The Judgment Fund was established by Congress in 1956 to alleviate the need for specific legislation following every successful claim against the United States. The purpose behind the Judgment Fund was to eliminate the procedural burdens involved in getting an individual appropriation from Congress, allowing for the prompt payment of judgments and reducing the amount of interest accrued between the time the judgment was awarded and payment was made. Although the Judgment Fund successfully eliminated the need for legislative action in almost every case, and in most cases resulted in prompter payments to successful claimants, it also had the unintended consequence of incentivizing procuring agencies to avoid settling meritorious claims in favor of prolonged litigation. Specifically, an agency could avoid making payment from its own appropriated funds if it refused to settle a case and instead sought a decision from a court, subsequently providing it access to the Judgment Fund which draws money straight from the Treasury. Congress eliminated this problem when it passed the Contracts Disputes Act (CDA) of 1978, which requires agencies to reimburse the Judgment Fund with appropriated funds that are current at the time of the judgment against the agency. Although contracting officers are no longer incentivized to avoid settlement, the source and availability of funds can still impact whether or not they decide to settle a claim because there are differences between how a judgment is funded and how a settlement can be funded. Continue Reading How the Judgment Fund’s Availability Impacts a Contracting Officer’s Decision to Settle a Claim
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On January 8, 2015 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a decision in United States v. Triple Canopy, which broadened the reach of the False Claims Act (FCA) by embracing the theory of implied certification. While it is too early to speculate about the impact of the decision, it certainly could result in a rise in whistle blower and government initiated actions under the FCA.
The case stems from a security services contract at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq, which was awarded to Triple Canopy in 2009. As a part of the contract, Triple Canopy was required to provide security personnel who possessed specific firearms training and who were able to pass a U.S. Army qualifications course with a minimum score. Scorecards indicating that personnel passed the qualifications course were to be maintained in each employee’s personnel file.
Triple Canopy hired 332 Ugandan guards to work at the Airbase. The guards’ personnel files indicated that they met the training requirements; however, once they arrived on site and were retested, it was discovered that they were unable to properly perform. To overcome this, Triple Canopy falsified scorecard sheets indicating that its personnel were, in fact, qualified.
For the 12 month contract period Triple Canopy presented monthly invoices to the government and received payments totaling over 4 million dollars. Sometime later, a former employee filed a qui tam action in the Eastern District of Virginia alleging that the FCA had been violated. The government intervened alleging that Triple Canopy knowingly presented false claims to the government. Specifically, the government alleged “that Triple Canopy knew the guards did not satisfy [the contract’s] marksmanship requirement but nonetheless billed the government the full price for each and every one of its unqualified guards and falsified documents in its files to show that the unqualified guards each qualified as a Marksman on the U.S. Army Qualification course.”
Triple Canopy filed a motion to dismiss. The basis for this motion was the government’s failure to sufficiently plead that Triple Canopy submitted a demand for payment that contained a false statement. The motion went on to state that the government failed to prove that a false record was created by Triple Canopy, which the government relied upon in paying Triple Canopy. The Court agreed. In its opinion, the Court asserted that the government did not plead “that Triple Canopy submitted a demand for payment that contained an objectively false statement.” In other words, because the actual claim for payment did not contain a false statement, there was no violation of the FCA. Further, the Court held that the “Government … failed to allege that the [Contracting Officer’s Representative] ever reviewed the scorecards,” demonstrating that the government did not rely upon a false record because it did not examine the scorecards before it made payment. The United States (along with the former employee) appealed to the Fourth Circuit.
On appeal the Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court’s ruling. The Court held that the “Government pleads a false statement when it alleges that the contractor, with the requisite scienter, made a request for payment under a contract and withheld information about its noncompliance with material contractual requirements. The pertinent inquiry is whether, through the act of submitting a claim, a payee knowingly and falsely implied that it was entitled to payment.” The Fourth Circuit further found that, although Triple Canopy had not submitted certifications that were false on their face, the government plead sufficient evidence to sustain a FCA claim under a theory of implied certification.
In making this finding, the Court acknowledged the broad purpose of the FCA by stating that “claims can be false when a party impliedly certifies compliance with a material contractual condition [which] gives effect to Congress’ expressly stated purpose that the FCA should reach all fraudulent attempts to cause the Government to pay out sums of money or to deliver property or service.” Here, the material contractual condition was the guards’ qualifications, which Triple Canopy falsified. As the Court explained “common sense strongly suggests that the government’s decision to pay a contractor for providing base security in an active combat zone would be influenced by knowledge that the guards could not, for lack of a better term, shoot straight….[and further] if Triple Canopy believed that the marksmanship requirement was immaterial to the government’s decision to pay, it was unlikely to orchestrate a scheme to falsify records on multiple occasions.” Essentially, the Fourth Circuit found that the claim itself did not have to be false as long as the underlying information that formed the basis of the claim was material and false.
