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To qualify for the 8(a) Program, a firm must be a small business that is unconditionally owned and controlled by one or more socially- and economically-disadvantaged individuals who are of good character and citizens of the United States and that demonstrates a potential for success.
What does this really mean? Here are five things you should know about 8(a) Program eligibility.
- Is your business small enough to become an 8(a) Participant?
The 8(a) Program is only open to businesses that are small under the size standard corresponding to their primary NAICS codes. And remember: SBA will not only consider your company’s size, but will also add to it the size of any affiliates. If there’s a question as to your business’s size, SBA may go so far as to request a formal size determination.
What is your primary NAICS code? While businesses have some leeway to select the code that fits best, the SBA may push back if the NAICS code you choose doesn’t seem to be the one in which your company does the most work. Before applying, it may be useful to review the SBA’s definition of “primary industry” at 13 C.F.R. 121.107.
One final note: some IRS tax returns already provide a spot for a primary NAICS code. For example, Form 1065, which is completed by many LLCs, asks for a primary NAICS in box A, “principal business activity.” Oftentimes, our clients are surprised to notice that an accountant or bookkeeper has identified a primary NAICS code on a tax return. Be aware that the SBA will ask for an explanation if that primary NAICS code isn’t the one the company has selected for 8(a) purposes.
- What is “social” disadvantage?
It’s not enough to be a small business to qualify for the 8(a) Program. The business’s owner also must demonstrate suffering from social disadvantage—or, as SBA defines it, “racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias within American society because of their identities as members of groups and without regard to their individual qualities.”
Members of certain racial or ethnic groups are presumed by SBA to have suffered social disadvantage, including Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and some Asian Americans. This presumption is not absolute (as it may be rebutted by credible evidence demonstrating the lack of social disadvantage) or controversy (as its constitutionality has been challenged, but recently upheld). For a full list of groups presumed socially disadvantaged, take a look at 13 C.F.R. 124.103(b).
But participation in the 8(a) Program isn’t limited to only the groups listed in the regulations. Any individual can try to establish social disadvantage by presenting evidence showing chronic disadvantage based on a characteristic or circumstance beyond that person’s control, which has impacted that person’s education, employment, or business histories. For example (and not by way of limitation), our firm has assisted companies owned by Caucasian women and disabled veterans in obtaining 8(a) certification.
- What is “economic” disadvantage?
In addition to social disadvantage, you still must show economic disadvantage to be eligible for the 8(a) Program. An economically-disadvantaged individual is one whose ability to compete in the free enterprise system has been impaired due to diminished capital and credit opportunities as compared to other non-socially disadvantaged persons (in the same or similar line of business).
SBA will take a detailed look at an individual’s financial history to determine his or her economic disadvantage. Though there are caveats and exceptions to these requirements, here are a few numbers to keep in mind:
Net worth: For initial eligibility, the adjusted net worth of the person claiming economic disadvantage must be less than $250,000. The adjustment typically excludes: (1) funds invested in an IRA, 401(k), or other official retirement account; (2) income received from an S corporation, LLC or partnership, if that income was reinvested in the company or used to pay company taxes, (3) the equity interest in the applicant company, and (4) equity in the individual’s primary residence.
Fair market value of all assets: Notwithstanding a person’s net worth or personal income, an individual will not be considered economically-disadvantaged if the fair market value of his/her assets (including the value of the applicant company and the person’s primary residence) exceeds $4 million. But even this calculation excludes funds in traditional retirement accounts.
Personal income: If an individual’s adjusted gross income for the three years prior to the 8(a) application exceeds $250,000, there is a rebuttable presumption the individual isn’t economically disadvantaged. Income from an S Corporation or LLC will be excluded when the funds were reinvested in the company or used to pay company taxes.
Are there any other requirements?
Yes. Again, socially- and economically-disadvantaged individuals have to unconditionally own and control the company. This means disadvantaged individuals must directly own at least 51% of the company and oversee its strategic policy and day-to-day management and administration. Additionally, the individual must manage the company on a full-time basis while holding its highest officer position.
The company must also demonstrate potential for success. This assessment generally requires a holistic view of the company: not only must it have been generating revenues in its primary industry for at least two years, but SBA will also consider every aspect of its business operations (including access to capital and financing, technical and managerial experience of the company’s managers, its past performance, and licensing requirements) to determine if the company is likely to succeed in the 8(a) Program.
The company and its principals must have good character. For example, if the business owner has recently been convicted of a felony or any crime involving business integrity, the SBA may decline the application. The SBA will also examine federal financial obligations: unpaid back taxes and defaults on SBA business loans, for example, may lead to a rejection.
It’s important to note that while these are some of the most important requirements, it’s not an exhaustive list. 8(a) Program eligibility is rather complex.
- Do you have to maintain compliance with these eligibility requirements throughout your participation in the 8(a) Program?
Yes. Demonstrating eligibility isn’t a one-time thing; once a company is admitted to the 8(a) Program, SBA will review its eligibility compliance on an annual basis.
Some of the initial eligibility requirements are modified for continuing eligibility. For example, once admitted to the 8(a) Program, caps on net worth and personal income are raised (but not eliminated). But tread lightly: SBA imposes additional requirements on 8(a) Participants to remain eligible, such as limiting the number of withdrawals an individual can take from a Participant and restricting the number of 8(a) awards a Participant may receive.
If these eligibility requirements sound a bit ominous, it’s for good reason: they can be. But that’s not to scare you away from considering the 8(a) Program—as I mentioned in my initial post, the benefits to participating can be tremendous.
If you have questions about your company’s 8(a) Program eligibility, or would like help applying for the Program, please call me.
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A Final Rule published in the Federal Register July 14, 2016, effective November 1, 2016, amended the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to implement regulatory changes made by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) , which provide for a Governmentwide policy on small business subcontracting. One of the changed requirements effects subcontracting reports submitted after November 30, 2017.
Specifically, the language at FAR 19.704(a)(10)(iii), 52.219-9(d)(10)(iii), and 52.219-9 Alternate IV (d)(10)(iii)—was revised to require order-level reporting on single-award, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts intended for use by multiple agencies in addition to multiple-award contracts in use by multiple agencies and to clarify that the order-level reporting would be required after November 30, 2017, which is when the Electronic Subcontracting Reporting System (eSRS) will be ready to accommodate this requirement.
This rule is implementing the regulatory changes made by the SBA and will allow for the facilitation of allocating subcontracting credits to funding agencies. This allocation will help ensure that funding agencies are recognized and incentivized to promote small business subcontracting on orders. It is important to keep in mind that these reporting requirements apply to all orders on a single-award IDIQ contract intended for use by multiple agencies regardless of dollar value. These changes will apply to solicitations issued on or after the effective date or at the contracting officer’s discretion in accordance with FAR 1.108(d).
FAR Clause 52.219-9, Subcontracting Plan Requirements (JAN 2017), the most recent update of the clause, contains the revised language
The post Changes to Subcontracting Reporting Requirements—Effective November 30, 2017 appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting.
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Last year, a conversation between Amazon Business and one of the senior leaders in government contract management today was hosted at NCMA’s Government Contract Management Symposium. This session opened many people’s eyes to the technological “disruption” we’re all familiar with in our private lives, but not always in our professional ones.
