On February 8, 2017, the Department of Justice Fraud Section posted a new guidance document on its website entitled, “Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs” (“Compliance Guidance”). This Compliance Guidance, comprised of a number of topics and questions, comes a little over a year after the Fraud Section hired Hui Chen as its resident compliance expert. Tapping into her experience as both a prosecutor and a compliance professional at several large multinational companies, Ms. Chen has commented that an effective compliance program requires a whole-company commitment, and has emphasized the importance of leadership and key stakeholders in the compliance process. Her vision is evident in the Fraud Section’s recently released Compliance Guidance, which provides some insights into the mindset of prosecutors tasked with corporate investigations. The Compliance Guidance itself references two of the ten “Filip Factors,” an enumerated set of factors used by prosecutors in making charging decisions related to corporate entities. Although the Compliance Guidance cautions that the Fraud Section does not use a “rigid formula” to assess a company’s compliance program, the guidance provides a detailed list of compliance-focused sample topics and questions that the Fraud Section believes are relevant to its analysis.
On February 14, the Fourth Circuit issued an opinion in United States ex rel. Michaels v. Agape Senior Cmty. Inc. addressing only the first of the two issues that the district court had certified for interlocutory appeal: (1) whether the Department of Justice (DOJ) possesses an unreviewable veto authority over proposed settlements and (2) whether statistical sampling, the analysis of data from a subset of the population of interest in order to make projections across the population of claims at issue, is an appropriate methodology for establishing liability and damages in False Claims Act (FCA) cases.
In its decision, the Fourth Circuit became the third circuit to affirm that the DOJ has absolute, unreviewable authority to veto settlements in qui tam cases where it has declined to intervene. However, notwithstanding that the name of the defendant corporation is derived from the Greek word for love, the Fourth Circuit’s decision (on Valentine’s Day) not to opine on the statistical sampling issue showed no love for those that hoped that the court would bring needed clarity on the permissibility of statistical sampling in FCA cases. Instead, as the authors predicted in a recent Law360 article, the Fourth Circuit dismissed the interlocutory appeal as “improvidently granted” because the panel viewed statistical sampling as an evidentiary issue, rather than a pure question of law.
Crowell & Moring’s “Fastest 5 Minutes” is a biweekly podcast that provides a brief summary of significant government contracts legal and regulatory developments that no government contracts lawyer or executive should be without, with the latest edition hosted by partners David Robbins and Peter Eyre and including updates on DoD and NASA reports, the Anti-Kickback Act, and the government’s right to veto False Claims Act settlements. Click on one of the options listed below to listen.
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In United States ex rel. Vavra v. Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc. (Feb. 3, 2017), the Fifth Circuit held that under Section 8706(a)(1) of the Anti-Kickback Act — permitting recovery of twice the amount of each kickback plus $11,000 for each occurrence of a prohibited conduct — corporations are liable “for the knowing violations of those employees whose authority, responsibility, or managerial role within the corporation is such that their knowledge is imputable to the corporation.” In applying this standard to the two Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc. (“KBR”) employees who had accepted meals and entertainment (on 33 occasions) from a supplier, the court found that one employee’s knowledge could be imputed to the corporation because the employee was responsible for supervising the subcontract at issue, for ensuring the supplier met its obligations, including contract performance, and for executing technical evaluations for rebidding the subcontract and therefore “had somewhat significant managerial authority over the sphere of activities in question.” In contrast, the court found the other employee who was neither involved in nor had the authority to take any procurement action regarding the subcontract at issue during the relevant period had only “limited authority” that was not enough to impute his knowledge to KBR.
With respect to whether numerous instances of meals, drinks, and other entertainment constituted “kickbacks” under the Act, the court concluded that “anything of value offered in order to subvert the ‘proper’ process for awarding contracts is a potential kickback,” noting that while merely seeking to develop good will or a good working relationship to gain more business would be insufficient, it was “enough to connect the gratuity with the specific kind of treatment sought in a way that establishes impropriety.” The court found the connection was satisfied with testimony that the supplier provided gratuities, in part, to subvert proper procedures: the supplier employee testified that the KBR employee “was the highest-ranking guy that we dealt with … [and] the most important [person at KBR] with regard to controlling service issues.” When asked why he provided gratuities, the supplier employee answered that it was because the KBR employee “would bring service issues to us. Specifically he knew me based on entertaining; so, if they had issues, he would bring them to me before they escalated out of control.” The court found the testimony provided sufficient specificity to support a finding that the KBR employee received gratuities to overlook and/or forgive performance deficiencies in subversion of proper procedures and in violation of the Anti-Kickback Act.