Prior to this ruling, it was difficult to bring a claim under the FCA under circumstances such as these because it was generally only permissible where there was fraud found in an actual certification for payment. Based upon this decision, a FCA claim can be sustained as long as the material upon which payment is based is false. This is yet another example of the expansive nature of the FCA. If you are a government contractor beware of its implications and if you have any questions, call a legal professional.
Edward T. DeLisle is Co-Chair of the Federal Contracting Practice Group. Ed frequently advises contractors on federal contracting matters including bid protests, claims and appeals, procurement issues, small business issues and dispute resolution.
Amy M. Kirby is an Associate in the firm’s Federal Contracting Practice Group and focuses her practice on government construction litigation. Amy’s practice includes a wide variety of federal construction matters.
By: Edward T. DeLisle
We are frequently asked whether attorneys fees are recoverable as part of the federal claims procedure. The answer is sometimes. A case just decided by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit assists in explaining when such a recovery is possible.
In Tip Top Construction v. Donahue, the United States Postal Service required a contractor to perform additional work to complete an air conditioning repair project in the Virgin Islands. While it approved a change order to perform the additional work, the contractor incurred other additional costs, including attorneys fees, to convince the USPS to accept its request for additional money. Those monies were submitted in the form of a claim and denied.
The U.S. Postal Service Board of Contract Appeals upheld the denial stating that the costs included in the claim "had nothing to do with the performance of the changed work or genuine contract administration." The Federal Circuit disagreed.
The Federal Circuit took the position that the monies included in the claim reasonably flowed from negotiations associated with the change order process. This conclusion was important, for the Federal Circuit framed the issue as follows: "If a contractor incurred the cost for the genuine purpose of materially furthering the negotiating process, such cost should normally be a contract administration cost allowable under FAR 31.205-33, even if negotiation eventually fails and a CDA claim is later submitted." Here, the facts revealed that the parties were, in fact, making attempts to negotiate an amicable resolution regarding price for a number of months prior to submission of the claim. Consultants and attorneys were used by the contractor to assist it in its presentation to the Postal Service. Because the evidence suggested that the contractor’s underlying purpose was to resolve the dispute, the Federal Circuit held that these costs were recoverable.
Tip Top illustrates the fine line one must walk when it comes to the collection of attorneys fees. Certainly, once an actual claim is submitted by a contractor, there can be no expectation to collect fees from that point forward. The dispute has traveled too far down the road of dispute resolution. Prior to that point, however, if a contractor can prove that the costs incurred for counsel stemmed from a desire to negotiate an amicable resolution to a change order dispute, recovery of fees is possible.
Edward T. DeLisle is a Partner in the firm and a member of the Federal Contracting Practice Group.
By: Edward T. DeLisle & Maria L. Panichelli
When it comes to problem-solving, we are often encouraged to “think outside the box.” The idea is to be creative; to look beyond the norm. Well, when it comes to certifying a claim, you’re probably better off simply doing what the FAR tells you to do. The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals made this point clear in URS Energy & Construction v. Dept. of Energy.
As most contractors are aware, all claims over $100,000 must be accompanied by a certification. FAR § 33.207(a). FAR §33.207(c) sets forth the exact language that such a certification must contain. That language is as follows:
“I certify that the claim is made in good faith; that the supporting data are accurate and complete to the best of my knowledge and belief; that the amount requested accurately reflects the contract adjustment for which the Contractor believes the Government is liable; and that I am duly authorized to certify on behalf of the Contractor.”
In URS Energy & Construction, the contractor certified its claim to the Department of Energy using language that differed from the FAR:
“I certify that this invoice is correct and in accordance with the terms of the contract and that the costs incurred herein have been incurred, represent the payments made by the Contractor except as otherwise authorized in the payments provision of the contract, and properly reflect the work performed.”
The government asked the CBCA to dismiss the contractor’s claim on the basis that the certification used was defective, thereby depriving the CBCA of subject matter jurisdiction over the claim.