Today, many of us have fully “plugged” ourselves into the digital automation of the modern day. We shop and acquire a whole host of products and services online; stream our music, books, and other forms of entertainment; engage actively in social media and other forms of previously non-existent forms of communication; hail car rides here and there, etc. while continually downloading new apps to our smartphones (anyone still hanging on to their flip phones out there?) to facilitate ever more management of daily tasks and lifestyle behaviors. Looking back just five years ago, when compared to today and the changes in our lives are quite dramatic.
However, any form of significant, wide-scale implementation of this “technological disruption” in federal programs or contracts is still in relative infancy. Yet, seemingly out of nowhere, a proposed “DATA Act” this year would require the Department of Defense to develop an “online marketplace” (that is, an Amazon-like platform solely for defense acquisition), which has many thinking of how that may upend existing policies and processes. What about small business or other socioeconomic goals? What about the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA)? What about sealed bidding and negotiated procurement as we know it today? What about the roles of agencies such as GSA, DLA, and VA in centralized contracting and provisioning? Similarly, what about the future of governmentwide acquisition contracts—such as SEWP, NITACC, and the Federal Acquisition Schedules—as centralized contracting instruments?
There is much to learn and define as this form of “disruption” comes, just as there is much to prepare for as those tools used to execute “smart contract management” become more intelligent. Yes, the roles and responsibilities of today’s contract management professional may change, but certainly how those roles and responsibilities are executed will definitely change.
Today’s contract management professional must (like everyone else) be prepared for this forthcoming sea change. If you didn’t think it could happen to you—think again. NCMA’s Contract Management Body of Knowledge (CMBOK) already reflects this shifting paradigm, adding new professional competencies and expanding the “reach” of today’s contract management professional to become more multidisciplinary in role, including ever greater reliance on “soft-skills” for success. If you pride yourself on your complete understanding of the FAR and strict adherence to processes and policy, congratulations; you know the rules and can apply them. However, start complementing and expanding those abilities by developing other business competencies, which will be necessary for future success. Don’t wait for some policy office to issue guidance, or DAU to offer a new class.
Just as many of us no longer use agents to book hotels, cruises, or other vacations in favor of online travel services such as Expedia and Orbitz; or have traded in our cable TV packages for streaming video services (known as “cutting the cord”); or cancelled our newspaper and magazine subscriptions for free or paywall online news services, the entire contract management enterprise is shifting to more digitally driven, results-oriented models—which means today’s contract management professionals must reevaluate their skill sets and reassess their value-add. The analytics and measuring tools available continue to increase. Can you not only use them, but just as with understanding existing statute and regulation, can you interpret and apply them? Do you have relationship-building skills relevant in today’s team-oriented, business management program culture?
There was a time when being strict and inflexible might have been considered an asset in the contract management profession—e.g., noncompromising or hardball tactics that ensure adherence to process, technical integrity, and meeting negotiation goals. All that still matters, but automation has filled some of that expertise with improved analytics and data, placing greater reliance on “soft skills” for professional growth and success.
It’s important for all of us to prepare for this coming technological “disruption.” It’s already arriving. Make sure you’re ready, so you offer the improved professional contract management alternative when your company or agency “cuts the contract management cord!”
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Could your business recover from an abrupt loss of $82,000 to 256,000? That’s how much a single cybersecurity breach could cost a small business, according to an analysis by Tech Republic.
For federal government contractors, the stakes are even higher. DFARS 252.204.7008 (Compliance Safeguarding and Covered Defense Information Controls), and 252.204.7012 (Safeguarding Covered Defense Information and Cyber Incident Reporting) requires Department of Defense contractors to fully implement required controls on covered contractor information by December 31, 2017.
Failure to comply could result in losing a contract or in having to stop work until you can demonstrate compliance with all 14 categories and 110 specific items of the NIST 800-171 R1 controls. For details about covered items and practical steps you can take to achieve compliance, see our earlier blog posts on the Answers Blog.
With the deadline fast approaching, a wide variety of technology and consulting companies are pitching cybersecurity services to small business contractors. Some require you to make costly investments in their technology or offer a one-size-fits-all solution. Here are a few reasons to consider engaging a CPA with government contracting experience to advise on cybersecurity compliance.
Humans are at the core of cybersecurity protection – and humans are fallible.
Not long ago, most companies relegated anything “cyber” to the IT department. However, technology alone will not protect your company from phishing, hacking and other cybersecurity breaches.
Your biggest vulnerability may not involve software or hardware, but the people operating your systems. Are they consistent and thorough in following cybersecurity best practices? Do they use and protect strong passwords? Do they avoid phishing emails? If not, the most sophisticated technology can and will fail to protect your company and its data.
Today’s cybersecurity best practices touch on personnel practices, supply chain management, and operational decisions. Nearly all areas of your business require strict policies for managing, storing and transmitting information. These must be applied consistently for effective protection.
Trusted Advisors and Compliance Experts.
As discussed above, technology is only a part of cybersecurity. Best practices require evaluating risks, implementing procedures to mitigate the risks, training employees to follow policies and continually monitoring adherence to those policies.
Most companies invest in control systems to ensure compliance with laws and regulations surrounding financial reporting, tax reporting, labor relations, environmental impacts and many other aspects of business. CPAs set up, manage and audit the majority of such systems.
CPAs have earned a unique advisory role based on their understanding of business and adherence to core values of independence, objectivity and skepticism. To maintain their credentials, they must complete appropriate continuing education and comply with a strict code of ethics. Their work also is subject to rigorous external quality reviews.
A CPA who understands cybersecurity as well as the needs of small businesses and government contractors is an ideal partner to help you comply with government regulations – including those governing cybersecurity.
CPAs Offer Multidisciplinary Knowledge.
In addition to core education in business and accounting, many CPAs have expertise in business continuity and disaster recovery. Some hold additional credentials specifically related to IT and security. These include Certified Information Systems Security Professionals (CISSP), Certified Information Systems Auditors (CISA) and Certified Information Technology Professionals (CITP).
Moreover, the American Institute of CPAs has established a Cybersecurity Risk Management Reporting Framework for companies to use in designing cybersecurity programs and reporting them to stakeholders – including boards of directors, senior managers, investors and government compliance officers. This framework also includes descriptive criteria, controls and an attestation guide to help CPAs report on cybersecurity.
As more businesses implement the AICPA framework, it is becoming a common denominator in talking about cybersecurity in the business world.
Preparing for Audit and Reporting Security Breaches
For government contractors, compliance requires more than establishing a cybersecurity framework. You must be able to demonstrate compliance and have systems in place to report security breaches.
Although no formal audit process has been established for compliance with the NIST 800-171 framework, it is wise to develop your systems with audits in mind. With extensive training and experience in both consultative and audit engagements, a CPA who understands cybersecurity and government contract compliance has an edge in helping you prepare.
In addition to preparing for audit, you must have systems in place for reporting security breaches. FAR 52.204-21 has no reporting requirement, but other FAR clauses around Personally Identifiable Information and related items do have separate reporting requirements. Depending on where your business is located, you may have state reporting requirements in addition to any federal contract reporting requirements.
