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In its recent decision, CVE Appeal of First State Manufacturing, Inc., SBA No. CVE-184-A (2021), the Small Business Administration Office of Hearing and Appeals (OHA) denied an appeal of a decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Verification and Evaluation (CVE) to cancel First State Manufacturing, Inc.’s verification of service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) status. CVE issued its Notice of Verified Status Cancellation based on concerns of present responsibility related to a consent judgment entered into merely a month before to resolve a False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit against First State that required First State to pay over $393,000. Prior to the FCA lawsuit, First State’s Vice President for Marketing/Contract Administration and Chief Executive Vice President/Chief Financial Officer were criminally charged, pled guilty, and were sentenced to prison terms for bribing an Amtrak official to win federal Government contracts. In the appeal before OHA, First State argued that CVE erred in cancelling its verified SDVOSB status for two reasons: (1) the FCA consent judgment was based upon an underlying FCA settlement agreement that did not admit liability or wrongdoing by First State; and (2) the Federal Railway Administration, which oversees Amtrak funding, determined that First State was “presently responsible,” and that the likelihood of future harm to the Government did not warrant suspension or debarment. First State further argued that as the Federal Railway Administration is the agency with the potential injury, its determination of present responsibility should have been given greater deference by CVE.

OHA was unpersuaded by First State’s arguments. In concluding that there was no clear error by CVE in canceling verification of First State’s SDVOSB status, OHA noted that CVE had “ample reason” to be concerned about First State’s present responsibility based on following “circumstances”: (1) CVE learned via a U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) that two of First State’s executives bribed a procurement official to win contracts; (2) that the executives faced criminal bribery charges, pled guilty, and were sentenced to prison terms; (3) that the USAO later brought a FCA lawsuit against First State as a company; and (4) that First State agreed to settle the FCA suit via a consent judgment that required First State to pay over $393,000. OHA also expressed concern with First State’s partial disclosures of the circumstances leading to the appeal, including, failing to (1) explain how the executive’s wrongful conduct went undetected by the company; (2) show how it would address CVE’s concerns about the wrongdoing; (3) show how its new ethics and compliance code would address past wrongdoing; and (4) disclose the FCA action to OHA.

The decision appears to be an outlier to the extent that CVE relied on an FCA settlement with a non-admission of liability clause as support for its decision, as such settlements in and of themselves do not typically support a lack of present responsibility finding.  It also highlights that in dealing with the government, multiple stakeholders may be involved, and those stakeholders may have different interests and different views of the same facts and circumstances, potentially leading to different outcomes.

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Photo of Olivia Lynch Olivia Lynch

Olivia L. Lynch is a partner in Crowell & Moring’s Government Contracts Group in the Washington, D.C. office.

General Government Contracts Counseling. Olivia advises government contractors on navigating the procurement process, compliance and ethics, commercial item contracting, accessibility, supply chain assurance, and…

Olivia L. Lynch is a partner in Crowell & Moring’s Government Contracts Group in the Washington, D.C. office.

General Government Contracts Counseling. Olivia advises government contractors on navigating the procurement process, compliance and ethics, commercial item contracting, accessibility, supply chain assurance, and various aspects of state and local procurement law.

Photo of Brian Tully McLaughlin Brian Tully McLaughlin

Brian Tully McLaughlin is a partner in the Government Contracts Group in Washington, D.C. and co-chair of the False Claims Act Practice. Tully’s practice focuses on False Claims Act investigations and litigation, particularly trial and appellate work, as well as litigation of a…

Brian Tully McLaughlin is a partner in the Government Contracts Group in Washington, D.C. and co-chair of the False Claims Act Practice. Tully’s practice focuses on False Claims Act investigations and litigation, particularly trial and appellate work, as well as litigation of a variety of complex claims, disputes, and recovery matters. Tully’s False Claims Act experience spans procurement fraud, healthcare fraud, defense industry fraud, and more. He conducts internal investigations and represents clients in government investigations who are facing fraud or False Claims Act allegations. Tully has successfully litigated False Claims Act cases through trial and appeal, both those brought by whistleblowers / qui tam relators and the Department of Justice alike. He also focuses on affirmative claims recovery matters, analyzing potential claims and changes, counseling clients, and representing government contractors, including subcontractors, in claims and disputes proceedings before administrative boards of contract appeals and the Court of Federal Claims, as well as in international arbitration. His claims recovery experience includes unprecedented damages and fee awards. Tully has appeared and tried cases before judges and juries in federal district courts, state courts, and administrative boards of contract appeals, and he has argued successful appeals before the D.C. Circuit, the Federal Circuit, and the Fourth and Seventh Circuits.

Photo of Lyndsay Gorton Lyndsay Gorton

Lyndsay Gorton is a Government Contracts counsel in Crowell & Moring’s Washington, D.C. office. Her practice focuses on government contracts litigation and counseling, including government investigations, fraud matters under the False Claims Act, bid protests, and federal and state regulatory compliance. In addition…

Lyndsay Gorton is a Government Contracts counsel in Crowell & Moring’s Washington, D.C. office. Her practice focuses on government contracts litigation and counseling, including government investigations, fraud matters under the False Claims Act, bid protests, and federal and state regulatory compliance. In addition to her primary government contracts practice, Lyndsay has federal court litigation experience representing a broad variety of clients in commercial litigation matters, and has led and managed teams at every stage of litigation, including discovery, dispositive motion practice, trial, and settlement. She also uses her litigation experience to assist her clients with internal investigations, risk management, and compliance.

Photo of Zachary Schroeder Zachary Schroeder

Zachary Schroeder is an associate in Crowell & Moring’s Washington, D.C. office, where he practices in the Government Contracts Group.

Zach represents contractors in both litigation and counseling matters. His practice focuses on representing contractors in bid protests before the Government Accountability Office…

Zachary Schroeder is an associate in Crowell & Moring’s Washington, D.C. office, where he practices in the Government Contracts Group.

Zach represents contractors in both litigation and counseling matters. His practice focuses on representing contractors in bid protests before the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Dispute Resolution for Acquisition (ODRA). His practice also includes federal regulatory and ethics compliance, as well as various aspects of state and local procurement law, including representing contractors in size protests and affiliation matters. In the transactional context, Zach has performed government contracts diligence for government contractors in a range of industries.