Federal construction contracts incorporate the FAR’s payment and performance bonding requirements as a matter of law, even if the solicitation omits these bonding provisions.
In a recent Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals decision, K-Con, Inc., ASBCA Nos. 60686, 60687 (2017), a contractor ran headlong into construction bonding issues when the Army demanded payment and performance bonding for two of its construction contracts despite there being no bonding requirements in either of the contracts. According to the ASBCA, the bonds were required anyway.
K-Con involved two Army procurements for the construction of a laundry facility and communications equipment shelter at Camp Edwards in Massachusetts. The solicitations were both posted through the GSA’s eBuy system. The Contracting Officer inadvertently used Standard Form 1449 (Solicitation/Contract/Order for Commercial Items) despite the procurement being for construction services. As a result, neither of solicitations included provisions requiring payment or performance bonding.
K-Con, Inc. submitted proposals and was awarded both contracts on October 10, 2013. Before work began on either project, the Army requested that K-Con obtain performance and payment bonding. K-Con, however, was unable to obtain the necessary bonding, and proposed an alternative solution. Negotiations progressed slowly. On September 20, 2015—two years after the contract was awarded—K-Con finally obtained the requested bonding. K-Con subsequently completed the contract.
As a consequence of having performance delayed two years, K-Con was forced to pay more for labor and materials than it originally anticipated in its bid. After completing the construction work, K-Con submitted a request for equitable adjustment under each contract. Between the two REAs, K-Con sought a total of $116,336.56. K-Con argued it was entitled to the upward adjustment because performance bonding was not a requirement in either of the original solicitations.
The ASBCA’s discussion of the facts glosses over what happened next. Apparently, however, the Army rejected the REAs, and took the position that bonding had been required by law, even if it wasn’t specified in the solicitations or contracts. Since an REA is not a claim (and the ASBCA lacks jurisdiction over an appeal of a denied REA), the Army must have treated the REAs as claims, or K-Con must have refiled its REAs as claims–the decision doesn’t specify. One way or another, though, the dispute ended up at the ASBCA.
In resolving the case, the ASBCA turned to the longstanding contracting doctrine first developed in G.L Christian & Associates v. United States, 320 F.2d 345 (Ct. Cl. 1963)—the so called Christian doctrine. As the ASBCA explained, “[u]nder the . . . Christian doctrine, a mandatory contract clause that expresses a significant or deeply ingrained strand of public procurement policy is considered to be included in a contract by operation of law.”
In the case of the FAR’s bonding provisions, the ASBCA found that both prongs of the Christian doctrine were met.
First, FAR 28.102-1 requires payment and performance bonding be obtained by contractors for almost all construction contracts exceeding $150,000. FAR 28.102-1 implements a federal statute formerly known as the Miller Act, and currently codified at 40 U.S.C. 3131-3134. When FAR 28.102-1 applies, the solicitation and contract are required to contain the clause at FAR 52.228-15, which imposes the contractual requirement for payment and performance bonds. Because of this legal framework, the ASBCA ruled that “FAR 52.228-15 was a mandatory clause in the contract.”
Second, the ASBCA concluded payment and performance bonding was a “significant component of public procurement policy.”
The ASBCA explained that, with respect to payment bonds, “[a] principal underlying purpose of the payment bond provision is to ensure that subcontractors are promptly paid in full for furnishing labor and materials to federal construction projects.” In particular, “the Miller Act provides subcontractors on federal construction projects with the functional equivalent of a mechanic’s lien available to subcontractors on non-federal projects.” Because the government is immune from most lawsuits, “mechanics’ liens cannot be placed against public property.”
The purpose of a performance bond is to “assure that the government has a completed project for the agreed contract price.” The performance bond “provides protection to the government in situations where the prime contractor defaults in the performance of work or is terminated for default.”
The ASBCA concluded both types of bonding were deeply ingrained features of federal procurement policy. As such, the second prong of the Christian doctrine was satisfied.
The ASBCA held that “the bonding requirements set forth in FAR 52.228-15 were considered to be included in the contracts by operation of law pursuant to” the Christian doctrine. The ASBCA denied K-Con’s appeals.
As K-Con demonstrates, the Christian doctrine allows the government to apply mandatory FAR provisions to contractors even if those provisions were inadvertently omitted in the solicitation. It is thus wise for offerors to carefully review the provisions of a solicitation for the specific terms that the offeror should expect to find. If a particular omission seems too good to be true, odds are it is–and it may be better to raise the issue before proposals are submitted than risk the application of the Christian doctrine down the road.