for costs incurred to construct and operate a reinforced concrete dining facility needed to feed and protect 6,000 soldiers in Mosul, Iraq. Though KBR’s contract was awarded on a cost-reimbursement basis, KBR awarded a fixed-price subcontract for the work to ABC International Group. Army representatives urged KBR to begin work on the new facility quickly, citing the need for “force protection.” Responding to this pressure, KBR accepted a proposal from ABC that doubled the expected monthly cost of labor without seeking competing bids. KBR concluded the increase was reasonable because the work would be conducted amid “violence and the beheading of hostages by terrorists [which] caused a drastic increase in the cost of labor and a severe shortage of available staff.” By the end of the contract, the government asserted that KBR had paid over $12 million more to ABC for labor than it should have.

Under a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, contractors may face False Claims Act liability for the submission of false estimates, including fraudulent underbidding. In United States ex rel. Hooper v. Lockheed Martin Corporation, No. 11-55278 (9th Cir. Aug. 2, 2012) [pdf], the Ninth Circuit joined the First and Fourth Circuits in holding that “false estimates, defined to include fraudulent underbidding in which the bid is not what the defendant actually intends to charge, can be a source of liability under the FCA.”

In this case, a former Lockheed Martin employee alleged that the company intentionally underbid its proposal for the Air Force’s Range Standardization and Automation IIA (“RSA IIA”) program. Lockheed was awarded the RSA IIA contract in 1995, and since then it has been paid more than $900 million on a cost-reimbursement plus award fee basis. Hooper, the qui tam relator and former Lockheed employee, alleged that the employees preparing Lockheed’s RSA IIA bid were told to “lower their estimates without regard to actual costs.”

Developments in the OFCCP’s investigation of compensation disparities at United Space Alliance, LLC are worthy of consideration. During a 2009 desk audit, OFCCP conducted a standard threshold test of United Space Alliance’s compensation data.  Although this audit uncovered no indicators of pay discrimination, OFCCP conducted additional tests of the data, commonly known as the “pattern analysis” and the “30 and 5 Refinement” tests. These tests revealed potential pay bias, and OFCCP requested more extensive compensation data to examine the question more closely. The case begins when United Space Alliance refused to comply with OFCCP’s request.