GOVERNMENT CONTRACTING AND TREATING EXTENDED FIELD OVERHEAD AS A DIRECT OR INDIRECT COST

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Prime contractors working on federal government projects, or any project for that matter, have job site or field overhead / general conditions.  Incurring extended field office overhead on a federal government project happens and, in many instances, is due to differing site conditions or another impact  (e.g., design issue, change order work, etc.) caused by the government.  There are also times the government acknowledges the time impact and agrees to pay the prime contractor extended field office overhead. 

 

How is the prime contractor supposed to compute its extended field office overhead?

 

Federal Acquisition Regulation (F.A.R.) 31.105(d)(3) provides:

 

Costs incurred at the job site incident to performing the work, such as the cost of superintendence, timekeeping and clerical work, engineering, utility costs, supplies, material handling, restoration and cleanup, etc. [e.g. field office costs], are allowable as direct or indirect costs, provided the accounting practice used is in accordance with the contractor’s established and consistently followed cost accounting practices for all work.

 

Stated differently, F.A.R. allows the prime contractor to treat its field office overhead  as a direct cost or an indirect cost provided the prime contractor does so consistently throughout the project.  However, the prime contractor cannot change its methodology midstream because it learns it can better maximize its extended field office overhead damages by switching methodologies to compute its extended field overhead.

 

What is a direct cost versus an indirect cost? 

 

A direct cost is a cost that is identified specifically with a contract whereas an indirect cost is not identified specifically with a single contract, but identified with two or more contracts.

 

F.A.R. 2.101 defines both direct costs and indirect costs as follows:

 

Direct cost means any cost that is identified specifically with a particular final cost objective [e.g., contract]. Direct costs are not limited to items that are incorporated in the end product as material or labor. Costs identified specifically with a contract are direct costs of that contract. All costs identified specifically with other final cost objectives of the contractor are direct costs of those cost objectives.” See also F.A.R. 31.202.

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Indirect cost means any cost not directly identified with a single final cost objective [e.g., contract], but identified with two or more final cost objectives or with at least one intermediate cost objective.

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Indirect cost rate means the percentage or dollar factor that expresses the ratio of indirect expense incurred in a given period to direct labor cost, manufacturing cost, or another appropriate base for the same period (see also “final indirect cost rate”).” See also F.A.R. 31.203.

 

When field office overhead is treated as a direct cost, it is computed on a per diem or daily rate (e.g., $10,000 per day for each day of delay). 

 

When field office overhead is treated as an indirect cost, it is computed based on a percentage markup (e.g., adding an overhead markup of 10% on the work). 

 

The key is that the prime contractor typically has to live or die with the methodology it chooses. 

 

An example of this “live or die” approach can be found in the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals decision in Appeal of—Watts Constructors, LLC, 2015 WL 566315, ASBCA NO. 59602 (January 26, 2015).  Here, the government hired the prime contractor to relocate a sewer lift station at a Marine Corps base.  During construction, the prime contractor encountered a differing site condition. The government did not dispute the differing site condition and instructed the prime contractor to await a contract modification (change order) before proceeding with the additional work.  The prime contractor submitted a cost proposal to the government for the additional work.  The proposal included a percentage markup for overhead as the contractor had also done under a previous cost proposal for additional work. Thus, the contractor had treated its field overhead as an indirect cost.

 

However, the government did not immediately issue the contract modification (change order) to the prime contractor authorizing the contractor to proceed with the additional work due to the differing site condition.  For this reason, the prime contractor wanted to recover its extended field office overhead as a direct cost (as it would give the prime contractor an additional approximate $40,000 and cover its costs due to the government’s delay in issuing the contract modification).  The prime contractor’s position was that when it submitted its original proposal for the changed work with the overhead percentage markup it was not anticipating a time impact, but now that it realized a time impact caused by the government, it should be entitled to its direct costs associated with the impact.  The government, however, denied this request because by the contractor tacking an overhead markup percentage to its proposals it had treated its field office overhead as an indirect cost, not a direct cost. Thus, the prime contractor couldn’t switch its methodology during the course of the project. 

 

The prime contractor submitted a claim pursuant to the Contract Disputes Act; the contracting officer issued a final decision denying the claim.  The prime contractor then appealed the contracting officer’s final decision to the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals.  The Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals agreed with the government concluding, “[W]e conclude the fact that the contract performance period was extended and that the use of the percentage mark-up might not fully compensate appellant [prime contractor] for all field office overhead costs incurred does not, per se, entitle appellant to change its distribution base.”