Crowell & Moring’s “Fastest 5 Minutes” is a biweekly podcast that provides a brief summary of significant government contracts legal and regulatory developments that no government contracts lawyer or executive should be without, with the latest edition hosted by partners David Robbins and Peter Eyre and including updates on the latest executive orders by President Trump, the Homeland Security Acquisition Regulation, and OFCCP’s voluntary self-disclosure of disability form. Click on one of the options listed below to listen.
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On January 26, 2017, the Fourth Circuit heard oral argument in United States ex rel. Omar Badr v. Triple Canopy, one of four False Claims Act decisions that the Supreme Court vacated and remanded for further consideration in light of the Court’s June 2016 holding regarding the implied certification theory in Universal Health Servs. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 136 S. Ct. 1989 (2016). In Triple Canopy, the relator alleges that a security contractor responsible for ensuring the safety of an air base in a combat zone knowingly employed guards who allegedly falsified marksmanship scores, and presented claims to the government for payment for those unqualified guards. The defendant prevailed on a motion to dismiss at the district court after demonstrating that the government failed to plead that it ever reviewed — and therefore ever relied on — the allegedly false scorecards. United States ex rel. Badr v. Triple Canopy, Inc., 950 F. Supp. 2d 888 (E.D. Va. 2013). The Fourth Circuit reversed, explaining: “Common sense strongly suggests that the Government’s decision to pay a contractor for providing base security in an active combat zone would be influenced by knowledge that the guards could not, for lack of a better term, shoot straight … If Triple Canopy believed that the marksmanship requirement was immaterial to the Government’s decision to pay, it was unlikely to orchestrate a scheme to falsify records on multiple occasions.” 775 F.3d 628, 637–38 (4th Cir. 2015).
Continuing his trend of fulfilling the promises set forth in his Contract with the American Voter, President Trump, on January 30, 2017, issued an Executive Order mandating the elimination of at least two existing regulations for every new regulation issued. In particular, the order explains that “whenever an executive department or agency…publicly proposes for notice and comment or otherwise promulgates a new regulation, it shall identify at least two existing regulations to be repealed.” In this way, the Administration intends to offset “any new incremental costs associated with new regulations….” Notably, however, the definition of regulation does not include: (1) “regulations issued with respect to a military, national security, or foreign affairs function of the United States”; (2) “regulations related to agency organization, management, or personnel;” or (3) “any other category of regulations exempted by the Director.”
On Saturday, January 28, President Trump issued an Executive Order setting forth the ethics regulations governing current and future executive agency appointments, which is both more restrictive and less restrictive than the 2009 Obama Executive Order addressing the same issue. Specifically, and with respect to the former, President Trump’s order bans all executive agency appointees from engaging in “lobbying activities” with respect to the particular agency in which the appointee served for a period of five years after leaving the Administration, and further prohibits such appointees from lobbying on behalf of a foreign government or political party during the remainder of their lifetimes (if such activities would require registration “under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938”). See §§ 1.1, 1.4. These two prohibitions were absent from the Obama-era counterpart and mirror two of Trump’s promises outlined in his Contract with the American Voter.
The Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals published its FY16 Report of Transactions and Proceedings, which provides statistics regarding the adjudication of appeals between contractors and the Army, Navy, Air Force, Corps of Engineers, DLA, DCMA, CIA, NASA, other Defense agencies, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. This year’s report once again reflects the Board’s impressive success at resolving matters via alternative dispute resolution. In total, 93% of ADRs concluded in FY16 – including binding ADR, non-binding ADR, and ADR of undocketed appeals – were successfully resolved. The report also reflects a slight uptick in successful appeals at the Board, noting that the appellant prevailed in 57% the appeals decided in the merits (up from 53% in FY15).
We have already seen many changes from the new administration and it seems more and more are happening every day. What more can you expect and how will this effect government contractors? The team of Crowell & Moring lawyers from our Government Contracts, Labor & Employment, White Collar, Corporate and Privacy & Cybersecurity practice groups discussed this topic during a 90-minute webinar this week. Areas covered included: update on executive orders and other labor and employment issues, costs, claims, commercial item contracting, cyber and privacy issues, compliance, data rights and bid protests (plus many more). If you were not able to participate, we have posted the presentation and the recorded session on our webpage here. As important changes and developments occur, we will continue to provide updates. The best way to stay informed is through these free resources – Bullet Points, blog posts and Podcasts – subscribe today!