Find a Government Contracts Lawyer

U.S. government agencies and many of the state and local (city and county) government agencies have for several years entered into contractual relationships with commercial businesses to perform some of their business functions. Such “contracting out” arrangements differ from outsourcing in that the contractor does not have control over the total function; the government, for the most part, instructs the contractor when and how to perform the work. These arrangements enable the government to have access to resources (human and technology) that it otherwise—because of regulations or funding—could not obtain.

In addition to large-sized contractors (such as Lockheed Martin,) supplying services and products to the U.S. Department of Defense, for example, each government entity has set aside some of the budgeted contracting-out funds and earmarked that money specifically for contract work to be awarded to small businesses and economically disadvantaged companies owned by minority individuals, veterans, women and Native Americans. Acquisition rules determine which kind of company can bid on a government contract.

Government contract law is the body of regulations that governs how funds are appropriated for civilian contractors and how those contractors are to be selected. The law also enforces uniform policies and practices in contracting out.

Government contracts follow different procedural paths than those that are normal business practices for civilian companies, and they are governed in a different manner. First of all, the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) requires the government to conduct competitive procurement processes (they are dealing with taxpayer money, after all). The statutory provisions of FAR are designed to enable a government entity to procure innovative products and services at the lowest prices. Steps to winning the work must following FAR requirements.

Secondly, a procurement contracting officer is usually the individual in charge of awarding the contract. He then steps out of the picture, and an administrative contracting officer takes over the monitoring of contractor performance. When a government contract is terminated, another officer follows the regulated steps to administer that process.

There are differences in terminology and the contract clauses. For example, the usual “termination-for-convenience” clause is not included in government contracts. This is an important point, as it can impact the financial scenario if the parties decide to split up. Dispute resolution processes and contractual language is another area of divergence between government contracts and the way private firms normally do business.

A firm wishing to do business with a federal, state or local government entity should seek an attorney who specializes in government contracts and can provide counsel on the complexities and restrictions accompanying any government contract. The end result of “winging it” could be disastrous if the civilian firm wins a competitive-bid contract but underbid the price of its services because it had no idea what would be involved in delivering services to a government.

By Kathleen Goolsby           

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