Many companies don’t understand the need for solid cybersecurity controls until they have suffered a breach. For example, an attorney friend tells a story about a Human Resources professional who received an email from the president of her company requesting a list of all employees and their social security numbers. She prepared the list and responded to his email. A few minutes later, she bumped into the president and told him, “I just sent the list of information you requested.”
He responded, “What information?”
The HR professional immediately realized what had happened, but the damage was done. While this happened at a relative small company, its 115 employees resided in 32 states, requiring notification to each of the states. Since state laws are not synchronized, the company had to employ a national law firm.
Chances are, if a CPA had been involved in developing the company’s cybersecurity policies, there would have been a clear prohibition against sending sensitive employee information via email – no matter who made the request.
Questions about cybersecurity and government contracting? We’re here to help! Please call or email Robert E. Jones at (614) 556-4415 or email@example.com.
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It's been almost 10 months since the FAR Council issued the last Federal Acquisition Circular (FAC). The streak of inactivity will be broken on November 6 when FAC 2005-96 will be published. The FAC contains a single rule that removes the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Rule. But that's not what makes the rule so remarkable. Item 16 of the FAC makes changes to the provision at FAR 52.204-8 as follows:Quote
Notice something strange? See that link to a YouTube Video? That's really there. It's in both the html and pdf versions of the FAC. It is officially contained in the FAR. What is the video? I won't spoil it for you--click and find out.
All proposal managers and writers should read a recent GAO bid protest decision: CR/SWS LLC, GAO B-414766.2, Sept. 13, 2017. In that case the agency was buying a commercial item--integrated solid waste management services at an Air Force base.
The solicitation required offerors to submit a “technical proposal” that was to consist entirely of a “Mission Essential Contractor Services Plan” (MECSP). The proposal preparation instructions said:Quote
Develop and submit a Mission-Essential Contractor Services Plan required IAW DFARS Provision 252.237-7024, Notice of Continuation of Essential Contractor Services.
That’s it. There were no supplemental instructions and no formatting or page limitations.
The solicitation said that the agency would evaluate proposals and select a contractor in a series of steps. The first step would be to evaluate the technical proposal (the Mission Essential Contractor Services Plan) for acceptability on a pass or fail basis. It said:Quote
Mission-Essential Contractor Services Plan
Description: The Mission-Essential Contractor Services Plan must meet the requirements established in DFARS Provision 252.237-7024, Notice of Continuation of Essential Contractor Services.
This requirement is met when the offeror’s proposal contains a Mission-Essential Contractor Services Plan that meets the requirements established in DFARS Provision 252.237-7024.
Measure of Merit: This requirement is met when the offeror’s proposal contains a Mission-Essential Contractor Services Plan that meets the requirements established in DFARS Provision 252.237-7024.
The solicitation defined acceptable and unacceptable as follows:Quote
Acceptable: Proposal clearly meets the minimum requirements of the solicitation.
Unacceptable: Proposal does not clearly meet the minimum requirements of the solicitation.
The solicitation said that only those offerors whose technical proposals (the Plan) were determined to be acceptable would move on to the next phase of the evaluation, which would entail a past performance/price tradeoff analysis and decision. The solicitation said that the agency planned to award without discussions.
Here is the text of DFARS 252.237-7024:Quote
NOTICE OF CONTINUATION OF ESSENTIAL CONTRACTOR SERVICES (OCT 2010)
(a) Definitions. “Essential contractor service” and “mission-essential functions” have the meanings given in the clause at 252.237-7023, Continuation of Essential Contractor Services, in this solicitation.
(b) The offeror shall provide with its offer a written plan describing how it will continue to perform the essential contractor services listed in attachment _______, Mission Essential Contractor Services, dated ________, during periods of crisis. The offeror shall–
(1) Identify provisions made for the acquisition of essential personnel and resources, if necessary, for continuity of operations for up to 30 days or until normal operations can be resumed;
(2) Address in the plan, at a minimum—
(i) Challenges associated with maintaining essential contractor services during an extended event, such as a pandemic that occurs in repeated waves;
(ii) The time lapse associated with the initiation of the acquisition of essential personnel and resources and their actual availability on site;
(iii) The components, processes, and requirements for the identification, training, and preparedness of personnel who are capable of relocating to alternate facilities or performing work from home;
(iv) Any established alert and notification procedures for mobilizing identified “essential contractor service” personnel; and
(v) The approach for communicating expectations to contractor employees regarding their roles and responsibilities during a crisis.
(End of clause)
Note that despite the capital letter at the beginning of each subparagraph, paragraph (b) is one long sentence.
(Whether such a requirement was properly imposed in an acquisition of commercial item solid waste management services is a matter that I will not address in this blogpost.)
The agency rated both the successful offeror’s and the protester’s plans to be acceptable. The successful offeror’s plan was less than two pages long. The protester’s plan was 14 pages long. The successful offeror won based on its lower price and past performance rating of “satisfactory confidence”.
The protester, which had a higher price but a better past performance rating, complained that the successful offeror’s plan did not address all the topics required by DFARS 252.237.7024 paragraphs (b)(2)(ii) and (b)(2)(iii), “time lapses” and “training issues”. The GAO agreed, sustained the protest, and recommended that the agency either reject the successful offeror’s proposal or conduct discussions, solicit revised proposals, and make a new source selection decision. It also recommended that the agency reimburse the protester’s costs of filing and pursuing the protest.
Yes, the agency was dumb. It did not take its own proposal preparation requirement seriously or plan its evaluation carefully. But that’s not the point of this blog post. The point of this blog post is that proposal managers and writers better pay close attention when reading and complying with proposal preparation instructions. They better dissect each and every sentence and phrase and identify each and every submission requirement. Details matter.
Now, look back at DFARS 252.237.7024 paragraph (b)(2), which specifies the topics that a Mission Essential Contractor Services Plan must “address”. How many are there? At first glance, there are five, specified in subparagraphs (i) through (v). But, in fact, there are many more than five. Here is my phrase-by-phrase analysis of what DFARS 252.237.7024, paragraph (b)(2), requires offerors to “address”;
1. challenges associated with maintaining essential contractor services during an extended event;
2. time lapse associated with:
2.1. the initiation of the acquisition of essential personnel
2.2. the initiation of the acquisition of essential resources
2.3. the actual availability of essential personnel on site;
2.4. the actual availability of essential resources on site;
3. components for:
3.1. identification of personnel who are capable of relocating to alternate facilities
3.2. identification of personnel who are capable of performing work from home
3.3. training of personnel who are capable of relocating to alternate facilities
3.4. training of personnel who are capable of performing work from home
3.5. preparedness of personnel who are capable of relocating to alternate facilities
3.6. preparedness of personnel who are capable of performing work from home
4. processes for:
4.1. identification of personnel who are capable of relocating to alternate facilities
4.2. identification of personnel who are capable of performing work from home
4.3. training of personnel who are capable of relocating to alternate facilities
4.4. training of personnel who are capable of performing work from home
4.5. preparedness of personnel who are capable of relocating to alternate facilities
4.6. preparedness of personnel who are capable of performing work from home
5. requirements for:
5.1. identification of personnel who are capable of relocating to alternate facilities
5.2. identification of personnel who are capable of performing work from home
5.3. training of personnel who are capable of relocating to alternate facilities
5.4. training of personnel who are capable of performing work from home
5.5. preparedness of personnel who are capable of relocating to alternate facilities
5.6. preparedness of personnel who are capable of performing work from home
6. any established alert procedures for mobilizing identified “essential contractor service” personnel
7. any established notification procedures for mobilizing identified “essential contractor service” personnel
8. approach for:
8.1. communicating expectations to contractor employees regarding their roles during a crisis.
