Welcome to Jenner & Block’s Government Contracts Legal Round‑Up, a biweekly update on important government contracts developments. This update offers brief summaries of key developments for government contracts legal, compliance, contracting, and business executives. Please contact any of the professionals at the bottom of the update for further information on any of these topics.
Investigations and Enforcement
The Supreme Court declined to take on cases that would have resolved a frequent question about the application of FRCP 9(b) to pleading False Claims Act cases. Many had hoped that the Supreme Court would have resolved the matter of how detailed relators’ evidence needed to be when bringing FCA cases, but the Supreme Court once again declined to take up the issue.
1. eSimplicity, Inc. v. United States, No. 22-543C (Fed. Cl. October 13, 2022)
- Court of Federal Claims Judge Schwartz found that an agency improperly rejected a proposal under the “late is late” rule.
- The government rejected eSimplicity’s proposal as late, but the real issue was a file size restriction to the agency’s email system. eSimplicity’s proposal submission arrived at the agency’s email system before the deadline, but did not make it through to the contracting office.
- Rather than accepting the agency’s reason, eSimplicity successfully characterized the issue as one of unstated evaluation criteria.
- Judge Schwartz agreed. While agencies often specify file size limits, the solicitation here did not, nor did it contain any other provision that could reasonably encompass such a restriction.
- By rejecting eSimplicity’s proposal because it failed against unannounced file size limits, Judge Schwartz concluded that the agency failed against the mandate at FAR 5.304(d) that: “All factors … that will affect contract award … shall be stated in the solicitation.”
- Judge Schwartz then provided a detailed interpretation of the FAR provisions that underly the “late is late” rule, notably disagreeing with GAO’s longstanding approach, further deepening the divide between GAO and Court of Federal Claims judges on this issue.
The “late is late” rule for enforcing proposal submission deadlines is one of the most notoriously strict rules in government contracting. In almost all cases, when an agency rejects a proposal as late, there is little for a contractor to do other than move on to the next business opportunity. But, as this case confirms, saying “late is late” is not a silver bullet for the government in every circumstance. Particularly when it comes to proposals submitted by email, the Court of Federal Claims has proven more willing than GAO to scrutinize the government. Moving forward, for any contractor considering such a challenge, eSimplicity is required reading.
2. TekSynap Corporation; Candor Solutions, LLC, B-420856 et al., (October 2022) (Published October 26, 2022)
- GAO denied a protest alleging that the agency unreasonably evaluated the key personnel qualifications of both the awardee and the protester.
- The protester raised several challenges to the evaluation made by the Department of Justice in connection with a contract for IT support services.
- Under the key personnel resume evaluation factor, TekSynap claimed that the awardee should have been rated unacceptable because its proposed program manager, who possessed a bachelor’s degree in economics, did not meet the solicitation’s requirement for a degree in business, among other fields of study listed in the solicitation. GAO found no basis to disturb the contracting officer’s conclusion that a degree in economics was encompassed within the broader category of “business.”
- Further, GAO found that the protester had not explained how it was prejudiced by the agency’s alleged waiver of the key personnel education requirement, such as by explaining what it would have done differently had it been provided an opportunity to propose a different program manager with a degree in economics.
- Finally, GAO rejected arguments that the agency misevaluated the years of experience possessed by the protester’s proposed program manager. GAO found that the program manager’s resume did not support the experience claimed because it did not describe specific program management duties and the dates during which those duties were performed.
The evaluation of quotations is a matter within the discretion of the procuring agency. GAO does not independently evaluate quotations or proposals; rather, it reviews the agency’s evaluation to ensure that it is consistent with the terms of the solicitation and applicable statutes and regulations. Even where an agency allegedly waives or relaxes a material solicitation requirement (including with respect to key personnel), a protester must demonstrate that but for the agency’s improper actions, it would have submitted a different approach to improve its chances of award.
3. Guidehouse LLP; Jacobs Tech., Inc., B-420860.1 (October 13, 2022)
- GAO sustained a protest where the Air Force misevaluated proposals under FAR 52.222-46. This solicitation provision requires an agency to compare an offeror’s proposed professional compensation to the compensation paid to incumbent professional employees.
- GAO sustained the protest because the Air Force unreasonably concluded both that 1) it did not have sufficient data to compare the proposed professional compensation rates to incumbent rates, 2) but nevertheless went forward with a comparison of incumbent rates to proposed rates and concluded that BAE’s proposed rates were acceptable. GAO found that this evaluation method produced a misleading result because the Air Force was not comparing rates from matching labor categories—a point the Air Force contemporaneously recognized but disregarded.
