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.