8.2. communicating expectations to contractor employees regarding their responsibilities during a crisis.
By my count there are 27 planning topics to be addressed, not just five.
(By the way, what’s in a “plan”? Some persons would think that a plan specifies who, what, when, where, and how.)
My kind of analysis might accomplish three things.
- First, it will ensure that your proposal addresses each and every proposal preparation requirement. Agency personnel are not always aware of just what their proposal preparation instructions require of offerors. Read the convoluted instructions in some of the RFPs floating around out there. Read the sentences. There can be a lot of hidden eddies in bureaucratic stream-of-consciousness writing, as the Air Force learned in CR/SWS LLC.
- Second, it might alert complacent agency evaluators as to what they should be looking for in all proposals. This will give you a leg up if the competition has not been as thorough as you.
- Third, if you lose, it might give your attorney a basis for assessing whether the agency adhered to its evaluation criteria and ammunition for a protest, as it did in CR/SWS LLC. The protester was more conscientious than both its competitor and the agency, and so it won.
Did the Department of Defense really intend for offerors to plan mission-essential contractor services in great detail? Was it practical to ask offerors to do so before contract award, i.e., before they understood what performance would actually be like on the Air Force base? What did the agency really want and expect from offerors? Who knows? It did not matter. Neither the agency nor the successful offeror took the proposal preparation instructions seriously, and it cost them.
As for you agency personnel--you better think when you write proposal preparation instructions, and you better read what you’ve written when you plan your evaluations, and you better take what you’ve written seriously. And you better supplement and explain lousy boilerplate instructions like those in DFARS 252.237-7024.
I assume that the Air Force will do as the GAO recommended: conduct discussions, seek proposal revisions, and make a new source selection decision. I wonder if it will supplement and clarify DFARS 252.237-7024. I wonder how comprehensive and how long the offerors’ Mission-Essential Contractor Services Plans will be in the second go-round.
In the 1973 futuristic mystery thriller Soylent Green there’s an exchange between Detective Thorn (Charlton Heston) and Hatcher (Brock Peters):
Det. Thorn: Ocean's dying, plankton's dying . . . it's people. Soylent Green is made out of people. They're making our food out of people. Next thing they'll be breeding us like cattle for food. You've gotta tell them. You've gotta tell them!
Hatcher: I promise, Tiger. I promise. I'll tell the Exchange.
Det. Thorn: You tell everybody. Listen to me, Hatcher. You've gotta tell them! Soylent Green is people! We've gotta stop them somehow!
Acquisition Reform is like Soylent Green, it’s people. I don’t mean the Congresscritters, like Representative Thornberry and Senator McCain, and their Committees. I don’t mean the Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, whoever he or she may turn out to be. I don’t mean the acquisition and procurement policy wonks in the Pentagon and elsewhere.
This past week (i.e., 14 – 20 May 2017) was a big week for the professional acquisition reformers:
The Advisory Panel on Streamlining and Codifying Acquisition Regulations issued the “Section 809 Panel Interim Report” (May 2017). Read the 60 page report, and formulate your own opinion if it will fix the problems in Government acquisition. Frankly, I think it will take more than getting rid of the $1 coin requirement, but I could be wrong.
Representative William McClellan "Mac" Thornberry introduced H.R. 2511 “To amend Title 10, United States Code, to streamline the acquisition system, invest early in acquisition programs, improve the acquisition workforce, and improve transparency in the acquisition system.” The short title on that would be ‘‘Defense Acquisition Streamlining and Transparency Act’’. (sic) Read the 80 page resolution, and formulate your own opinion if it will fix the problems in Government acquisition. [If we have Representative Thornberry, can Senator McCain be far behind? (Or, is that FAR behind?)]
A (moderately) reliable source has told me that the Department of Defense will be leaving Better Buying Power behind, now that Mssrs. Carter and Kendall are gone. But, wait, acquisition reform has not been abandoned. Apparently, it will go on, but now as “Continued Acquisition Reform.” Presumably that will be abbreviated as “CAR.” Continued Acquisition Reform should not be confused with Continuous Acquisition Reform nor Continued Acquisition Reform, nor Continuous Process Improvement, for that matter, those would all be bygone days.
The professional acquisition reformers have time and again passed legislation and issued regulations to “fix” the acquisition process. This fiscal year (2017) Title VIII (i.e., Acquisition Policy, Acquisition Management, and Related Matters) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) had 88 sections. The year before, 77 items. And, yet, Representative Thornberry and Senator McCain believe there is a need for a lot more acquisition reform legislation this year. Title VIII has included over 500 sections over the last ten years, but we still need more. What we have at issue here is what is referred to as the Law of the Instrument. Although he was not the first to recognize the Law, Abraham Maslow is probably the one best remembered for articulating it, "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." For those of us on the receiving end of the Congressional output that would be, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a legislation, to treat everything as if it were a bill." I suspect, although I cannot be positive, that most, if not all, of the folks doing the legislating have never had to use the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to buy anything. If they had, they would not be nearly so cavalier in tossing around statements about how bad the acquisition process is, and how more legislation is the answer.
Will such legislation solve the acquisition problem? According to the Honorable Frank Kendall the answer is a resounding “NO.”Quote
Frank Kendall, then undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics (USD(AT&L)), condemned, or “slammed,” or “blasted,” such legislation.
Frank Kendall, who has served as the Pentagon's top weapons buyer since October 2011, blasted Congress's acquisition reform efforts, which he said almost inevitably create more bureaucracy and regulation.
Kendall called legislative action “an imperfect tool to improve acquisition results.”
“It is not a good instrument to achieve the results that I think the Hill is after, but they keep trying,” he said. “To be honest, I believe that as often as not, what they do does not help. In some cases, it has the opposite effect.”
Bloomberg Federal Contracts Report, “Outgoing DOD Weapons Buyer Slams Congress’ Acquisition
But, in all fairness, it’s not just them. Since we last had a reissuance of the FAR in March 2005, the FAR Council has brought us 95 Federal Acquisition Circulars (FACs) to update and expand the FAR. Since we last has a reissuance of the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) in January 2008, the Defense Acquisition Regulations Council has brought us 211 Defense FAR Supplement Publication Notices (DPNs). With all of that, there are still dozens of open FAR and DFARS cases yet to be heaped on our plate. Although legislation may have been a major root cause of much that change activity, we can probably offer some of our “thanks” to the President, OMB, OFPP, GAO, Boards of Contract Appeals and Courts. Admittedly, now and again, a good idea actually gets slipped into the regulations. [Note: The number of FACs and DPNs issued in 2017 was artificially suppressed as a result of Executive Order 13771 – Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs. The two councils (i.e., FAR Council, Defense Acquisition Regulations Council (DAR Council) and the Civilian Agency Acquisition Council (CAA Council)) withheld publication of a large number of cases while policies and procedures were “sorted out.”]
