In a bid protest argued by our firm before the United States Court of Federal Claims on September 23, 2014, the Court ruled in favor of our client, RLB Contracting, Inc., (RLB) in a matter involving the designation of the dredging exception to NAICS code 237990, which is for “Other Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction.” 13 C.F.R. § 121.201 (2014). The solicitation for the “South Lake Lery Shoreline Protection and Marsh Creation Project” was set aside for small business concerns by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, but the exception to NAICS code 237990 that applies when a project is considered to be dredging was not invoked. At the time, the exception lowered the small business size standard from $33.5 million to $25.5 million for dredging and required that the successful contractor “must perform at least 40 percent of the volume dredged with its own equipment or equipment owned by another small dredging concern.” 13 C.F.R. § 121.201, Footnote 2. (Currently, the applicable small business size standards are $36.5 million and $27.5 million respectively).

Dredging

The small business regulation found at 13 C.F.R. 121.402(b)(2) states that “[a] procurement is usually classified according to the component which accounts for the greatest percentage of contract value.” In this case, RLB presented evidence that the agency had internally estimated that over 50% of the work involved dredging and that the agency had made its NAICS code designation based on an erroneous calculation that only 10% of the work involved dredging. RLB first appealed the NAICS code designation to SBA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals (“OHA”), arguing that the agency applied the incorrect NAICS code size standard. OHA denied the appeal on the basis that the project included other items of work in addition to dredging. However, OHA did no analysis as to the contract value or relative importance of those “other items.” RLB then brought its protest to the United States Court of Federal Claims, again arguing that the agency violated the regulations by failing to apply the dredging exception. RLB also argued that the agency had failed to provide correct information to OHA, and that OHA had refused to consider supplemental information furnished by counsel for RLB. The Court ruled that OHA’s decision was incorrect as a matter of law because OHA’s “decision does not give primary consideration” to “the relative value and importance of the components of the procurement” and did not concern itself with whether the agency classified the procurement “according to the component [of work] which accounts for the greatest percentage of contract value.” 13 C.F.R. § 121.402(b)(1)-(b)(2) (2014).

The Court was critical of the agency for not including pertinent documents in the Administrative Record which demonstrated that the agency knew that the dredging work accounted for the greatest percentage of contract value, and was further critical of OHA for concluding that other, relatively minor, elements of the work supported the agency’s contention that the project did not predominantly involve dredging. As a result, the Court entered a permanent injunction and remanded the matter to the Contracting Officer with instructions “to make a new determination of whether the dredging exception applies based on all available current information.” The Court further stated that “If item 7, Excavation Marsh Creation Dredging, is the most valuable item of work, the contracting officer must give primary consideration to it.”

This decision is an important victory for the small business dredging industry because it makes it clear that federal agencies are not free to circumvent the protection afforded to small business dredging contractors, under the exception to NAICS code 237990, by characterizing work generally as civil construction even though the dominant item of work is dredging. The exception is designed to prevent brokering by non-dredging small business concerns who, after receiving an award, could subcontract virtually all of the dredging work to a large business dredging concern.

Michael H. Payne is the Chairman of the firm’s Federal Practice Group and, together with other experienced members of the group, frequently advises contractors on federal contracting matters including bid protests, claims and appeals, procurement issues, small business issues, and dispute resolution.

Robert Ruggieri is a Senior Associate in the firm’s Federal Practice Group.

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Photo of Michael H. Payne Michael H. Payne

As Chair of the firm’s growing Government Contracting Group, Michael H. Payne represents contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers on a wide range of federal contracting issues, including the interpretation of solicitation and contract provisions, the filing of bid protests, resolution of disputes, and the…

As Chair of the firm’s growing Government Contracting Group, Michael H. Payne represents contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers on a wide range of federal contracting issues, including the interpretation of solicitation and contract provisions, the filing of bid protests, resolution of disputes, and the preparation of contract claims and the litigation of appeals. Michael has vast experience in federal government contracting, stemming from his time as Chief Trial Attorney for the North Atlantic Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, and is recognized in the federal construction contracting industry as an attorney who enjoys a good working relationship with government agencies.

Michael’s high success rate in settling cases prior to litigation has earned him clients that rely on his advice in the long term. As a trusted advisor to his clients, he is known for his responsiveness and is not afraid to be straightforward about the realities of pursuing a case.

Michael is aggressive when called for and approaches each case analytically and develops strategies for his clients’ best long-term results. He thinks outside the box and frequently develops arguments in approaches that facilitate the resolution of disputes without litigation.

With in-depth knowledge of military and civil works construction, Michael represents clients before the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA), the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the United States Court of Federal Claims, and a number of Federal District and Appellate Courts, including the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Throughout his career, he has enjoyed a strong relationship with the dredging industry, representing many dredging contractors nationwide.

Known in the legal community as a techie, Michael always uses the latest technology to practice law more efficiently. He regularly teaches other attorneys at the firm and local bar associations how they can use devices such as iPads to enhance their practices. Michael started the Federal Construction Contracting Blog, the first blog focused on federal construction contracting,  which is still a go-to resource for the industry.

Photo of Robert Ruggieri Robert Ruggieri

Robert G. Ruggieri focuses his practice in the areas of government contracts, procurement, and construction. His clients, which include prime contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers, routinely seek his advice in protesting government procurement decisions, size and NAICS code protests, interpreting the Federal Acquisition Regulation…

Robert G. Ruggieri focuses his practice in the areas of government contracts, procurement, and construction. His clients, which include prime contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers, routinely seek his advice in protesting government procurement decisions, size and NAICS code protests, interpreting the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), preparing Requests for Equitable Adjustment (REAs), prosecuting claims under the Contract Disputes Act (CDA), and responding to government investigations, suspensions, and debarment proceedings.

Bob also assists small businesses in federal contracting with teaming and joint venture agreements, federal business ethics compliance, SBA 8(a), HUBZone, SDVOSB, WOSB & EDWOSB, WBE/MBE/DBE certifications and appeals, and federal government mentor-protégé agreements.

Bob has enjoyed considerable success for clients prosecuting and defending bid protests at the Government Accountability Office and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Similarly, Bob has successfully litigated contract disputes throughout the country in federal and state forums. He regularly handles a wide variety of complex construction claims, including claims relating to delays, inefficiency, differing site conditions, defective plans and specifications, acceleration, and lost productivity. Types of projects he has handled over the years include marine construction, dredging projects, bridges, roads, environmental cleanups, power plants, municipal convention centers, office buildings, residential complexes, wastewater treatment plants, and schools.

Notwithstanding his extensive litigation experience, Bob recognizes the benefits of resolving contract disputes at an early stage through negotiated settlements or alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, such as mediation, before the onset of extensive and costly discovery efforts.

Bob is a contributor to the firm’s Federal Construction Contracting Blog, and he previously served as associate editor of the Construction Law Now blog.