Disputes frequently arise because the government refuses to agree that a contractor is entitled to additional money or time resulting from constructive changes, differing site conditions, government-caused delays, or countless other reasons. These disagreements typically are dealt with through the submission of Requests for Equitable Adjustment (REAs) or certified claims and are ultimately resolved through the disputes process. They focus on the rights of the parties under the specific terms of the contract. The problem, however, is that contractors also incur costs because of government indecisiveness that has not yet generated an REA or claim under a particular contract clause. This places the contractor in a state of limbo, not knowing whether there will be a significant impact to the project.
By: Michael H. Payne
The question of whether to submit a Request for an Equitable Adjustment, commonly referred to as an “REA,” or a claim, is one that clients ask on a frequent basis. It is not always an easy question to answer and our advice depends upon the history of the dispute, and the nature of the relationship with the Contracting Officer and his, or her, representatives. At the outset, however, it is necessary to clear up the confusion between the terms “REA” and “Claim.”
A claim is defined in FAR § 2.101 as “a written demand or written assertion by one of the contracting parties seeking, as a matter of right, the payment of money in a sum certain, the adjustment or interpretation of contract terms, or other relief arising under or relating to the contract. However, a written demand or written assertion by the contractor seeking the payment of money exceeding $100,000 is not a claim under the Contract Disputes Act of 1978 until certified as required by the Act.” Although the term “equitable adjustment” appears in the FAR in 111 places, and the term “request for equitable adjustment” appears in 11 places, there is no official definition, in the FAR or anywhere else, of the terms “Request for Equitable Adjustment” or “REA.” Nevertheless, an REA is commonly understood to be a request for compensation (time, money, or both) that falls short of a claim in terms of its procedural requirements.
A “Claim” must be certified pursuant to FAR § 33.207(c) when the claim amount exceeds $100,000, and it must be submitted to the Contracting Officer in a manner that clearly provides the factual, technical, and legal basis for an equitable adjustment to the contract. Whether the claim exceeds $100,000 or not, the best practice is to identify the request as a claim under the Contract Disputes Act of 1978, 41 U.S.C. 601-613, together with a request for a Contracting Officer’s Decision. Those procedural steps will assure that the clock starts running on the 60 day time limit for the issuance of a decision (or longer under some circumstances), and it further assures that interest starts to run from the date the claim was submitted. An REA does not require a certification under the Contract Disputes Act, but REAs submitted to Department of Defense agencies require the certification found in DFARS 252.243-7002.
There are a number of clauses that allow an equitable adjustment to the contract if the government is responsible for additional costs, or time, and the most significant clauses are: Variation in Estimated Quantity, FAR 52.211-18, Differing Site Conditions, FAR 52.236-2, Suspension of Work, FAR 52.242-14, Changes – Fixed-Price, FAR 52.243-1, and Termination for Convenience, FAR 52.249-2. In general terms, an equitable adjustment means that the contractor is entitled to his actual costs, plus reasonable profit (except for suspensions), overhead, and bond. It is also important to note that the additional costs must be allowable, allocable, and reasonable.
With that brief background, there are some practical considerations about whether to file an REA or a claim. If the contractor has a good working relationship with the agency, and particularly with the government personnel assigned to the project at hand, an REA is usually the best way to begin. This is particularly true when the government has indicated flexibility on the issue and a willingness to reach an amicable resolution. On the other hand, if there is animosity, or a clear indication in prior discussions and correspondence, that the government does not believe that the contractor is entitled to an equitable adjustment, it is best to file a claim. Unlike an REA, a claim starts the clock ticking on the time when the Contacting Officer must issue a decision (there is no time limit on an REA), and interest begins to run. It should be noted, however, that in cases where there is doubt, there is no harm in starting out with an REA. If progress is not made within a reasonable time, an REA can easily be converted to a claim under the Contract Disputes Act.
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.
By: Michael H. Payne and Craig A. Schroeder
Acceleration is defined as a directive to increase efforts in order to complete performance on time, despite excusable delay. If the government does not agree that the contractor is entitled to acceleration costs, a contractor must file a request for an equitable adjustment (“REA”), or a claim under the Contract Disputes Act. Although different formulations have been used in setting forth the elements of constructive acceleration, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has generally described the requirements to include the following elements, each of which must be proved by the contractor: (1) that the contractor encountered a delay that is excusable under the contract; (2) that the contractor made a timely and sufficient request for an extension of the contract schedule; (3) that the government denied the contractor’s request for an extension or failed to act on it within a reasonable time; (4) that the government insisted on completion of the contract within a period shorter than the period to which the contractor would be entitled by taking into account the period of excusable delay, after which the contractor notified the government that it regarded the alleged order to accelerate as a constructive change in the contract; and (5) that the contractor was required to expend extra resources to compensate for the lost time and remain on schedule. It is important to note that the contractor must prove that the costs claimed were actually incurred as a result of actions specifically taken to accelerate performance.
A contractor may accelerate on his own initiative to assure completion within the contract schedule or for other purposes. A contractor is, in fact, entitled to finish ahead of schedule, so long as he does not "tread upon the interests of others, or violate his contract." The contractor cannot compel the Government to aid him in finishing ahead of schedule, however, or to recover the costs of acceleration unless the Government has actually or constructively ordered the effort. No compensation is due where a contractor voluntarily accelerates performance for his own purposes.
Michael H. Payne is the Chairman of the firm’s Federal Practice Group and may be contacted to discuss constructive acceleration or federal construction matters generally. Craig A. Schroeder is an Associate in the firm’s Federal Practice Group.