 

The underpinning issue regarding field office overhead and whether to apply an overhead percentage markup to modifications (change orders) that do not result in a time impact and a daily rate to modifications that do result in a time impact was the exact issue the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals dealt with in Appeals of M.A. Mortenson Co., 1998 WL 151792, ASBCA No. 40750 (March 30, 1998). In this matter, the prime contractor tacked an overhead percentage markup for field office overhead for changes that did not result in a time impact and then tacked on a daily rate for changes that did result in a time impact.  Hence, for changes that did not delay the job, the contractor treated its field office overhead as an indirect cost and for changes that did delay the job, the contractor treated its field office overhead as a direct cost. 

 

The government did not challenge the contractor’s daily rate for changes that impacted time, rather, it challenged the overhead percentage the contractor applied on changes that did not actually impact the completion of the project (since the field office was not actually extended by these changes).  The Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals agreed with the government concluding the prime contractor “cannot recover the claimed job site overhead percentage markup in these appeals because, under the facts of these cases, such a markup is inconsistent with appellant’s [prime contractor] per diem distribution base for charging job site overhead on changes that extended the contract period.”

 

Prime contractors working on federal construction projects need to be wary of how to treat changes and if they apply an overhead percentage markup on their changes it could later impact their application of a daily rate for extended field office overhead and vice versa.   Sometimes, the overhead markup benefits the contractor because it is getting a markup for overhead when the job is not otherwise delayed.  However, if the job is delayed, the government may try to deny the extended overhead based on a daily rate methodology that better compensates the contractor for its actual costs since the contractor previously treated such overhead as an indirect cost.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

 

 

SUING FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ON A CONTRACT CLAIM; EQUITABLE SUBROGATION CLAIM BY LIABILITY INSURER AGAINST GOVERNMENT NOT ALLOWED

imagesEquitable subrogation is a doctrine that liability insurers rely on when paying a claim on behalf of an insured.  Under this doctrine, the insurer equitably subrogates—steps in the shoes—to the rights of the insured and sues as an equitable subrogee of the insured in order to seek reimbursement for the claim it paid.

 

What if the liability insurer tried to pursue an equitable subrogation claim against the federal government?  In other words, what if the insurer paid out insurance proceeds on behalf of its insured-prime contractor and then tried to recoup the insurance proceeds from the federal government as an equitable subrogee of the prime contractor?  The United States Court of Federal Claims in Fidelity and Guaranty Insurance Underwriters v. U.S., 2014 WL 6491835 (Fed.Cl. 2014) explained that a liability insurer CANNOT sue the federal government as an equitable subrogee of the prime contractor in order to recoup insurance proceeds paid out on a claim.

 

In this case, the government hired a prime contractor to abate asbestos at a post office.  The prime contractor was having difficulty obtaining CGL liability insurance to specifically cover asbestos removal for a reasonable premium and the government, through the contracting officer, agreed to execute an addendum to the prime contract that required the government to save harmless and indemnify the contractor from personal injury claims attributable to the asbestos removal work.

 

More than ten years later, a former government employee sued the prime contractor claiming he contracted cancer from his exposure to asbestos while it was being removed and abated at the project.  The prime contractor demanded that the government defend and indemnify it for this claim; however, the government refused.  The prime contractor then tendered the claim to its CGL liability insurer and its insurer settled the claim.  After the settlement, the prime contractor once again demanded that the government reimburse it by honoring the indemnification language in the addendum; again, the government refused.

 

The prime contractor’s liability insurer then filed suit against the federal government as the equitable subrogee of the prime contractor in order to recoup the insurance proceeds it paid to the former government employee.  The thrust of the claim was that the government breached the indemnification provision.  The government moved to dismiss the lawsuit contending that the Court of Federal Claims does not have subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the lawsuit because the liability insurer is not in privity with the government and, therefore, cannot sue the government.  The Court of Federal Claims agreed and dismissed the lawsuit.  Why? Because a plaintiff suing the federal government on a contract claim must be in privity of contract with the federal government with limited exceptions to this rule:

 

The Federal Circuit has recognized limited exceptions to the requirement that parties seeking relief for breach of contract against the government under the Tucker Act must be in privity of contract with the United States. These limited exceptions include (1) actions against the United States by an intended third-party beneficiary; (2) pass-through suits by a subcontractor where the prime contractor is liable to the subcontractor for the subcontractor’s damages; and (3) actions by a Miller Act surety for funds that the government improperly disbursed to a prime contractor [after the surety financed completion of a defaulted subcontractor]. As the court of appeals has observed, the common thread that unites these exceptions is that the party standing outside of privity by contractual obligation stands in the shoes of a party within privity.