[Note: Refer to Augustine’s Laws, Law Number XLIX: Regulations grow at the same rate as weeds.]
And, if that were not enough, we have institutional acquisition reform (e.g., policy letters, memoranda, directives, instructions, guidebooks, handbooks, manuals). Everyone seems to want to get into the act in one way or another. It is interesting to note, however, that the “perpetrators” of this institutional acquisition reform do not see it in the same light as acquisition reform legislation.
But, I recognize the lesson that King Canute was trying to teach when, in the apocryphal anecdote, he had his throne taken to the sea and ordered the tides not to come in. They did anyway. Legislators will legislate, it’s what they do. Regulators will regulate, it’s what they do. Policy makers will policymake, it’s what they do. None of them will willingly give up their rice bowls.
Let’s get back to Soylent Green.Quote
“Acquisition improvement is going to have to come from within. It is not going to be engineered by Hill staffers writing laws for us,” Kendall said. “It's going to be done by people in the trenches every day, dealing with industry, trying to get incentives right, trying to get the performance right, trying to set up business deals and enforce them, set reasonable requirements in our contracts.”
Bloomberg Federal Contracts Report, “Outgoing DOD Weapons Buyer Slams Congress’ Acquisition Fixes,” Andrew Clevenger, January 17, 2017
Better Buying Power (BBP)? The Honorable Mssrs. Carter and Kendall were responsible for BBBP, in all its iterations. Did that rise up from the trenches? Or, was it handed (or pushed) down from above? Isn’t this a bit like the pot calling the kettle black? If you will permit the adding of a single letter to a line of Hamlet by William Shakespeare, "The laddy doth protest too much, methinks."
[Note: Refer to Augustine’s Laws, Law Number L: The average regulation has a life span one-fifth as long as a chimpanzee's and one-tenth as long as a human's, but four times as long as the official's who created it.]
Well, whichever way you look at it (i.e., upside, downside, sidewise) it is all more work for the acquisition professionals that must do the daily work of buying supplies and services for the Government. If you want to have an idea of how all of this acquisition reform weighs us down, then take a look at William Blake’s illustration “Christian Reading in His Book” for John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim's Progress. It will depend on how many pixels the image you find has, but it looks to me that he is reading the FAR.
Who are the Soylent Green? Not the policymakers, but the people in the trenches, doing the hard work of acquisition on a daily basis, day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, year in and year out. The contract specialist, contract negotiator, contract administrator, cost or price analyst, purchasing agent or procurement analyst just trying to get the job done. These are, for the most, part the unsung heroes and heroines of acquisition reform. These are the ones who, through innovation and personal initiative reform that acquisition process, one acquisition at a time. And, if we are lucky, or clever, are able to pass successes along to others.
As acquisition professionals, we must pass on our successes, and failures, to others, so that they may join in the fruits of success, and avoid the pitfalls of failure. You cannot count on “Lessons Learned,” alone. How often do lessons learned go unread and unlearned? You cannot count on “Best Practices,” alone. How often do best practices, go unread and unpracticed? Share with others. Share quickly. Share often. Share wherever you can.
A final thought.Quote
So what is to be done? By and large the answer to that question is well understood—in fact, many friends of mine such as former Deputy Secretary of Defense David Packard; the head of the Skunk Works Kelly Johnson; Air Force General Bennie Schriever; Admiral Wayne Meyer and Army General Bob Baer, among others, were providing the answer decades ago. What is required is simply Management 101. That is, decide what is needed; create a plan to provide it, including assigning authority and responsibility; supply commensurate resources in the form of people, money, technology, time and infrastructure; provide qualified leadership; execute the plan; and monitor results and strenuously enforce accountability. Ironically, little of this requires legislation—but it does require massive amounts of will . . . from all levels of government. Unfortunately, many of the problems are cultural—and it is difficult to legislate culture. But there is much that could be done.
Views from the Honorable Norman R. Augustine
The Acquisition Conundrum
DEFENSE ACQUISITION REFORM: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? A Compendium of Views by Leading Experts, STAFF REPORT PERMANENT SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS UNITED STATES SENATE (October 2, 2014)
The absolute final thought. I’m sorry, I can’t help myself. I don’t care about King Canute: Don’t legislate. Don’t regulate. Just leave us alone to do our work as best we can.
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In early 1977, Gordon Wade Rule (Rule) sat in a chair in a corner of a conference room at the Naval Material Command reading a document that I had prepared about his negotiations on the CGN-41, a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser. Days earlier, I was among a group that was briefed by a staff member of Admiral Hyman Rickover (Rickover), the Director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. Although, the briefing was supposed to be about the CGN-41 negotiation, we were treated to a 3-hour lecture on how the Navy's shipbuilders were trying to "pin the rose" on Rickover. In this case, pinning the rose had nothing to do with the shipbuilders asking the Admiral to a prom.
When I began writing this blog entry, I had planned to include only the work I had done decades ago for the Chairman, House Committee on Armed Services. That work involved Rule's negotiation of Modification 31 to the contract that included the CGN-41, the eventual USS Arkansas. I wanted you to figure out if the modification that Rule signed was done in a manner that would allow it to survive a court test. It took 2 courts to decide that question so it wasn't as easy as it sounded. Unfortunately I read too much surrounding material and I realized that I was taking Rule's actions out of the context in which they happened back in the 1970s. So, I added a bit more information. You will see Rule as the contracting officer, Rickover as a program officer interfering with the contracting officer, Senator William Proxmire apparently acting for Rickover and himself, and Deputy Secretary of Defense William P. Clements, Jr. (Clements) trying to resolve the shipbuilding claims problem in any manner he could. You cannot choose sides on this one. All characters, including government agencies and shipbuilders, were trying to manipulate and influence anyone that became involved with the CGN-41. It seemed as if sides were drawn by identifying the enemy of an individual's enemy.
A Brief Introduction to the Shipbuilding Claims Era
In the early 1970s, cost overruns and shipbuilders' claims had become a major problem. By 1976, it had reached epidemic proportions with $1.9 billion in shipbuilder claims. The shipbuilders, the Navy, the Department of Justice, and Rickover were in a war. In the case of the CGN-41, Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company was the industry player.
Clements wanted to settle the ship claims problem with the use of P. L. 85-804. A June 21, 1976, Business Week article explains his early effort. The excerpt below is a quote from the article entitled: The Shipbuilders Balk at 40 Cents on the Dollar. The article explained that Clements had planned to settle $1.9 billion of shipbuilding claims against the Navy for "between $500 million and $700 million" but that plan fell fiat with the Navy's shipbuilders. He explained that "the shipyards are giving me trouble." The article further described:Quote
On Apr. 30 Clements informed both the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees of his unusual plan to clear up long-pending claims, which he said are largely responsible for the "acrimonious and adversarial environment that now marks Navy-shipbuilders business relations." He promised the legislators a progress report on June 10. At the same time, he predicted privately that he would have the claims situation wrapped up by that date.
The settlements would be under terms of Public Law 85-804, enacted by Congress in the early 1960s to enable the Defense Dept. to modify contracts when it is in the interest of national defense. The law was amended in 1973 to require that Congress be notified prior to use of the law for any modification exceeding $25 million and be given 60 days to disapprove.
