Procurement Fraud and Internal Investigations

Just over a year after launching the Procurement Collusion Strike Force (“PCSF”), the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division (“DOJ”) announced new measures to further its pursuit of antitrust and related crimes in government procurement, grant, and program funding.  These changes expand the PCSF’s enforcement capacity and signal DOJ’s enduring—and intensifying—commitment to the PCSF’s mission.

The PCSF has added 11 new national partners: the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and nine new U.S. Attorneys.  As a result, the growing PCSF coalition now includes 29 agencies and offices, including U.S. Attorneys in 22 federal judicial districts; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Offices of Inspectors General at six federal agencies.  The PCSF also named the Antitrust Division’s Daniel Glad as the Strike Force’s first permanent director, solidifying the PCSF’s institutional role at DOJ.  Glad previously served as an Assistant Chief at the Antitrust Division’s Chicago Office.
Continue Reading Expansion of the Procurement Collusion Strike Force

On February 18, 2020, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”) Inspector General Geoffrey Cherrington announced that special agents from WMATA would be partnering with the Department of Justice’s Procurement Collusion Strike Force (“PCSF”) to prevent and detect fraud affecting WMATA.  The announcement portends a growing partnership amongst federal, state, and local entities in the procurement fraud space that could reverberate well beyond the Washington metro area.
Continue Reading A Coalition Grows: What WMATA’s Partnership with the Procurement Collusion Strike Force Means for Government Contractors

Earlier this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit issued a decision that provided further clarity on the False Claims Act’s standard for materiality.  The decision, United States ex rel. Janssen v. Lawrence Memorial Hospital, further demonstrated that materiality should be viewed through the eyes of the government customer rather than an hypothetical bystander.  The decision also reconfirmed that the FCA is not a “general antifraud statute” and that contractual or regulatory language conditioning payment on compliance will not necessarily prove that noncompliance was material.  Lawrence therefore serves as an important reminder to government contractors, practitioners, and other stakeholders about the significance of the materiality element in FCA litigation.

Continue Reading Tenth Circuit Provides New Material on FCA’s Materiality Standard

The government has released its long-awaited annual report on federal suspension and debarment activities, and the data reflect a number of trends and developments that should be of keen interest to federal contractors and grantees.  The report, which is published by the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee (“ISDC”), shows that suspension and debarment remain potent tools that are used frequently across the executive branch, even if the total number of exclusion actions dipped slightly from the previous year.  But more importantly, the report also demonstrates that federal agencies are adopting increasingly sophisticated approaches to managing suspension and debarment actions, a trend that presents both opportunities and potential pitfalls for the contracting community.  Below we highlight the five biggest takeaways from this year’s ISDC report.

Continue Reading Suspension & Debarment Update: Five Takeaways from the ISDC’s Annual Report

The False Claims Act has long protected relators from retaliation for preparing a qui tam complaint.  But what if an employee “blows the whistle” on a garden-variety problem — for instance, a laboratory that she believes is falling short of standards in a federal funding agreement?

Continue Reading Blowing the Whistle on a Breach of Contract? D.C. Circuit Addresses Scope of FCA’s Anti-Retaliation Rules

Contractors that must comply with the government’s domestic preference laws should take note of United States ex rel. Folliard v. Comstor Corp., __ F. Supp. 3d __, 2018 WL 1567620 (D.D.C. 2018) — a recent decision dismissing a country-of-origin fraud lawsuit initiated by serial relator Brady Folliard.

Continue Reading Alleged TAA Non-Compliance Is Not “Material” Under The False Claims Act, Federal Court Holds

A U.S. District Court recently dismissed a False Claims Act (FCA) qui tam action alleging that numerous GSA Schedule contractors violated their obligations under the Trade Agreements Act (TAA), resulting in the submission of false claims under the “implied certification” theory of FCA liability.  As discussed further below, the court’s decision — United States ex rel. Berkowitz v. Automation Aids, No. 13-C-08185, 2017 WL 1036575 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 12, 2017) — is important for at least two reasons:

  1. The court found that “often” it is “tougher” to satisfy the heightened pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b) when FCA allegations are based on an implied certification theory.
  2. The court held that, when dealing with conduct arising from a “sprawling federal procurement statutory and regulatory framework” (like the TAA), general allegations of non-compliance may support a breach-of-contract claim, but are insufficient in an FCA case. Rather, “specific allegations” about the fraudulent scheme are needed.

This decision comes at a particularly opportune time for contractors, given the likelihood of increased TAA and Buy American Act (BAA) enforcement during the Trump Administration and the corresponding potential uptick in whistleblower FCA activity involving these country-of-origin issues.
Continue Reading Common Sense Prevails: “Tougher” To Satisfy Rule 9(b) Standard in “Implied Certification” FCA Case Arising from GSA Schedule Contractors’ Alleged TAA Non-Compliance

Federal contractors who require employees to sign confidentiality agreements—including those selling only commercial products or in small quantities—need to examine their agreements closely. For the last two years, the government has sought to prohibit confidentiality agreements that restrict employees’ ability to report fraud, waste, or abuse to “designated investigative or law enforcement representative[s]” for federal agencies authorized to receive that information.”[1]  Most recently, the Department of Defense issued a new class deviation on November 14, 2016 prohibiting DoD from using funds from recent appropriations to contract with companies using overbroad confidentiality agreements.[2]  While these restrictions may not be new, the deviation’s broad application and significant consequences mean that contractors should give close scrutiny to ensure any agreements with employees comply with the prohibition.

Continue Reading Confidentiality Agreements Continue To Pose Potential Compliance Trap for Contractors

The Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (“ASBCA” or the “Board”) recently issued an opinion addressing several important, and controversial, topics of interest to government contractors.  The lengthy opinion addressed key issues related to the Board’s jurisdiction over government claims and affirmative defenses based on alleged contractor fraud, the Contract Disputes Act (“CDA”) statute of limitations, and the impact of criminal plea agreements and civil False Claims Act settlements on contract disputes.

Continue Reading ASBCA Addresses CDA Jurisdiction Over Claims Involving Contractor Fraud

On January 22, 2016, the FAR Council published a proposed rule that, if adopted, would impose a government-wide prohibition on contracting with companies that limit the ability of employees or subcontractors to lawfully report fraud, waste, and abuse to the government.  Given the proposed rule’s near-universal application and potentially devastating consequences for violators, contractors would be wise to take a hard look at their confidentiality policies and procedures to ensure that they will not run afoul of the proposed rule’s restrictions.

Proposed Rule

The proposed rule implements Section 743 of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 (Pub. L. 113-235) (hereinafter, “Section 743”) and successor provisions in subsequent appropriations acts and continuing resolutions.  Section 743 prohibits the federal government from using appropriated funds to enter into contract “with an entity that requires employees or subcontractors of such entity . . . to sign internal confidentiality agreements or statements prohibiting or otherwise restricting such employees or contactors from lawfully reporting such waste, fraud, or abuse” to the government.

The new proposed rule aims to implement this prohibition on a government-wide basis.[1]  Given its wide application and significant potential consequences, it is particularly important for contractors to understand the rule’s key components:
Continue Reading Inside New FAR Whistleblower Rule: Key Takeaways for Contractors