Fidelity and Guaranty Insurance Underwriters, supra(internal quotations and citations omitted).

 

Since none of the limited exceptions applied to allow a liability insurer to sue the government as an equitable subrogee of its insured-prime contractor, the Court of Federal Claims lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

 

This ruling does not prevent the prime contractor from suing the government directly for breaching the indemnification provision; it simply prevents the liability insurer from suing as an equitable subrogee of the prime contractor. Even though the insurer paid the claim, perhaps it can enter into an agreement with the prime contractor whereby the prime contractor sues the government directly for breach of contract.

 

 

The case demonstrates the limited exceptions available to a claimant on a construction project that wants to pursue a claim directly against the government when the claimant is not the prime contractor hired by the government.  While prime contractors can sue the government for breach of contract, subcontractors, in particular, that want to pursue a claim against the government can only do so as a pass-through claim, meaning they are suing in the name of the prime contractor and will require the cooperation of the prime contractor.

 

Also, as an aside, the indemnification provision from the government and the prime contractor required the government to save harmless and indemnify the prime contractor.  I always like to include the word “defend” in an indemnification provision so it is crystal clear that the indemnitor’s indemnification obligations extend to its contractual obligation to defend the indemnitees for any claim.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

“NO DAMAGE FOR DELAY” PROVISIONS AND THE EXCEPTIONS

UnknownContractors and subcontractors should be familiar with “no damage for delay” provisions.  These are contractual provisions that limit the contractor’s remedies for a delay to an extension of time ONLY, and disallow the contractor from being entitled to extended general conditions (overhead) for an otherwise excusable, compensable delay.   

 

There are numerous variations of the “no damage for delay” provision; however they usually contain language that provides as follows:

 

“The contractor’s sole and exclusive remedy for a delay, interference, or hindrance with its Work shall be an extension of time and contractor shall not be entitled to any damages for a delay, interference, or hindrance with its Work.”

 

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“The contractor shall not be entitled to any compensation whatsoever for any delay, interference, hindrance, acceleration, or inefficiency with its Work and its sole and exclusive remedy for any delay, interference, acceleration, or inefficiency with its Work shall be an extension of time.”

 

In Florida, “no damage for delay” provisions are enforceable on private and public projects.  However, there are EXCEPTIONS that would prevent the provision’s harsh application and entitle a contractor to its extended general conditions for an excusable, compensable delay.  These exceptions are fraud, willful concealment of foreseeable circumstances, and active interferenceSee Triple R Paving, Inc. v. Broward County, 774 So.2d 50 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000).  In other words, if the hiring party (owner) does not willfully or knowingly delay construction, then the application of the “no damage for delay” provision will preclude the hired party (contractor) from recovering its extended general conditions associated with the delay.  See id.  On the other hand, if the hiring party does willfully or knowingly delay construction, then the hired party has an argument around the “no damage for delay” provision.

 

Even with a “no damage for delay” provision in the contract, it is imperative for the hired party (contractor) to properly and timely request additional time and money in accordance with the contract.  There are typically provisions that require the hired party (contractor) to notify the hiring party (owner) of delaying events or claims and to request time and money associated with the event or claim.  If a contractor fails to timely preserve its rights under the contract to seek additional time or money, it may preclude itself from recovering extended general conditions for a delay that would otherwise serve as an exception to the “no damage for delay” provision.  See Marriot Corp. v. Dasta Const. Co., 26 F.3d 1057 (11th Cir. 1994) (contractor’s failure to request time pursuant to the contract prevented it from recovering delay damages associated with an owner’s active interference).

 

On federal construction projects, “no damage for delay” provisions are perhaps less common based on Federal Acquisition Regulations (F.A.R.) that would otherwise entitle the contractor to recover delay-related damages if it properly and timely preserves its rights.  These “no damage for delay” provisions are more frequently found in subcontracts between the prime contractor and its subcontractors.  There is authority that would hold an unambiguous “no damage for delay” enforceable on federal construction projects:

 

Nevertheless, given their potentially harsh effect, no damages for delay provisions should be strictly construed, but generally will be enforced, absent delay (1) not contemplated by the parties under the provision, (2) lasting an unreasonable period and thereby amounted to an abandonment of the contract, (3) caused by fraud or bad faith, or (4) amounting to active interference or gross negligence.