Clements intended to use this program to bypass traditional, drawn-out appeals board procedures and to wipe the slate clean of the massive extra dollar amounts demanded by shipbuilders to compensate them for such things as Navy-ordered design changes, late delivery of government-furnished equipment, and higher-than-anticipated inflation rates. But at midweek Clements was far short of his goal. The two shipyards with the bulk of the outstanding claims were reluctant to accept his offer of roughly 40¢ on the dollar in immediate cash.
A lot of money. Tenneco Inc.'s Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. filed the largest of the outstanding claims-some $894 million. After meeting Wednesday morning with Clements, Newport News President John P. Diesel said: "We have failed. We can't get together on money, and the Navy has not done a damn thing about changing contracting procedures."
After failing to reach a settlement himself, Clements called Navy management to his office for a meeting of the status of shipbuilding claims. Nothing had been accomplished by them either. He then focused on the CGN-41. The work on this ship had been stopped by Newport News because of issues it was having with the Navy. The contract was in court and work had started again under the condition that the Navy negotiated in good faith with Newport News to resolve the issues. The court's time limit for good faith negotiations was running out and something had to be done. Since the CGN-41 contract was in court, the Department of Justice was required to play a part in the review of any settlement proposed to the court.
This is where our story begins. I have added the dates on which the actions occurred so that you can follow. All facts are based on documents that I had reviewed in the 1970s or documents that I recently reviewed. I needed to limit the length of this entry so I added enough information to give you a flavor of the times. Sometime in the future, I may write a larger article. Rule was appointed as a special contracting officer on the CGN-41 to resolve the issues that the Navy and the Secretary of Defense could not accomplish. Undoubtedly he knew he was heading into a mighty storm that might harm him.
Contract Modification P00031 To CGN-41: Chronology of Events
July 13, 1976: Clements held a meeting to discuss Navy shipbuilding claims. Among those in attendance were:
- Deputy Secretary of Defense (Clements)
- Consultant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense
- Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Installations and Logistics) (ASN (I & L))
- Chief of the Naval Material Command (NAVMAT)
- Vice-Chief of the Naval Material Command (NAVSEA)
- General Counsel of the Navy, and
- Gordon Rule, Director, Procurement Control and Clearance Division, Naval Material Command. (Rule)
In regard to the Newport News claims, a member of the meeting quoted Clements as saying that he was "irrevocably committed to solving this problem; unlike Admiral Rickover." Clements then asked the Navy officials why they had not reformed the contract, indicating that if they would not, he would. He then stated that he wanted to see four changes incorporated in the CGN-41 contract: (1) a new escalation clause; (2) a new "changes" clause; (3) a new ceiling price; and (4) a new delivery date. (emphasis added)
During the meeting it was agreed that Rule would become negotiator for the CGN-41. He was to report directly to the Chief, NAVMAT and the Vice Chief, NAVMAT was to meet with Clements each day at 9:15 a.m to report on the progress of the negotiation.
July 14, 1976: Rule telephoned Newport News to explain that he had been assigned principal negotiator on the CGN-41 and requested a meeting.
July 15, 1976: Newport News was contacted by a consultant to Clements who explained Rule's authority. Rule and Newport News held their first meeting.
July 16, 1976: The Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Installations and Logistics) wrote to the Chief, NAVMAT informing him that the Chief would be responsible for the direct discussions between Rule and Newport News. Rule would be the principal negotiator and Rule would be assisted by NAVSEA and the Navy General Counsel, as required.
July 16, 1976: Rule sent a memo to Clements describing his first meeting with Newport News. As a note, he mentioned that he intentionally did not contact the Navy's Supervisor of Shipbuiliding, Conversion and Repair (SUPSHIPS), Newport News.
July 19, 1976: Rule sent a memo to the Deputy Commander for Contracts, NAVSEA asking for brief descriptions of what the Navy considered as key issues for negotiation and the Navy's negotiating position so he could develop his own negotiation position.
July 28, 1976: The Vice Chief, NAVMAT and a consultant to Clements held discussions with Newport News. Areas discussed were: when the CGN 41 problems would be solved, ceiling price, and escalation provisions.
August 10, 1976: Rule telephoned Newport News and requested a meeting in Washington on August 12,1976.
August 12, 1976: During a meeting in Washington between Rule and Newport News, Newport News left a general outline for negotiations.
August 12 and 13, 1976: The Vice Chief, NAVMAT asked Rule about the August 12 meeting so he could inform Clements. Rule explained that Newport News had delivered a proposal and he did not approve of it.
August 17, 1976: Rule telephoned Newport News and requested a negotiating session to be held on August 20, 1976.
August 19, 1976: The Deputy Chief of Naval Material (Procurement and Production) issued Rule an appointment as Contracting Officer with "unlimited authority with respect to negotiations with Newport News."
August 20, 1976: Negotiations were held between Rule and Newport News.
August 23, 1976: The Vice Chief, NAVMAT and Rule met with Clements to brief him on the August 20th negotiations. According to Rule, Clements' comment on the negotiations was "fine." After the meeting with Clements, Rule received a note from the Chief, NAVMAT to meet him in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Installations and Logistics). Among those attending were:
- Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Installations and Logistics),
- Chief, NAVMAT,
- Vice Chief, NAVMAT,
- Rule, Director, Procurement Control and Clearance Division, Naval Material Command,
- Commander, NAVSEA,
- Deputy Commander for Contracts, NAVSEA,
At this meeting, the Chief, NAVMAT ordered Rule to describe the results of the August 20 negotiations.
August 24, 1976: Rickover wrote to the Chief, NAVMAT that he had heard a rumor of a settlement on the CGN-41 between Rule and Newport News. Rickover commented point-by-point about the rumored settlement and said such a settlement "would show that the Government will not require Newport News to honor its contracts." Rickover recommended that anyQuote
settlement be referred formally to the Naval Sea Systems Command for review and comment by knowledgeable personnel directly responsible for the work in question. In this regard I [Rickover] will be glad to provide assistance based on my own knowledge of the events in question.
August 24, 1976: Senator William Proxmire wrote to the Attorney General, Department of Justice expressing concerns about Gordon Rule's views on the CGN-41 negotiations and telling the Attorney General:Quote
I understand that the Department of Justice has sole responsibility within the Government for approving out-of-court settlements involving Government matters under litigation. I assume that the Justice Department will review any such settlements proposed by the Navy in the CGN-41 case. However. in view of the importance of the CGN-41 case to the overall shipbuilding claims problem, I request that you direct the Navy to keep you fully informed of any negotiations and that you review any settlement offer to ensure that it is on sound legal ground and in the public interest before the Government becomes a party to it.
