Construction Law Blog
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Although we live in a politically-divided nation, there is one issue on which there seems widespread agreement: our country requires a massive upgrade to its infrastructure. Rundown airports, crumbling highways, obsolete ports, and dangerous bridges are now endemic across the United States. By contrast, Asian airports and elegant European bridges and rails show that our country needs an upgrade, the cost of which will be enormous.
Blog: Congress Strikes a Blow to President Obama’s “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” Executive Order 13673
On October 25, 2016, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council (FAR Council) and the U.S. Department of Labor implemented former President Obama’s Executive Order 13673: “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” rules. The rules became effective on October 25, 2016 and fundamentally altered the way federal contractors and subcontractors will need to handle and resolve employment and labor claims, as well as compliance issues involving their entire workforce. The final rules can also result in otherwise-capable companies being “blacklisted” and effectively barred from federal contracts and subcontracts based on labor and employment law violations related or unrelated to prior or current federal contract performance. The centerpiece of the new regulatory scheme was the new disclosure and responsibility requirements. Contractors and subcontractors needed to disclose all “labor law decisions” that they had during the three years (prior to bid submission) as part of the process of applying for a new federal contract or subcontract. If a contractor or subcontractor has too many “labor law decisions” to report or the few it has are too severe, pervasive, repeated, or willful in the eyes of the government “experts,” the company could be deemed “non-responsible” and denied a contract.
Implied warranties are warranties created by law, legislation, or courts. In the construction industry, one of the most prominent implied warranties is that owners who provide plans and specifications to their contractors impliedly warrant the adequacy of their plans and specifications.[i] That implied warranty had its beginning in the 1918 US Supreme Court decision of U.S. v. Spearin[ii] and is, therefore, popularly known as the Spearin Doctrine. Under the Spearin Doctrine, if the contractor completes the work in accordance with the owner’s plans and specifications, but there is a deficiency or failure, the owner, not the contractor, is responsible. When the owner breaches its implied warranty, in most instances, the contractor is entitled to additional compensation for extra work performed, delays experienced, and other additional expense or loss occasioned by the warranty breach. A recent case demonstrates that this implied warranty is not “immunity.” The contractor must still act reasonably and diligently, particularly when the contract provisions so require.
Rotech Healthcare, Inc., a healthcare contractor, recently successfully protested the award of a home oxygen and durable medical equipment contract by the Department of Veterans Affairs to Lincare, Inc. based on an unsupported past performance evaluation and allegations of an unequal discussion. See GAO Protest File Number: File: B-413024 (August 17, 2016). The Request for Proposals (“RFP”) provided that award would be made on a “best value” basis to the offeror whose proposal was most favorable to the government based on the following evaluation factors with the following possible ratings:
- Joint Commission Accreditation (Acceptable or Unacceptable)
- Region of Service (Acceptable or Unacceptable)
- Past Performance (Excellent, Good, Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory, or Neutral)
- Technical Capability (Excellent, Good, Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory)
In a public works dispute in Massachusetts, a Massachusetts Court judge ruled that a general contractor could not recover any of its over $14 million claim against a public owner because it had violated its contract with the Owner by certifying that it had paid its subcontractors in full and on time when in fact it had not.[i] The case involves a contract dispute arising from a state and federally-funded project to design and construct a fiber optic network in western Massachusetts. The Owner was a state development agency established and organized to receive both state and federal funding to build a 1,200–mile fiber optic network known as MassBroadband123 in Western Massachusetts (the Project). Of that amount, $45.4 million was awarded pursuant to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). One of the stated goals of ARRA was (as its title suggests) to create jobs in the wake of the 2008 recession and to provide a direct financial boost to those impacted by the economic crisis. In the context of the instant case, that meant that, if there were to be subcontractors on the job providing labor and materials, they needed to be paid on a timely basis in keeping with the statutory purpose of stimulating the economy.
The Prompt Payment Act Obligation is Not Triggered When the Owner Holds Less Retention from the General Contractor
Most states have laws known as “prompt payment” statutes which govern the timing of payments on public works projects from project owners to general contractors, and from general contractors to subcontractors. The purpose of these statutes is to ensure that contractors and subcontractors who may have less leverage than the project owners and prime contractors, respectively, are paid for their work on a timely basis.
Companies that do not themselves qualify for federal preferences as small, disadvantaged businesses can help in joint ventures with other qualified companies and enjoy many of the benefits these programs offer.
Federal agencies annually reserve over $12 billion in federal contracting opportunities for award to “8(a)” companies, which are businesses that have successfully applied for determination of being socially and economically disadvantaged under Section 8(a) of the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) Act. In addition, other categories of disadvantaged, small businesses, such as companies owned and controlled by service-disabled veterans, qualify for a growing allotment of set aside contracts and other preferences.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) has jurisdiction to hear bid protests from government contractors seeking review of a federal agency’s contract procurement and awards. The GAO receives thousands of bid protests every year. On April 15, 2016, the GAO published notice of potential changes to its protest procedures, which would significantly change the manner in which protests get filed and decided.
Many of our veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are interested in starting or buying their own business. To support our soldiers, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) implemented the Veteran and Small Business program, which creates set-asides for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business and Veteran-Owned Small Business (“VOSB”). However, the far more lucrative set-asides with the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) are governed by the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (“DBE”) program. For DOT set-asides, only women-owned and minority-owned small businesses qualify as DBEs.
More than 100 new industries are now eligible for the Small Business Administration’s (“SBA”) Woman-Owned Small Business (“WOSB”) contract program. The SBA implemented the WOSB program in order to expand the number of industries where woman-owned small buisnesses could compete. The program allows set-asides for Economically Disadvantaged WOSBs (“EDWOSBs”) in industries where WOSBs are underrepresented and set-asides for WOSBs where they are substantially underrepresented.