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One of the bedrock principles of federal contracting is the demand for “full and open competition through the use of competitive procedures.”  In order to foster competition and reduce costs, the Competition in Contracting Act was passed into law in 1984 in an effort to enhance competition in procurements and thereby reduce costs, eliminate waste and abuse, and protect taxpayer dollars.  The effort to root out corruption and promote competition continues with the recent announcement by the Department of Justice (DOJ) of the newly formed Procurement Collusion Strike Force (“Strike Force”), with additional details and training materials—and an imposing antitrust violation complaint form—available on its recently launched website.

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On August 6, 2014, plaintiff-relator Andrew Scollick filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against eighteen defendants for multiple violations of the False Claims Act (“FCA”) in connection with an alleged scheme to submit bids and obtain millions of dollars in government construction contracts by fraudulently claiming or obtaining service-disabled veteran-owned small business (“SDVOSB”) status, HUBZone status, or Section 8(a) status, when the bidders did not qualify for the statuses claimed. United States ex. rel. Scollick v. Narula, et al., No. 14-cv-1339 (D.D.C.). Unique in this case were not the claims against the contractors, who were alleged to have falsely certified their status or ownership. Rather, what set this case apart was that Scollick also named as defendants the insurance broker who helped secure the bonding that the contractor defendants needed to bid and obtain the contracts, and the surety that issued bid and performance bonds to the contractor defendants. Scollick alleged that the bonding companies “knew or should have known” that the construction companies were shells acting as fronts for larger, non-veteran-owned entities violating the government’s contracting requirements—and thus the bonding companies should be held equally liable with the contractors for “indirect presentment” and “reverse false claims” under the FCA.

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Section 8(a) of the Small Business Investment Act of 1958 authorizes the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) to enter into prime contracts with federal agencies and to subcontract the performance of the contract to qualified small businesses. As most are aware, the 8(a) program is designed to assist “socially and economically disadvantaged small business” concerns that are owned by one or more individuals who are from a socially and economically disadvantaged group and whose management and daily operations are controlled by such individuals. 15 U.S.C. § 637(a)(4)(A)-(B). Included in the definition of “socially and economically disadvantaged groups” are, among others, Indian tribes, Native Hawaiians, and Alaskan Natives, which allows each “maximum practical opportunities” to participate in the government contracting market. But in so doing, those companies must stomach the good with the bad, i.e., they must be prepared to (a) navigate the thicket of regulatory hurdles required to do business with the government and (b) combat potential allegations of fraud if there is a perception that one or more of those hurdles has not been cleared successfully.

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