In ruling on the motion, the CBCA noted that “technical” defects in a certification can be cured; however, “[i]f the certification is made with intentional, reckless or negligent disregard for the applicable regulation, it is not correctable.” The CBCA found that the contractor’s claim was made with “intentional, reckless or negligent disregard” because the contractor wholly failed to include a certification that “the claim is made in good faith,” or that “the supporting data [was] accurate and complete to the best of [the contractor’s] knowledge and belief.” Moreover, the certification failed to include a statement that the person signing the certification was duly authorized to certify the claim on behalf of the contractor. Accordingly, the CBCA dismissed the case.
The lesson: certifying a claim is not the time to be creative. The language in FAR §33.207(c) must be reviewed carefully and, unless there is very good reason to diverge from what is identified therein, you are better off simply incorporating it verbatim into your claim. If you cannot attest to those issues required by the FAR, you should think twice about filing a claim at all, for submitting a defective certification, which is true, is far better than submitting a false certification. That is something you should avoid at all costs.
By: Michael H. Payne
The growth of contracting by negotiation or “best value” procurement, has had a chilling effect on the submission of claims by construction contractors. There seems to be a growing fear that claims are frowned upon by contracting officers and that they will be counted against a contractor during future proposal evaluations. This fear, in my opinion, is misplaced provided that the claims are not frivolous and are technically and legally supported.
The Contract Disputes Act of 1978, 41 U.S.C. § 601 et. seq., requires contractors to certify that claims in excess of $100,000 are “made in good faith,” that all “supporting data are accurate and complete to the best of [the contractor’s] knowledge and belief,” and that the amount requested “accurately reflects the contract adjustment for which the contractor believes the government is liable.” 41 U.S.C. § 605(c)(1). A contractor who is willing to make that certification should not be denied the opportunity to recover the additional costs, or time, that the contract and the law specifically allow. There are a number of clauses in federal construction contracts, including “Changes” (FAR 52.243-4), “Differing Site Conditions” (FAR 52.236-2) “Suspension of Work” (FAR 52.242-14) “Termination for Convenience” (FAR 52.249-2), etc., that afford contractors with the right to seek an equitable adjustment to the contract. These clauses apply to sealed bidding and negotiated procurements alike, and the fear of retribution on proposal evaluations should not be used to deny contractors the very rights that the contract and the law provide.
It is also important to note that contracting officer’s are required to deal with claims fairly, and there is a duty of good faith and fair dealing in government contracting. As the U.S. Court of Federal Claim noted in Lavezzo v. United States, a contracting officer is obligated to “put his own mind to the problems and render his own decisions.” Such decisions must be “personal [and] independent,” and “even the appearance of coercion [must] be avoided.” 74 Fed.Cl. 502, 509 (2006). In addition, a Contracting Officer’s outright denial of meritorious contractor claims to gain some advantage over the contractor will not be condoned by the Court. In other words, a contracting officer’s review of certified claims submitted in good faith is not intended to be a negotiating game where the agency may deny meritorious claims to gain leverage over the contractor. Moreland Corp. v. U.S., 76 Fed.Cl. 268 (2007). Contractors are legally entitled to submit claims, to have those claims fairly and impartially reviewed, and contractors are entitled to do so without fear of the impact on future source selections.
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 teaming arrangements, negotiated procurements, bid protests, claims, and appeals.
One of the byproducts of the recent use of negotiated procurements under FAR, Part 15, has been the concern, on the part of contractors, that the submission of claims will be a negative factor during the evaluation process on a Request for Proposals. While we can certainly understand that a contractor who has a history of filing frivolous claims might deserve to be downgraded, we see no valid reason for the government to assign a lower rating to a contractor who has filed meritorious, or good faith, claims in the past.
On February 12, 2006, a provision was added to the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) dealing with the review of claims that we find very disturbing. Under DFARS Subpart 233.2, Disputes and Appeals, Paragraph 233.10, “Contracting Officer’s Authority,” there is a reference to a new “PGI” (Procedures. Guidance and Information). The new guidance states that “When it would be helpful in reviewing the current claim, the contracting officer should get information on claims previously filed by the contractor. Such information may provide a historical perspective of the nature and accuracy of the claims submitted by the contractor and how they were settled. Potential sources for the information include the contracting activity’s office of legal counsel, other contracting activities, and the Defense Contract Audit Agency.”
We believe that each claim should stand on its own merits. Each claim is different and is the result of a different contract, a different set of facts, and is ultimately decided by a different set of legal principles. In addition, the Contract Disputes Act of 1978 gives contractors the right to file claims. It seems to us that “guidance” that could potentially penalize contractors for filing claims is most inappropriate.