Sometimes you may find yourself running late. It happens to the best of us for a multitude of reasons. But what happens to federal contractors when they are running late in performing under a contract and there is “no reasonable likelihood” of timely performance?
Unfortunately for contractors in this position, as illustrated by a recent Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA) decision, the result may be a default termination.
In Affiliated Western, Inc. v. Department of Veterans Affairs, CBCA No. 4078 (2017), the VA awarded AWI a contract to renovate the surgical unit at a VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain, Michigan. Following mounting issues in contractual performance, the Contracting Officer issued a default termination.
The contractual issues giving rise to the default termination began early on in contract performance. Specifically, the Solicitation “warned potential bidders, that the schedule for the project ‘is very aggressive’ and involves ‘a very important department to the facility.’” AWI, as the awardee, was to provide renovations in five phases within a 400-day deadline. Contract performance started off strained due to architecture and engineering errors and omissions in the contract specifications for which the VA required AWI to perform several changes. All the while the VA and AWI continued debate over schedule submissions, which the VA found inadequate and refused to approve.
The relationship between the parties became further strained. Six months into contract performance, the VA issued its first cure notice. After, AWI failed to complete phase 1 on time, and the VA denied AWI’s requests for contract modification for compensation and time extensions.
Performance issues came to a head when AWI’s subcontractor, one of only two contractors in the remote area of contract performance that held the medical gas certification necessary to perform the project, reported AWI’s failure to make prompt payment despite AWI receiving payment from the VA. Afterwards, the subcontractor walked off the job. Then, less than a year into contract performance, the contracting officer issued a show cause notice citing AWI’s failure to complete phases 1 and 2 within the time required by the modified contract and ultimately issued a default termination in accordance with FAR 52.249-10, Default (Fixed-Price Construction).
AWI appealed the VA’s default termination to the CBCA and sought conversion to a termination for convenience. The CBCA sustained the VA’s default termination finding and denied AWI’s appeal.
In making its decision, the CBCA noted that default termination is “a drastic sanction which should be imposed (or sustained) only for good grounds and on solid evidence.” When a default is based on the contractor’s failure to prosecute the work, the contracting officer must have a reasonable belief that there was “no reasonable likelihood” that the contractor could perform the entire contract effort within the time remaining for contract performance. A termination for failure to make progress “usually occurs where the contractor has fallen so far behind schedule that timely completion becomes unlikely.”
In this case, since the VA established reasonable grounds to believe that AWI may not be able to perform the contract on a timely basis in issuing a cure notice as a precursor to possible default termination, and since AWI had failed to respond to the cure notice with adequate assurances, the VA had met its initial burden of proving that there were good grounds and solid evidence to support the termination.
The burden then shifted to AWI to prove that “there were excusable delays under the terms of the default provision of the contract that render[ed] the termination inappropriate, or that it was making sufficient progress on the contract such that timely contract completion was not endangered.” To recover under this theory of excusable delay, AWI also needed to show: “(1) the delay is of an ‘unreasonable length of time,’ (2) the delay was proximately caused by the Government’s actions, and (3) the delay resulted in some injury to the contractor.”
Applying a critical path schedule analysis to these requirements, the CBCA rejected AWI’s argument that extension of time for part of the project should automatically extend the total performance date. Thus, AWI could not rely on the VA contract modifications to excuse its delay where AWI could not prove it affected AWI’s critical path schedule. Accordingly, the CBCA found that “AWI failed to provide any evidence that it had fulfilled the contract requirement to provide the contracting officer with a schedule identifying the critical path and demonstrating how the schedule would be impacted by the VA’s alleged actions.” The CBCA concluded the VA to have properly terminated AWI for default, and denied AWI’s appeal.
Undoubtedly, federal contractors seek to perform contracts on time and within budget. However, the facts present in AWI demonstrate that when there is “no reasonable likelihood” that the contractor could perform the entire contract effort within the time remaining for contract performance, the end result may be a default termination.