August 25, 1976: Newport News telephoned Clements and read a prepared press release. The consultant to Clements said he and Clements approved of the press release, an excerpt of which stated: "The parties have agreed to sign a definitive contractual document embodying the negotiated agreement for the construction of the CGN-41." Later that day, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Installation and Logistics) telephoned Newport News, informed them that he was perturbed by the Newport News press release and stated that the Navy would issue its own press release stating that agreement had been reached in principle but that the matter was to be reviewed by higher authority. On this same date the Navy issued a press release explaining an "agreement in principle" was being drafted for review and approval. (Emphasis added)
August 26, 1976: The Chief, NAVMAT sent Rickover a response to his August 24, 2016 letter stating:Quote
From your many, years in government service I know you realize that business sensitive negotiations should not be influenced by sources outside of the designated negotiating parties, and that a broadly distributed letter from you, such as reference (a) [August 24, 1976 memo from Rickover described above], cannot help but cause perturbation in the negotiating process, disrupting the efforts of the assigned negotiator.
The Chief, NAVMAT further wrote: For reasons such as this, you must stand apart from these negotiations unless the technical areas regarding naval nuclear reactors become involved.
August 27, 1976: Rickover responded to the Chief's, August 26, 1976 letter to him. In response to the wide distribution he used for his letter of August 24, 1976, Rickover explained that:Quote
I felt obliged to inform them of what I had heard. I am sure you are not implying that it is improper for me to call such matters to the attention of those responsible, and point out potential problems. To remain silent would be analogous to not warning my mother that she was about to fall off a cliff.
He used the same distribution list for this 6-page letter as he did in his August 24, 1976 letter.
August 30, 1976: Newport News met with Rule in Washington and delivered the first draft of Modification P00031.
The Chief, NAVMAT sent a letter to Rule explaining that, prior to a binding agreement on the CGN-41, the elements of the agreement must be submitted to the Chief, NAVMAT for review and approval. The review was to be conducted by the Vice Chief, NAVMAT, the Deputy Chief, NAVMAT (Procurement and Production), the NAVSEA Deputy Commander for Contracts; and the General Counsel for the Navy. Mr. Rule was to provide the proposed contract modification, the business clearance justifications, and other supporting papers for review prior to signature by the contracting officer.
Gordon Rule forwarded a draft memorandum to the Chief, Naval Material that summarized his negotiations with Newport News.
August 31, 1976: The General Counsel of the Navy noted the Rule draft memorandum and told Rule of the General Counsel's responsibility to review the summary of negotiations. Additionally, the General Counsel requested more information to support Rules' summary.
September 1, 1976: Rule sent a summary of his negotiations to the Chief, NAVMAT.
September 3 1976: In response to the August 31, 1976 memo from the Navy General Counsel, Rule sent him additional information supporting his summary of negotiations. He also provided a copy of the first draft of Modification P00031.
September 14, 1976: Members of Rule's and Newport News negotiating teams and DCAA auditors met in Washington to discuss provisions in the first draft of Modification P00031. DCAA was asked to review certain provisions of the proposed modification.
September 16, 1976: The Attorney General, Department of Justice, responded to Senator Proxmire's August 24th letter by writing:Quote
Your letter requests that I direct the Navy to keep me fully informed of any negotiations and that I review any settlement offer to insure that it is on sound legal ground and in the public interest. The Justice Department intends to review any proposal and/or papers before submission to the court. We would request the court to approve any settlement only if we are satisfied that it is on sound legal ground and in the public interest.
September 20, 1976: NAVSEA's Deputy Commander for Contracts and a member of the "review team" submitted his analysis of the first draft to the Vice Chief, NAVMAT. This analysis was not made available to Rule.
September 24, 1976: DCAA submitted its analysis of certain provisions of the first draft to a member of Rule's negotiating team.
September 27, 1976: Newport News delivered a second draft of the modification to Rule and Rule requested DCAA to review the draft.
[September 28, 1976: Clements wrote a letter to the Attorney General, Department of Justice, commenting on the August 24 letter of Senator Proxmire. In regard to Rule, he wrote:Quote
Senator Proxmire in his letter suggests that Mr. Gordon Rule is not impartial and that he might not act in the Government's interest but would so act as to undermine the Government's ability to enforce contracts. This is a serious charge by the Senator and defames both the character and competence of Mr. Rule. As I have indicated, it was at my suggestion that Mr. Rule was appointed by the Navy as the senior negotiator in the CGN-41 matter. I know Mr. Rule's background and work experience during his years as a Navy procurement official, and I am familiar with his current work as the CGN-41 negotiator. I consider Senator Proxmire's remarks regarding Mr. Rule ground-less, ill-tempered and unworthy of a member of the U.S. Senate.
In regard to the Department of Justice's review of the CGN-41 negotiation, he said: "Let me assure you that we in DoD have no intention to by-pass or withhold from your department any information which you determine that your department needs in connection with legal proceedings under the court order."
September 28, 1976: DCAA submitted its analysis of the second draft to Rule.
October 4, 1976: NAVSEA submitted its estimate of the cost of the draft modification. Rule rejected the NAVSEA estimate.
October 5, 1976: Rule submitted a memorandum to the Chief, NAVMAT for his approval. It included the estimated dollar impact of his negotiated settlement. For those in contracting, it would be similar to a negotiator's memorandum. The Navy General Counsel sent its analysis of the information supplied by Rule to the Attorney General. In the memorandum, Rule noted that a member of his negotiating team could not complete an analysis he requested because of interference from Rickover and his staff. However, he was able to devise a workaround to complete his cost estimate of the modification for the Chief's review and approval.
October 7, 1976: Newport News carried a third draft of the proposed modification to Rule. The cover letter from Newport News attached to the modification said "I have executed the enclosed modification on behalf of the company and request you immediately return a fully executed copy."
Rule took a copy of the cover letter to the Chief and Vice Chief, NAVMAT in the afternoon. He returned to his office and received a letter from the Chief, NAVMAT telling him that neither he nor his review group had a copy of the proposed modification that accurately reflected the results of Rule's efforts. Final review had not been completed and the proposed modification could not be consummated before the review was done.
According to Rule, he thought about the CGN-41 negotiation effort all afternoon after he met with the Chief and Vice-Chief, NAVMAT. He explained in a deposition that he:Quote
could see what was happening to this whole negotiated settlement. I knew the object of the negotiation. I knew why I had been picked to negotiate a settlement pursuant to the order of the court, which I had done. I could see the Rickover-Proxmire, et al., influence at work everywhere.
And I decided those things all-those things all ran through my mind-I wasn't unmindful of the roadblocks and the lack of cooperation that I had gotten and was getting from the office of General Counsel. When my Contracting Officers statement was turned over to the Office of General Counsel for their review, they then asked me for substantiating documents. I gave them those documents . . . . They were requested by Admiral Lascara [Vice Chief, NAVMAT] to please not write anything until we can get together and discuss this: Let's at least discuss it. Rule had said one thing. Now, review it and let's get together and discuss it before you write anything. They never did. They wrote a 85-page document. They had lawyers working their butts off. They wrote an 85-page document and turned it over to the Department of Justice. And I don't know what it says today. They won't tell me. These are my own lawyers that are supposed to be helping me. They've never told me what was in there. Well, on the 7th of October when these things ran across my face, before my eyes, I said: Something's got to be done. I'm a Contracting Officer. I've got the authority. Now-I'm going to sign the goddam thing. And I signed it.