- GAO further rejected the Air Force’s argument that it had satisfied FAR 52.222-46 because it had compared the proposed professional compensation rates to the agency’s own developed market rates during the cost realism evaluation. GAO held that as this part of the agency’s analysis was to determine cost realism, not to compare the proposed rates to incumbent compensation, the Air Force did not in fact conduct the evaluation required for FAR 52.222-46.
In recompetitions, FAR provision 52.222-46 requires the agency to conduct a two-part evaluation of how proposed compensation compares to incumbent compensation and the realism of the proposed compensation. GAO will sustain a protest where a contracting agency’s evaluation of professional compensation does not comply with the regulation or produces a misleading result, such as where offerors’ rates are not compared on a common basis.
1. The Heirs of Bahawouddin, Son of Neyaz Mohammad, CBCA No. 7135, 2022 WL 15800262 (October 26, 2022)
- In this case, the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA) denied the Government’s motion to dismiss a claim brought under the Contract Disputes Act (CDA), and in the process provided two important reminders for contractors regarding CDA jurisdiction.
- There, in a somewhat unusual posture, the CDA claim was brought—not by the original contractor, “The Heirs of Bahawouddin, Son of Neyaz Mohammad” who had entered into a 10-year residential lease with the Department of State (DOS) in Kabul, Afghanistan—but instead, by the “Heirs acting through Mohammad Tariq, Power of Attorney.”
- Specifically, Tariq alleged through a certified claim that DOS owed $500K in property damages and unpaid rent and additionally sought “[p]ayment of rent in the amount of $10,000 per month from March 1, 2017, until paid.” The Government moved to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction on three bases; the CBCA rejected all three. We discuss two of them.
- First, DOS argued that the Appellant was not in privity with the Government, as the appeal improperly was brought by the Heirs’ attorney in his personal capacity. The CBCA rejected this argument and explained that although Mr. Baha (the Heirs’ attorney) was indeed not in privity with the Government, “the contracting officer read too narrowly the claim submitted,” and the claim was in fact brought on behalf of the Heirs.
- Second, the Government maintained that because the Appellant sought “$10,000 per month from March 1, 2017, until paid” it had not sought a sum certain as required under the CDA. The CBCA rejected this argument as well and reiterated that despite the inclusion of the “until paid” language “the sum certain was ascertainable at the time the claim was submitted—the monthly rent of $10,000 per month multiplied by the number of months since DOS had ceased rent payments plus $500,000 for the alleged damage to the property.”
This case serves as a reminder that the minutiae of claim submission can and does generate fact-intensive procedural litigation before the Boards. It can sometimes be tricky to determine which entity is in privity with the government and which individual is authorized to certify and pursue a claim or REA against the government. In those cases, be prepared with evidence to support the viability of the claim. While it is the contractor’s obligation to state a sum certain, in some cases that might still require the government to do some multiplication in order to calculate the total amount at issue.
2. Appeal of Ace Electronics Defense Systems, ASBCA No. 63224 (October 5, 2022)
- Ace Electronics Defense Systems, LLC (Ace) requested compensation due to increased costs it experienced performing a firm-fixed price contract with the Navy. Ace incurred $113,993.46 in additional costs due to the vendor’s increased pricing.
- Ace argued that it was entitled to additional payment because Ace encountered higher prices from its vendor due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Ace did not identify any clause of the contract that would shift the risk of such costs to the government.
- Ace attempted to rely on FAR 16.203, which would provide for upward or downward revision of the price upon the occurrence of specified contingencies, which is used when there is serious doubt concerning the stability of market or labor conditions. Ace also attempted to prevail upon a constructive change argument, and argued that the government’s failure to recognize the changed environment in which the contract was to be performed constituted a breach of the contract’s duty of good faith and fair dealing.
- The ASBCA dismissed Ace’s claim. The Board noted that: (1) Ace’s contract and delivery order did not contain a price adjustment clause, and Ace’s request would require the Board to rewrite the contract; (2) the government did not order additional work to be performed such that a constructive change occurred, and (3) the government did not undermine any specific promise or destroy Ace’s reasonable expectations, which would be a violation of the duty of good faith and fair dealing.
This is the latest in a growing line of decisions confirming that contractors face significant challenges when trying to recover from COVID-19-related impacts. The ASBCA will not rewrite a contract to include a price adjustment mechanism that the contracting parties did not intend; it will scrutinize the facts of each case to determine whether the legal elements of a constructive change are actually satisfied.