In a recent decision issued on July 6, 2007, Appeals of FFR-Bauelemente + Bausanierung GmbH, ASBCA Nos. 52152, 54563, 54808, 54809, 55017, the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals held that the government had shown that the Contracting Officer was “justifiably insecure about the contract’s timely completion” and that a termination for default was justified.  The CO and COR (Contracting Officer’s Representative) believed, based on experience with other Corps of Engineers barracks renovations, that nine months was needed for a contractor to perform the barracks renovation work.  After 113 days of the 290 day revised performance period (or almost 40% of the period) expired with little or no work accomplished by FFR (i.e., clearly less than 5% of contract work completed), the CO terminated FFR’s contract for default.  While over 40% of the original performance period had passed, FFR had not yet obtained necessary approvals to commence the initial item of renovation work under the contract, the performance of asbestos abatement. The lack of activity by FFR with respect to the contract obviously made the CO insecure about FFR’s timely completion of the barracks renovation work.

The contractor appeared to be having difficulty procuring a subcontractor to perform asbestos abatement work, failed to meet numerous contract progress milestones (timely submission of a BLG, mobilization within 15 days of issuance of NTP, and timely submission of its asbestos training certificates and other contract submittals), and apparently did not possess a contract performance history with respect to the barracks renovation that instilled confidence in the Contracting Officer.  These facts constituted further tangible, direct evidence that the CO was “justifiably insecure about the contract’s timely completion.”  Thus, the Board concluded that the government has met its prima facie burden of proving it was justified in terminating FFR’s contract for default.

A default termination is a drastic sanction, which should be imposed and sustained only on “good grounds and on solid evidence.” E.g., Lisbon Contractors, Inc. v. United States, 828 F.2d 759, 765 (Fed. Cir. 1987).  Government contract provisions authorizing termination of a contract for default are a species of “forfeiture” and are to be strictly construed.  Forfeitures are not favored, and one who asserts that there has been a forfeiture is held to the letter of its authority.

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