October 8, 1976: The Vice Chief, NAVMAT called Rule into his office at 8:22 a. m. He gave Rule a letter dated October 7, 1976 that explained that he did not have authority to sign the modification. Rule explained he had signed it and the Vice Chief requested Rule to give him all signed copies. Rule refused but said he would give them to Clements. The Vice Chief then left for his 9:15 am meeting with Clements. Rule returned to his office dictated a transmittal letter imposing two conditions upon the modification and gave Newport News a copy. The Vice Chief, NAVMAT called Rule into his office and told him that the Undersecretary of the Navy would keep all executed copies of the modification but Rule told him that he already had signed it. He returned to his office, signed the transmittal sheet, and handed it to Newport News at 10 A. M. Shortly afterward at 11:50 a. m., Rule was notified that his appointment as contracting officer was rescinded.
March 8, 1977: The District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that:Quote
There was a meeting of the minds of the parties on August 20, 1976; there is adequate consideration to support this compromise agreement; and failure to provide cost of pricing data does not invalidate the agreement. We find that Deputy Secretary of Defense Clements, who initiated the negotiation efforts, has approved the compromise agreement.
February 27, 1978: The United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit ruled thatQuote
We vacate this order [District Court's above] because we conclude that the parties' negotiators did not settle the case orally and because the Attorney General, whose approval was essential, rejected the terms that were ultimately reduced to writing.
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The long-standing principle that the federal government had the same implied duty of good faith and fair dealing as any commercial buyer was put in jeopardy by a 2010 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Precision Pine & Timber, Inc. v. U.S., 596 F.3d 817 (Fed. Cir. 2010). There a panel of the court adopted a narrow rule seemingly limiting application of the principle to situations where a government action was “specifically targeted” at the contractor or had the effect of taking away one of the benefits that had been promised to the contractor. Although the decision concerned a timber sales contract not a procurement contract, when I wrote it up in the May 2010 Nash & Cibinic Report (24 N&CR ¶ 22), I expressed the fear that the reasoning would be subsequently applied to procurement contracts.
My fear was realized in a construction contract case, Metcalf Construction Co. v. U. S., 102 Fed. Cl. 334 (2011). In that decision, the judge described eggregious conduct on the part of the government officials that would have been held to be a breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing under many earlier cases. However, the judge held that under the Precision Pine standard, the contractor had not proved that the actions were specifically targeted at the contractor. In the February 2012 Nash & Cibinic Report (26 N&CR ¶ 9), I criticized this decision but stated that I believed that even if the decision was affirmed on appeal, most contracting officers would not take this as a signal that the proper way to administer contracts was to abuse the contractor.
Fortunately, a panel of the Federal Circuit has reversed the decision, Metcalf Construction Co. v. U. S., 2014 WL 519596, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 2515 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 11, 2014). The court held that the lower court had read Precision Pine too narrowly and that “specific targeting” was only one example of the type of conduct that could constitute a breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing. Importantly, the court also rejected the government’s argument that this “implied duty” only could be found when it was footed in some express provision of the contract. The court concluded that the correct rule was only that the express provisions of a contract had to be examined to ensure that they had not dealt with the conduct of the government; for if they had, they would override the implied duty.
This leaves us in a tenuous position with regard to the views of the Federal Circuit. We have one panel in Precision Pine stating a narrow rule, another panel in Metcalf Construction stating the traditional rule, and a third panel in Bell/Heery A Joint Venture v. U.S., 739 F.3d 1324 (Fed. Cir. 2014), ruling in favor of the government because the contractor had not alleged facts showing that the government had “engaged in conduct that reappropriated benefits promised under the contract” (which is part of the Precision Pine reasoning). Thus, it is difficult to state where the judges of the Federal Circuit stand. Hopefully, the court will agree to take either Metcalf Construction or Bell/Heery to the full court for an en banc review of the issue.
I’ve never been sure why the Department of Justice has so vigorously argued that the government should not be held to the same standards of conduct as a commercial buyer. Of course, persuading the courts and boards that a narrower standard should be applied to the government is a way to win litigated cases. But, in my view, encouraging abusive or non-cooperative conduct hurts the government as much as it hurts its contractors. I have taught for many years that in the long run the government benefits from actions that show industry that it is a fair contracting partner. A line of published judicial decisions that demonstrates that the government is not such a partner is one more of the many messages that tell companies they should sell to the government only when they can find no other customer. Surely, this is not the message that government agencies in need of products and services on the commercial marketplace want to convey to companies that can provide those products and services.
Many years ago when I came to Washington to work in the field of government contracting, I concluded that there was one major advantage to being on the government side of the negotiating table. That advantage was that I was under no pressure to extract money from the contractor by unfair bargaining or unfair contract administration. To me fairness was an integral part of the job of a government employee. I still believe it and teach it. Thus, no matter what the outcome of the good faith and fair dealing litigation, I will continue to urge government employees that fair treatment of contractors is the only way to go.
Ralph C. Nash
When I get older, losing my hair
Many years from now . . . .
When I'm Sixty-Four
John Lennon, Paul McCartney
Shortly after we celebrate our country's independence on July 4, 2013, Wifcon.com will end its 15th year on the internet. With much help from the Wifcon.com community, I've raised a growing teenager. When I started, I was 49 and my hair was so thick that I often shouted ouch or some obscenity when I combed it. Wifcon.com has existed in 3 decades and parts of 2 centuries. During that period, I've updated this site for every work day--except for the week or so when I called it quits. I remember the feeling of relief. I thought it was over. However, many of you convinced me to bring it back. Yes, just when I thought I was out, many of you pulled me back in.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, someone once told me that Wifcon.com was my legacy. I once had great hopes for a legacy. Perhaps, a great saxophone player belting out a solo in front of thousands of fans and seeing them enjoying themselves. Instead, here I sit in my solitude looking for news, decisions, etc., to post to the home page. For many years, my dog Ambrose kept me company. Now, my dogs Blue Jay and Lily stare at me and look for attention. With my sights now set realistically, I accept that Wifcon.com is my legacy. It's the best I could do.
Every now and then, I receive an e-mail from someone thanking me for Wifcon.com. They tell me how it helped their careers. These e-mails keep me and Wifcon.com going.
Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away
Give me your answer, fill in a form
When I'm Sixty-Four
John Lennon, Paul McCartney
The thoughts in these e-mails won't let me quit. I still search each night for something to add to the site in hopes that it will increase your knowledge. If I find something new, I still get excited. Often, it feels like a self-imposed weight around my neck. What started as a release for my imagination has evolved into a continuing and daily addition to the contracting community. In the evenings, it is as if I'm Maillardet's automaton. I head over to my office, sit before the computer, and update. Then I send the updated pages to Virginia where it is accessed from around the world. Maybe I'm addicted to Wifcon.com; maybe I was born with the Wifcon.com gene.
If you haven't added the numbers, I'm 64 now. Wifcon.com and I are showing our age. I can comb the top of my head with my fingers. The ouches and other obscenities caused by my once thick hair are gone. A recent upgrade to the discussion forum requires that I turn the "compatibility mode" off on my browser. In that mode, I realized that Wifcon.com is ugly. I have current software for the needed future redo of this site.
I am Wifcon.com; Wifcon.com is me. It is my legacy and my albatross. As always, thank you for your support.
You'll be older too,
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.
When I'm Sixty-Four
John Lennon, Paul McCartney