Appeal of-The Clark Construction Group, Inc., GAOCAB No. 2003-1, 2004 WL 5462234 (November 23, 2004); accord Grunley Construction Co. v. Architect of the Capitol, GAOCAB No. 2009-1, 2010 WL 2561431 (June 16, 2010).

 

In drafting a “no damage for delay” provision, I always like to include language that specifically states that the application of the “no damage for delay” provision is not conditioned on the hired party (contractor) being granted additional time to substantially complete or finally complete the project.  I also like to include language that the hired party (contractor) understands this “no damage for delay” provision and has factored this provision into the contract amount.  It is important that this provision clearly reflects the intent because the hiring party will want to rely on this provision in the event there is a delaying event and it is a provision that will be strictly construed.

 

Conversely, if you trying to avoid the harsh consequences of a “no damage for delay” provision, it is advisable to consult with counsel that understands the recognized exceptions to the provision and can assist you in negotiating and presenting your claim based on these recognized exceptions.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

SUBMITTING A “CLAIM” UNDER THE CONTRACT DISPUTES ACT

UnknownThe case of Delaware Cornerstone Builders, Inc. v. U.S., 117 Fed.Cl. 539 (Fed.Cl. 2014) exemplifies what happens if a federal government contractor fails to properly submit a claim in accordance with the Contract Disputes Act (41 U.S.C. s. 7101 en seq.).  As reflected below, the failure of the contractor to comply with the Contract Disputes Act will strip the United States Court of Federal Claims of jurisdiction to resolve the contractor’s claim with the federal government.

 

In this case, the contractor disputed the scope of the government’s punchlist.  The contractor sent a letter to the contracting officer that included a good faith certification requesting payment in the amount of $143,390.39 pursuant to its resubmitted payment application #14.  The contracting officer denied the payment request stating that the amount exceeded the value of punchlist work. Due to the delay in the contractor completing the punchlist items, the government advised that it would hire another contractor to complete the items and deduct the costs from the contractor’s contract balance.  However, the government did not hire the replacement contractor.  Years later the contract was still not closed out. The contractor was still trying to get paid its contract balance and was communicating with the government’s legal counsel.   The government’s counsel advised the contractor to submit a formal claim (per the Contract Disputes Act), but the contractor failed to do so.  Instead, the contractor filed a lawsuit in the Court of Federal Claims for $200,760.39.  The government moved to dismiss the complaint based on the contractor’s failure to comply with the Contract Disputes Act prior to filing the lawsuit.  The Court of Federal Claims agreed:

 

The CDA [Contract Disputes Act] permits a contractor to appeal the final decision of a contracting officer to this Court within 12 months of receiving the decision on a claim. A contractor may also seek review in this Court if the contracting officer fails to respond to a contractor’s claim within 60 days, as provided in the CDA. As such, the predicate for jurisdiction under the CDA is an appeal of either a contracting officer’s final decision on a claim or a deemed denial of a claim.

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The CDA does not define the term “claim,” but the Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) [in F.A.R. 2.101] defines a claim 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 from or relating to the contract. Thus, the elements of a claim are: (i) a written demand, (ii) seeking, as a matter of right, (iii) the payment of money in a sum certain. Additionally, all claims requesting relief greater than $100,000 must be certified by the contractor.

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An action brought before the Court of Federal Claims under the CDA must be based on the same claim previously presented to and denied by the contracting officer.

Delaware Cornerstone Builders, supra, at 545-47 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

 

While the contractor arguably submitted a certified claim for the $143,390.39 per its resubmitted payment application #14, this amount was different than the $200,760.39 it was seeking in its Complaint.  Thus, the amount it was seeking was not based on the same potential claim denied by the contracting officer which was a condition precedent to the contractor filing a lawsuit against the government in the Court of Federal Claims.

 

If a prime contractor wants to pursue a claim against the federal government, it needs to properly prepare and submit that claim pursuant to the Contract Disputes Act.  Notably, this is also memorialized in the disputes clause in F.A.R. 52.233-1 that is likely incorporated into the prime contract.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.