There are many questions facing contractors during this time of upheaval from the coronavirus and the impact on the federal government’s role buying from federal contractors. We’ll try to address as many of them as we can through our COVID-19 Contractors’ Toolkit.
One of the biggest questions is what can be done if the government modifies a contract, cancels work, or reschedules the performance of work. In that situation, it’s important to understand both the impacts on the prime contractor and any subcontractors.
Contract changes, particularly in the construction context, can be flash points for the Government and a contractor. In some cases, the Government will assert that the contract requires the contractor to perform certain work; the contractor, pointing to the same (or another) contractual provision, will argue that the contract does not require it.
These diverging positions can sometimes lead to contentious litigation.
Many federal construction contractors know that contract changes can be frustrating business. Changes can be unilateral or bilateral. They can stress a contractor’s finances. They can delay the overall project. And they can result in animosity between the agency and a contractor.
Fortunately, GAO has shined some light on the problems in the contract change process. Indeed, in a recent report, GAO concluded that agencies, particularly the Army Corps of Engineers and GSA, need to develop better systems to collect data about changes in construction contracts.
Federal contractors not so infrequently find themselves in a position where they are unable to complete performance of a contract by the agreed-upon deadline. So, what happens when the delay is neither party’s fault, but the government denies extension of the period of performance or provides inadequate extensions?
In IAP Worldwide Services, Inc. (ASBCA Nos. 59397, 59398, and 59399), the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals found under the legal theory of “constructive acceleration” that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was liable for extra costs incurred by IAP due to the Corps insistence of timely contract delivery despite excusable delays.
A construction contractor was unable to recover the costs of performing changed work allegedly ordered by the government’s project engineers because the engineers did not have authority to modify the contract.
As demonstrated in a recent Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals decision, only a contracting officer or the contracting officer’s designated representatives may modify a contract, and a contractor bears the risk of non-payment by performing changed work directed by an unauthorized government employee.